Ranciere - After What

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    A f t er W h a t Jacque s RanciOre

    "What comes after the subject?" this author is asked.How would he know? And how would he show? Doeshis audience not repeatedly remark that they do notknow where he is heading? He also knows, of course,that not knowing is too easy a way of creating his ownimage as a philosopher, all the easier in that philosophi-cal questioning habitually knows more than the audience.Not knowing who to name, then, also means settlingdown in an af ter which, by designating the place or thehome of the unknow n one, perhaps says a lot in the endabout his or her identity.

    Questions about time are always advantageous. Totalk about the end, the after, the post - lends a heroic tintto any idea concerning the end of a time when thingswere well-ordered and their meaning established. In thedays of old, not so very long ago, there was -- it is said-- there was a time when all events took place in thelight of grand narratives on self and the world, on G odand on man. Then would come the daring time of newdays and adventurous paths . . . . But the very act withwhich this aba ndonment manifests itself as heroic effortor joyful drift restores a tranquil certainty concerningties and places: we are now in the end or the after. In allruins lies hidden an inhabitable temple which was onceinhabited. Time we call lost is still part of the contin-uum, of archaeology, and of our heritage. It makes senseand leads to. It also gathers: to speak of epoch orepochal means putting together and attributing the samedestiny to those who are doing the thinking in terms ofafter and the indistinct masses who supposedly inhabitthe ruins without knowing it. They are defined by thatvery supposition and thereby give to the corporat ion themission of thinking for them that which is verified intheir very muteness.

    We know that the tranquillity of this dual relation isnot without jolts. From time to time current events makeit obvious that nine-tenths of humanity or even a little

    more suffer from that which the epoch has alreadypassed beyond: the archaic events of hunger, faith, andpeoples. Gloomy sermonizers or pugnacious prose-cutors then denounce the duplicity of the thinkers interms of the after. Tragicomedy and vaudeville makegame against a background of holocaust. Now theguardian of the temple announces betrayal by thecorporation: we must return to the previous assuranceof the subject gathering up meanings and assigningvalues. Soon the keeper of the morgue comes to cryshame by showing that the corporation's values -- orthose values forgotten, or both at the same time -- haveserved the assassins. Yet again, the corporation, onceproud of daring voyages far from the paternal lands ofthe subject, closes ranks in order to protect from anyattempt at parricide him who contemplates the end ofmetaphysics and who is also the only distinguishedmember of the corporation to have maintained somelink, however tenuous, with the assassins.

    These tribunals, periodically established where theaffairs of the corporation encounter any affair or anysense supposed common, are perhaps the ransom forthe commodity which it took over: that of the inter-minable capitalization of a misfortune whose resolutionis indefinitely suspended. The temple and the charnelhouse summoned up at its borders as concrete mani-festations of its forgotten origins or its unacknowledgedend denounce at either limit the space/time wherephilosophical activity deliberately set up shop: that ofthe beginning of the end.

    Indeed, whatever the philosophical good will put toradicalizing the question of the after, the terrain hasbeen clearly marked by three mise en scone schemaswhich have become doxic configurations. Psycho-analytic theory first made the time-after into thetime of the advent of the subject, perhaps thus dis-simulating the enigmatic task of fidelity to the time-to-

    Topoi 7 (1 9 8 8 ) , 1 8 1 - - 1 8 5 .9 1988 by Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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    182 JACQUES RANCIEREc o m e hidden behind the visibility given to the parricidalevent as origin of the meaningful sequence. Then comesthe schema of extermination, which represents annihila-tion of the subject not only in the form of massliquidation of individuals but also as death with noremains -- no trace, monument or immortality. Thusopen the horizons of a beginning of the end projectedinto the two dimensions of past and future. On the onehand, since a more and more remote past the gene-alogies of horror have been stalking the beginning of evilhistory, that of the subject bearing death; they follow itsmost minute advances. On the other hand, thoughts oftomorrow establish themselves in the twilight timeswhich begin with the advent of the unthinkable. Butafter enigma and horror comes a third schema, evermore triumphant, that of the particular redemptionwhich is involved in the development of patrimonialpolicy. The latter brings into play a new immortality,henceforth attached to a monument and no longer tot ha t which the monumen t represents: colossal assuranceagainst death, holocaust and parricide, able toimmortalize anything, restore any temple, but also makeof every object a monument and familiarize any strange-ness in the direct line of meaning which has escapeddeath.

