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Avello Publishing Journal Vol. 1, No. 1.

Contemporary art - beautiful or sublime?
Kant in Rancire, Lyotard and Deleuze.
Stephen ep!e, "ni#ersity of $ienna.
Recent French aesthetic theory remains fixated on the realm of sensation that was laid out for art by
Kant. We might find this surprising given that art since the end of the 60s and with uchamp
earlier too! a path that re"ected sensation #or at least challenged its privilege$ in favor of
conceptual and political practices that mixed art with philosophy% mass&media% information
technology and the rest of the world. 'oday% there are no expectations that art should be a specific
medium% (uite the opposite% and if it is to be considered )contemporary) it must include a minimum
of conceptual * political techni(ues and ob"ectives. +t is therefore somewhat ironic% given their
importance to art theory today% that the aesthetics of ,ac(ues Ranci-re% ,ean&Fran.ois /yotard and
0illes eleu1e remain largely concerned with the legacy of Kant. 2oth /yotard and eleu1e place
Kant)s experience of the sublime at the base of their aesthetics and indeed their ontology% while
Ranci-re condemns them for this% and favors Kant)s category of the beautiful. 'racing these
differences provides a Kantian topology of contemporary aesthetics% and reveals some of the deeper
implications these different philosophies of difference have for contemporary art and aesthetics.
Ranci-re develops his )politics of aesthetics) in the wa!e of Foucault)s historici1ation of Kant)s
'ranscendental 3esthetic. Following Foucault% Ranci-re claims there is an aesthetics at the core of
politics that operates )as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense
experience) #4005 67$. 'his )partition of the sensible) determines the conditions of possibility for
what can be seen and said% thereby establishing the rules for belonging to a given community.
8olitics is the articulation of a )disagreement) with these rules and conditions% it is the emergence of
a )part that has no part) in statements that manage to force their way in to produce a new and e(ual
)common) space. irectly concerned with the sensible as such% the avant&garde movements of art
into life #postmodern non&art$ and life into art #modernist art for art)s sa!e$ converge )in the same
initial !ernel) #4009: 75$. 'his )!ernel) is their shared attempt to )reframe material and symbolic
space) by creating a )dissensus) #4009: 45&;$. 2oth of these movements create a )fissure in the
sensible order by confronting the established framewor! of perception% thought% and action with the
)inadmissible)) #4005: <;$. 3s a result% both modern and postmodern avant&gardes are historical
examples of how art produces )a regime of the sensible that has become foreign to itself) #4005 47$.
Ranci-re)s concept of )dissensus) is based on the Kantian concept of the beautiful% and the )free&play)
of the faculties it implies. 3ccording to Kant the pleasure given by the beautiful emerges when a
sensible experience is undetermined by both the understanding #the conditions of possible
experience$ and reason #a universal idea of )art)% or a personal desire$% and so enters into a new
relationship with them. )+t is this neither... nor... that defines the experience of the beautiful as
the experience of a !ind of resistance)% Ranci-re argues% a dissensus at once aesthetic and political
because it produces a new regime of the sensible #4060: 6=7$.
2oth forms of the artistic avant&garde therefore ma!e a )distinction between modes of
being) #4009: 49$% they distinguish between the given mode of being and )a sensible mode of being
specific to artistic products) #4005: 44$. 3n art wor! is therefore )political) when it produces a
heterogeneous experience that )suspends the ordinary connections not only between appearance and
reality% but also between form and matter% activity and passivity% understanding and sensibility)
#4009: 76$. We can clearly see Kant in this last suspended opposition% which occurs in the aesthetic
experience of beauty. 3 specific form is beautiful when it is produced by a disinterested )free&play)
of the faculties% but because this "udgment is undetermined by a concept or +dea% it reveals an a
priori principle which ma!es this "udgement universal. 2eauty as a reflective "udgement of taste is
political for Ranci-re because it is a singular sensible experience that creates a new% universal
partition of the sensible% or sensus communis. 2eauty is at once a singular difference arising as a
)dissensus) within the realm of the given% but it is also the promise of a new e(uality emerging
beyond the current conditions of domination and disparity.
