Kaleidoscope 1.

1 (2007), Botha, Book Review

Interdisciplinarity in Aesthetics
Marc Botha
Jacques Rancière, The Future of the Image. Translated by Gregory Elliott (London and New York: Verso, 2007) vii + 147 pp., ₤14.99.

The remarkable capacity of Rancière‟s writing to expose extremities of depth and scope in relation to his topic – conceptualizations and operations of the image, and particularly the fragmentation of traditional views of the image that accompanies his expansive take on the subject – is richly illustrated in the collection of essays which comprises The Future of the Image. Such is the magisterial ease of his movement across the history and discursive vocabularies of philosophy, aesthetics and politics, that it becomes appropriately inappropriate to separate these spheres. As Rancière asks, “are we in fact referring to a simple, univocal reality?” (1). This question is well-answered as the text elaborates an appealing equivocity – each voice of the discussion maintaining its distinctiveness while still contributing to an consistent and appealingly interdisciplinary whole. It is difficult to resist coining new terms for Rancière‟s manoevres in an attempt to hold them momentarily and unambiguously still. On account of the density of the essays, providing anything like an adequate summative review is equally tricky. There is little material that is not sufficiently nuanced to warrant some degree of elaboration, rather than simplification or condensation. Compelled, nonetheless, to identify some sort of broad thesis, Rancière‟s arguments revolve around an urgency, in the current discourse of the image and its relationship to various regimes of representation, to take account of a radical sense of disjunction. Although it finds various and divergent expressions, a paradoxical sense of making discontinuous elements follow one another is constant. These do not simply repeat naïve and trendy theoretical “post-positions” however, but unfold as a compelling alternative

opening not only a radicalized aesthetic sphere. is developed through the proposition of three types of image: the naked image. Rancière points to a new regime of the image which. between showing and indicating. social and political spheres. continues the modern project of aestheticisation begun in the eighteenth century.” exposes the essential ambiguity and otherness that both resides in the cinematic image.1 (2007). which claims a similar presence without intricate association. with regard to the way . which is an image of pure presence that does not constitute art. Rancière‟s opening and title essay. Botha. But in another sense. History”). Film provides the central imagery of much of Rancière‟s thinking on the image. This might be thought as the image which exceeds the anticipated boundaries of resemblance of the world-out-there – “a certain alteration of resemblance… a certain system of relations between the sayable and the visible. and is also brought to it from the outside. but in the service of art.Kaleidoscope 1. between the artistic. This play between presence and absence. which begins “as silent witness of a condition inscribed directly [in the visible aspects of the image in which we are]… possessors of a secret we shall never know. but a significant political space as well. Image. the metaphorical image. a secret veiled by the very image that delivers them to us” (15). which situates itself in the complex tensions of signification (following the vocabulary of structuralism) and presence. in one sense. and Goddard‟s Historie(s) du cinema in the second (entitled “Sentence. particularly the disjunctive and fragmented images o f Bresson‟s Au hazard Balthazar in the first essay. “The Future of the Image. the ostensive image. between the visible and the invisible” (12). he also inaugurates an important ethical move (which is expanded particularly in the final essay of the collection) towards a new mode of bearing witness in the world. In so doing. One is tempted to recall. Book Review formulation of the tentative situatedness of contemporary existence.

These possibilities are housed in Rancière‟s term.1 (2007). Instead. It is not surprising. and on the other. This phrasing all ows fragmented images to be juxtaposed. the mode of demonstrating fragmentation as a continuous form which was inaugurated by the Jena romantics and which has been the focus of influential essays by Lacoue-Labarthe and Nancy. even as it functions analogously to it. Botha. though.Kaleidoscope 1. This is used to reconsider the notions of discontinuity that seem to reside in the contemporary image. on the one hand a simple synthesis of opposing problems through dialectic reasoning. co-existing thus in a continuum that reinvests within the progress of history a sense of community rather than opposition between. the sentence-image. interdisciplinarity and community. especially in . What this reveals is a significant concealed element of representation – “a world whose writ runs behind its anodyne or glorious appearances” (57) – that is essentially also concealed through the traditions of representation. This concept develops the possibility that a specifically involving. a straightforward pattern of the essential incommensurability that lies within a symbolic projection. fragmentation finds an altogether different course in the second piece. which draws on the idea of a parataxis. which inaugurates a mode of “continuous phrasing” (58). seems to proscribe the singularity of the image. effective and evocative mode of meaning construction can be reached by juxtaposing starkly contrasting ideas. the notion that a work of art‟s form can generate its content and vice-versa – and the independence of the literary force. as well as Blanchot. which paradoxically institute new possibilities of aesthetic inter-connectivity. Its evocation of autopoiesis – in short. Book Review that fragmentation is associated here with continuity. that Rancière alludes to an “aesthetic age” frequently while still largely avoiding the particular history of early German romanticism.

