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Jacques Rancière: Doing or Not Doing: Politics, Aesthetics, Performance
Doing or Not Doing: Politics, Aesthetics, Performance
(p. 101 – 118)

Politics, Aesthetics, Performance

Jacques Rancière

Doing or Not Doing: Politics, Aesthetics, Performance

PDF, 18 pages

Jacques Rancière re-examines the problem of performance situated at the very heart of the concept of action, turned here to an inquiry into the "activation" so often sought in political movements, and ascribed to politically engaging arts. Considering the imagery of early 20th century film, Rancière connects the issue of action to the distinction of a "natural" and a "mechanical" man or agent: the depiction and dissection of bodies and movements in posters and cinematic sequences. The interruption here focuses on the gap between functionality and play, which is reflected and reshaped in several artistic renditions of dance, movement, and corporality. It is in this mode of analysis that the aesthetic becomes neither a stand-in nor an instigator of the political, but rather the political and its aporias are returned to politics precisely through the consideration of the aporetical claim to activity and activation in performance.

Politics, Aesthetics, Performance

I must make a preliminary statement to avoid a possible misunderstanding of my title. I am not going to speak about the art of performance, viewed as a specific art. The art that we have been used to name performance for a few decades is in fact the offspring of a wider idea of the performance of art – the “performance of art” meaning both the completion of its specific operations and its role in the distribution of social activities and collective energy. Therefore the remarks that I will present about performance belong to a wider investigation. They belong to the project of a genealogy of the categories that we use to perceive and conceptualize the relationships between art, aesthetics, and politics. That investigation is based on a hypothesis formulated in my book The Politics of Aesthetics:

The arts only ever lend to projects of domination or emancipation what they are able to lend to them, that is to say, quite simply, what they have in common with them: bodily positions and movements, functions of speech, the parcelling out of the visible and the invisible.

So the question is not about the effects that an artistic performance can produce on political practice. It is about the very sense of action, community, freedom, or equality carried out by the positions and movements of the bodies and by the mode of their visibility.

The whole problem might lie in the seemingly simple notion of action. Becoming active is a typical demand of political art, and it has continuously been opposed both to the purely verbal and imaginary performance of words and to the passivity of the spectator. This demand has readily been equated with a certain idea of Modern art, thought of as the passage from the paradigm of representation to that of a direct performance. But action is not the mere fact of doing something. It is a certain way of doing which expresses a certain way of being. It is a specific relation between a way of moving and a regime of meaning within which that movement can be identified. In my terms, action is a category in the distribution of the sensible. Therefore the becoming-political of art is not a question of becoming active, it is a question of the very sense of action, its place and function in the distribution of the sensible. This is...

  • performance
  • film
  • aesthetics of film
  • aesthetics

My language
English

Selected content
English, French

Jacques Rancière

Jacques Rancière

is Professor Emeritus at the University of Paris VIII, where he taught philosophy from 1969 to 2000. He was a student of Louis Althusser at École Normal Supérieure in Paris. His work deals with emancipatory politics, aesthetics, and the relationship between aesthetics and politics. He also writes extensively on cinema.

Other texts by Jacques Rancière for DIAPHANES
Anneka Esch-van Kan (ed.), Stephan Packard (ed.), ...: Thinking – Resisting – Reading the Political

This volume contrasts a number of recently suggested concepts of the political – each of which connects to certain instances of art and literature in its discourse – with questions concerning the rigidity of those connections: How strongly do such claims to politics depend on their specific examples, what is the scope of their validity to understand art with regard to politics, and how can they help us grasp the political within other pieces of art? In each case, manners of thinking concepts of the political, the mutual resistance of such concepts and their academic treatment, and the turn towards specific readings informed by those concepts converge.

The essays collected in “Thinking Resistances. Current Perspectives on Politics, Community, and Art“ engage with political phenomena in their interrelations with arts as well as with recent theoretical and philosophical perspectives on the very meaning of politics, the political, and community.

With contributions by Armen Avanessian, Friedrich Balke, Judith Butler, Simon Critchley, Anneka Esch-van Kan, Josef Früchtl, Andreas Hetzel, Jon McKenzie, Dieter Mersch, Chantal Mouffe, Maria Muhle, Nikolaus Müller-Schöll, Stephan Packard, Wim Peeters, Jacques Rancière, Juliane Rebentisch, Gabriel Rockhill, Frank Ruda and Philipp Schulte.

Content