+n this sense art)s )beauty) is an eruption of e(uality in the realm of the sensible% it is a
new sensual )common)% and promises the freedom of a new and undetermined community. +n the
realm of contemporary art this has the remar!able conse(uence of erasing the current preference for
non&art strategies #what Ranci-re calls )autonomous art)$ over formal modernist strategies #which
Ranci-re calls )heteronomous art)$. 3s Ranci-re puts it>
'he aesthetic regime of art institutes the relation between the forms of identification of art
and the forms of political community in such a way as to challenge in advance every
opposition between autonomous art and heteronomous art% art for art)s sa!e and art in the
service of politics% museum art and street art. ?...@ 'hus there is no conflict between the
purity of art and its politici1ation #4009: 74$.
'his eradication of conflict between modern and postmodern aesthetic strategies% Ranci-re argues%
wor!s both ways. An the one hand% the concentration on )pure form) in modernism is not an
insistence on material at the expense of life% but the creation of a radically democratic heteronomous
sensation that becomes )the constitutive instrument for a new dBcor of living). An the other% the
)politici1ation) of art is not achieved by art simply supporting a political movement% but by bringing
art into the everyday so as to achieve )a revolution in the very mode of production of material life)
#4009: 77$. +n this very positive sense% art&into&life is more than simply the angry erasure of art)s
heteronomy% "ust as art for art)s sa!e is more than solipsistic self&reflexivity% as both draw upon
aspects of the other in directly contributing to the construction of a new sensibility. 3s a result% both
sides of the modern*postmodern opposition operate through the same )founding paradox)% one
Ranci-re continually repeats> )art is art insofar as it is also non&art% or is something other than art)
#4009: 76% see also 4060: 66<% 4066: 7;$. 3rt is political by first of all dissenting from the sensible
givens that regulate )life) #ie.% by being )art) undetermined by life$% and then by see!ing to create a
new )life) in which this dissensus disappears #ie.% by being )life) undetermined by the +dea of )art)$. 3s
a result% the )two vanishing points) of Ranci-re)s aesthetic regime art and non&art each imply
their opposite% causing the aesthetic regime to constantly )shuttle between) its constitutive poles
#4060: 674$. Conse(uently% there is no chronology or priority to these positions in aesthetic or
political terms% leading to what in our present context is a surprising conclusion> )'here is no
postmodern rupture. 'here is a contradiction that is originary and unceasingly at wor!) #4009: 76$.
Ranci-re offers Dchiller)s )aesthetic state) as the )first manifesto) of the aesthetic
regime #4005: 45$. 'his aesthetic state mar!s both the )fundamental identity) and the )dual
cancellation) of an active thought and a passive receptivity of sensible matter in the )free&play) of the
faculties #4005: 45% 4=$.
+t is this )play) that ma!es beautiful art adhere )to a sensorium different to
that of domination) #4009: 70$. +n this way% Ranci-re argues% Dchiller )translates) Kant)s aesthetics
into political propositions #4009: 76$% because aesthetic play creates )the material reali1ation of an
unconditional freedom and pure thought in common forms of life and belief) #4005: 4=$. 'hese
common forms% whether generated by a heteronomous modernist art or a postmodern art of the
everyday% offer an experience )which appears as the germ of a new humanity% of a new form of
individual and collective life) #4009 74$. Ranci-re)s understanding of Dchiller)s )aesthetic state) is the
way he transforms art into )real) politics% most importantly by by&passing )representation)>
1 Elsewhere Ranci-re suggests the Kantian concept of the )aesthetic idea) as a )representation of the imagination
which induces much thought% yet without the possibility of any definitive thought whatever% i.e.% concept% being
ade(uate to it) #4066 56$.
'he suspension of power% the neither...nor... specific to the aesthetic state announces
a wholly new revolution: a revolution in the forms of sensory existence% instead of a
simple upheaval of the forms of state> a revolution that is no mere displacement of
powers% but a neutrali1ation of the very forms by which power is exercised% overturning
other powers and having themselves overturned. 3esthetic free play or neutrali1ation
defines a novel mode of experience that bears within it a new form of )sensible)
universality and e(uality #4009: 99$.