developed in the poetry of Mallarmé and reflected by Godard‟s cinematic methods. tha t aesthetic history is best conceived in terms of a “regime of equivalence” (74). This initially reactive aesthetic Rancière describes in terms of an idea of “a machine of mystery [which] is a machine for making something common. or the existent) that “is not an external constraint that weighed on the arts and imprisoned them in resemblance. the reaction in nineteenth century arts to the dominance of Realism and Naturalism and which is transported to the present. This constant reinnovation and discovery of new modes of connectivity implies a fascinating political radicalisation of the aesthetic. “Painting in the Text”.Kaleidoscope 1. and. on an understanding of mimesis (in brief. This includes a strong discussion of the symbolist aesthetic. albeit subtly. but to present. firstly. secondly. is something not entirely different from the post-structuralist focus on the reality-making properties of language: “[p]resence and representation are two regimes of the painting of words and forms. an apparent incommensurability merely reveals new measurements between these elements of art. Book Review literature and the visual arts. Rancière‟s explication of the complicity of “the articulation between words and visual f orms that defines a regime of art” (70) gains political momentum in the third offering of this volume. on a continued imperative of disjunction in presentation. the disjunction that made them exist” (73). In other words. rests. What we discover emphasised.1 (2007). Here we encounter the author‟s rare ability to integrate seamlessly the political with the aesthetic. It is the fold in the order of ways of making and social occupations that rendered them visible and thinkable. The regime of visibility of the „immediacies‟ of presence is still configured . Botha. Rancière‟s conclusion. the modes of representing nature. not to contrast worlds. Continuing the line of unexpected equivalences. in the most unexpected ways a co-belonging”.

but is only deduced inasmuch as it is also a function of the discourse which determines what flatness is. Botha. indeed. Although the argumentation is thorough. Book Review through the mediation of words” (79). He explains this in terms of a “de-figuration… that converts figures of representation into tropes of expression” (77). Nonetheless. This conclusion is admittedly allowed by an extrinsic reading of what others might argue are intrinsic qualities of the media in question. Rancière‟s arguments rest on the notion that the “equivalence of the graphic and the visual creates the link between the poet‟s types and the engineer‟s. Of course. how it should be represented. it as an interesting and seductive postulation.Kaleidoscope 1. the emphasis here falls on a very physical. The fourth essay further develops the sense of community and of a renewed politics Rancière extracts from the anti-mimetic turn of the earlier essays. Particularly.1 (2007). An example Rancière uses is that of flatness in formalist art. It visualizes the idea which haunts bot h of them – that of a common physical surface where signs. Once again. from which space Rancière frees himself to offer (arguably an overly) speculative reading of the manner in which language and the visible renovate one another. transformatory gesture underpinning the concept of mediation. he examines the relationship between the studied distillation of Mallarmé‟s symbolism and the functional reductionism of Behren‟s pioneering industrial design for the AEG company. suggesting “a new texture of communal existence” (97). there are certain rapid . and the suggestions regarding the shared capacities of symbolism and design are intriguing. how it might be projected in the future (the “as yet unrealized possibilities of painting in the present work” (83)). and. where this flatness is deduced from the presentation in one instance. forms and acts become equal” (99). by suggesting further equivocations between the world of design and literature.

it seems that Rancière‟s focus is squarely on the notion of a shared conceptual core. form following function. moving with genuine ease between politics. Book Review elisions here regarding the tired old question of the unity of form and content. gives way here to an incisive attention to detail that discloses an authoritative interdisciplinarity. it is possible to argue that the symbolist search for this unity relies heavily on the proposition of autopoeitic. Should this happen. it would present an ironic undoing of the tensed political promise of some of Ranciere‟s writing on the position of design within the complexity of the image exposed throughout the book. and across and along the history of Western thought. but one which seems simultaneously to exclude the possibility of a more porous sense of community and of causality in assessing the birth of aesthetic modernity and which seems open to hyperbolic critical application.1 (2007). although this may not be Rancière‟s aim. The essence of the argument here is that by attending to the problematic . The evocative but near dizzying rhetoric of the first two essays. aesthetics. followed by the more measured political unfolding of these claims in the subsequent two. The final essay presents an intricately forceful coda to the work. might lead us to reassess the dominant paradigms of the modernist autonomy of art and of the relationship between art forms and life forms” . ethics and philosophy. suggests Rancière. For example. an external reality then. self-productive procedures in language: in other words. given concrete expression by the graphic design of the early twentieth century. and so forth that could be disputed. an impressive glimpse of the philosopher in full intellectual flight. through which we are reminded of Rancière‟s leftist leanings. Botha. between the form of art and the form of the everyday object. that such a text produces the reality to which it refers. This is indeed a very promising proposition. which is subsequently fleshed out from his particular ideological position. “The community of principle between sign and form.Kaleidoscope 1. At times.