    The ordering of these three configurations gives usinfinite resources as well as a plurality of times. To voicethe beginning of the end, verbalize in its name is toappropriate for oneself the powers of suspended deathand the voyage through time. We speak in the present o fthe anchor freed, the image undone or the name crossedout. But above all we settle into the singular schema ofthe retrospective apocalypse. We rewrite indefinitely, inthe past tense, the prophecy of the wrong beginning(forgetfulness, disguise -- or, just as well, the lure ofdisguise or of forgetfulness) which makes us sufferendlessly: the sequence of ills resulting from the wrongschema, the forgetful schema of subjectivity. Ethicalfidelity to the recognized uncertainty of the subject andto the act of his t ime - to - c ome then reposes on thethought of extermination and ends up in retrospectiveprophecies of the beginning of the end. But apocalypsein the past tense also continuously exchanges its perfor-matory powers o f threatening death with the resourcesin immortality of the process of patrimony. Thus doesphilosophy succumb to the charms of rewriting, with theinfinite possibilities of metonymy authorized by therichness of the text, the phrases of its history. Philosophyproposes itself as interminable future and offers asdestiny to-the epoch the rewriting which marks every

    phrase of the text like the threat of death and everyutterance of a present event like the displaced repetitionof a phrase of the text. These comings and goingsbetween the past and the future, death and immortalitycreate the schema of an infinite resource which strangelyresembles the reseJ~e in which Heidegger's discourse onthe apocalypse recognizes the essence of technicaldomination. Patrimony, the new technique of immor-tality, has perhaps become the vital element of that veryphilosophy which is motivated by denunciation oftechnical domination. By giving philosophy the newtime to make its statement, patrimony allows it theidentification of the inventory of its own heritage withthe deciphering of the mortal enigma of the new timesand ensures its revenge on the social knowledge whichhad put it aside. From there to philosophy taking aprominent role in all manifestations which conceiveof and celebrate the monument, the archive or themuseum, the outcome seems positive.

    This triumphant use of the beginning of the endshould doubtlessly be considered within the continuityof the schemawhich I had earlier indicated: the deter-mining function o f t ime , free or lacking, as the dividingline which stages philosophical activity by separatingthose who have the leisure to think and those whosebusiness it is not. 1 I had indica ted the continuity leadingfrom the forthr ight affirmation by Plato of the privilegesof the o~zo2O to the tortuous Sartrian analysis of theeffects of a fatigue which takes away from the pro-letarian the time to think. The substitution of the time ofurgency and the time of the beginning of the end for thatof the leisure for philosophy should be thought abou t interms of the schemas which today redefine the staging ofphilosophical activity and organize its dd~a under thenew conditions of that activity in relation to its other:mastery announced in the very name of time charac-terized by abandonment, discourse whose gravity ofutterance is due to accounting for the common destinyof humanity, but which at the same time divides (as inthe seventh book of L aw s) the watchmen of thebeginning of the night from the sleep of the obliviousmasses.

    I am interested, however, in something else: themanner in which this plurality of times plays withhorror and death, summons them up at the edge ofdiscourse and then keeps them at arm's length indefi-nitely. There philosophy is playing with what was onceits own: the assumption of death, the confron tation withfear and the passions that spring from fear -- the frustra-tion of "not yet having enough" and the fear of "no

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    AFTER WHAT 183longer being" which accompany the destiny of the livingpossessed by word and representation. In the infinitereflection of apocalyptic prophecy and of redemptionthrough patrimony, a certain l o g o s is extended of whichthe paradoxical principle was once designated as the veryprinciple of passion: the confusion of times, the per-petual encroachment of the present, that present whichthe Stoic master recommended circumscribing in orderto keep at a distance the intermingling passions ofexpectation and regret. On the cont