and by the unsayable and unrepresentable. There is no longer one appropriate . to administer structural repairs to the representational gaps that seemed to emerge from this genre. Rancière provides a nuanced discussion of the ways in which the aesthetic realm projects itself through a constitutive paradox: to paraphrase briefly and a little simplistically in relation to the sophistication of the philosopher‟s presentation. Botha. The place of witnessing – in the example invoked here. is therefore situated in the disjunctive tension between the purely aesthetic and the perfectly representational. for in the absence of appropriateness we are forced to rely on the disjunctive fragmentation which can be seen and felt running through the book as a whole. Corneille. we come to appreciate that the affiliation of the unrepresentable and anti-representational is at best problematic. Book Review understanding of representation and mimesis. From here. that aspect of art which would establish it as autonomous simultaneously abolishes the necessary mimetic connections to a world out there on the basis of which such a judgment could be made in the first place. through to the excessive modes of visuality inaugurated first of all in modern literature. This Rancière accomplishes by ranging across the history of mimesis: from its birth in the literary proto-genre of tragedy and the attempts by the seventeenth century French dramatist. it is a question of the impossibility of adequately bearing witness to the horrors of the Holocaust retrospectively – the place of its language. and continued in the progressive abstraction of twentieth century painting and recent cinema such as the representation of the holocaust in Lanzmann‟s nine-hour epic.Kaleidoscope 1.1 (2007). Rancière asks “what substance and meaning might the unrepresentable possess?” We must pay close attention to Rancière‟s use of the term appropriate when he says that “[t]here is not appropriate language for witnessing”. We are occasioned in this process to consider what precisely is meant by notions of anti-representation. Shoah.

If this is indeed the case.Kaleidoscope 1. essentially to expose the unthinkable which must underpin the ethical relation of art to politics – a relationship . As he concludes. there is certainly a progressive logic. but the middle essays. Arguably. As with many collections of essays which are revisions of earlier works. to present or represent a subject: “[a]nti -representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things.1 (2007). coming off perhaps as accompanying pieces rather than indispensable parts of an argument. but is enlivened by the necessity of its paratactic regime (recalling the definition of parataxis offered above). to its possibilities. This. particularly in Rancière‟s rather rapid assessment of the failure of the philosopher Lyotard‟s version of sublimity to reach its goal. Nonetheless. of contradiction and of conflict between regimes of representation. the intensity of Rancière‟s argumentation fluctuates from essay to essay. for it is one that no longer is muted by the awe of possessing no tools for representation. the “logic of the unrepresentable can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it”. one gets the impression occasionally that much of the pace is less organic than it is an artful insertion. then it is a potent interdisciplinarity that is exposed here. however. making them a little of an awkward fit. it is possible that the tremendous weight of the ideas posited in the concluding essay would have been intensified even further by a less pronounced acceleration than the one which takes place over the latter part of the discussion. is probably more an effect of the compelling sense of urgency that emerges from the other pieces. Botha. Having said that. “Painting in the Text” and “The Surface Design” seem to lack a little in both stylistic and argumentative intensity. There are no longer any inherent limits to representation. This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language or form which is appropriate to a subject. whatever it might be” (137). Book Review way to give account.

the imperative subtext of this work suggest that the reanimation of a meaningful contemporary leftist discourse is underpinned precisely by a necessarily disruptive interdisciplinarity – a passage to a viable brand of community. Its assimilation by the former might just take a little more effort. that Ranciere‟s work is not dir ected to novices in the field/s of interdisciplinary aesthetics. but this does not detract from its excellence. Some might argue that there is considerable repetition in the essays. and perhaps necessarily so. The concepts do not become tedious. Book Review that Rancière ultimately seems to stress as a much more pragmatic one than this. and the reinvigoration of our personal and political relations made possible by the multiple and contradictory positions occupied by the image. such repetition is balanced by new material and development.1 (2007). since it presents sufficient challenges and moments of transparency for both types of reader. After all. If anything they pick up momentum in the final cadence of the book! While the work is deeply informative in one sense. ultimately. much like a musical composition. This is not in itself problematic. however. It will strike chords with many different readers. There can be little question. Botha. But undoubtedly. Approaching such a study necessarily presents us with a difficult read if it is to have value. it also takes for granted in its conceptual and rhetorical structures some sort of pre-existent support in the idea of the informed reader. but to appreciate it in the breadth in which it is intended will require some sustained concentration.Kaleidoscope 1. . or even easier through this repetition.

Book Review Marc Botha. Department of English Studies.co.1 (2007). kinesis111@yahoo. Durham University.Kaleidoscope 1. particularly in relation to the sublime.uk Marc Botha is a postgraduate in the Durham University Department of English Studies. Botha. His research explores minimalist aesthetics and its philosophical implications. .