3lthough Ranci-re)s affirmation of Dchiller)s )aesthetic state) conveniently accounts for a modernist
heterogeneous sensation and postmodern conceptual autonomy within the same paradigm or
)regime)% it is also confronted by the eruption in Kant and in recent French aesthetic theory of
another aesthetic state% the sublime. +n /yotard)s and eleu1e)s affirmation of the sublime the free
play of the faculties is overturned% and the sensus communis is gleefully and irremediably
shattered. +n their place emerges difference in itself% a super&sensible but nevertheless immanent
element that is the vital and virtual principle of sensation% a sensation&event that is expressed or
actuali1ed in an art wor! ade(uate to its sublime dimensions. Ranci-re will condemn both /yotard
and eleu1e for their sublime aesthetics% as we will see% and it is through these various
confrontations that it might be possible to begin a mapping of the aesthetics and politics of the
/yotard)s commitment to the radical heterogeneity of Fodern art is immediately obvious in his
championing of 2arnett Gewman. /yotard argues that Gewman)s paintings give an atemporal
experience of the )here and now)% an experience that is sublime because it )dismantles) consciousness
#6996: 90$. espite its sublimity /yotard distinguishes Gewman)s wor! from Romanticism because
it doesn)t see! to represent a )beyond) and so mourn its passing% but tries )to be a visual event in
itself) #6996: <7$. /ac!ing Sehnsucht the )it happens) of the empirical event represents nothing%
because in relation to a consciousness that might experience it this event is unpresentable. 'his
unpresentable presence of the painting&event is immanent to the sensible inasmuch as it embodies
the difference between sensibility #the aistheton$ and its comprehension in thought% between the
presentation itself and what is presented% this difference being what /yotard calls a diffrend.
sublime event of the )now) characteri1es% /yotard claims% not only Gewman)s wor! but modern
avant&garde painting in general #6996: 97$. +ndeed% /yotard)s differences with Ranci-re become
clear at this point> )'he current of )abstract) painting has its source%) /yotard claims% )in the
re(uirement for indirect and all but ungraspable allusion to the invisible in the visible. 'he sublime%
and not the beautiful% is the sentiment called forth by these wor!s) #6996: 646$.
2 /yotard writes% )a differend ?diffrend@ would be a case of conflict% between #at least$ two parties% that cannot be
e(uitably resolved for lac! of a rule of "udgment applicable to both arguments) #69<<a xi$.
/yotard sees this sublime avant&garde as resisting two connected and contemporary
phenomena% the functionality and imperative for profit of neoliberal capitalism% and the postmodern
eclecticism of the )transavantgarde).
Functionality and surplus operate% according to /yotard% as
contemporary a priori criteria of our experience of reality% and privilege innovation through their
dependence on a )technology of time). 'he demand for constant innovation in the production and
consumption of experience replace the )now) with the contemporary a priori of the )new)% and
obscure the sublime event in the )transparent) and )natural) experience of what we now call a
)flexible) transcendental sub"ectivity #6996: 60=$. 'he transavantgarde mixture of styles )s(uanders)
the tradition of the avant&garde% /yotard argues% because it )encourages the eclecticism of
consumption). 'his homogeni1ation of experience in the general e(uivalency of capital lac!s taste%
/yotard (uips% because it expresses )the spirit of the supermar!et shopper) #6996: 64=$.
/yotard echoes Walter 2en"amin)s famous thesis that painting turned to abstraction
because photography too! over the tas! of representation. 8hotography (uic!ly became a )popular)
art% and its technology became integral to the production of visual commodities. +n this sense
photography defines a popular aesthetics of the beautiful because it )appeals to a taste: a sort of
common sense) uniting a capitalist sensibility and its rational understanding in a disinterested
pleasure #6996: 644$. 'his ma!es postmodern art )realist) in the sense that it upholds the
)communication codes) of society% the mass&media and associated information technologies% and so
conforms to a consensual and commodified )beauty) #69<5: =5$. 2ut unli!e Ranci-re)s
understanding of the term% this beauty is no longer )free) to invent )a community of taste to come)%
and instead attests to the aura&less and axiomatic )beauty of understanding)> )the beauty of Hoyager
++) #6996: 644$. Fodern abstract painting is therefore political in )presenting that there is something
that is not presentable according to the legitimate construction)% and in doing so it )reveals that the
field of vision simultaneously conceals and needs the invisible) #6996 64;$. )'he artwor!%) /yotard
writes% )brea!s with convention% with the commonplace% with the flow) #4006 ;0$% ma!ing the
political function of the sublime diffrend the negation of the consensual aesthetics of the beautiful
#69<5 ==$. +n this sense /yotard draws on 3dorno)s account of DchInberg)s twelve tones% which
)finds all its happiness, all its beauty in forbidding itself the appearance of the
beautiful) #69=5: 64=$. /yotard therefore places his sublime aesthetics directly against those of the
3 'he transavantgarde was an art movement championed by 3chille 2onito Aliva in the late =0s that reacted to the
previous decade)s emphasis on conceptual and political practices with a return to painting% but one that now mixed
together all manner of historical styles.
'he analysis of the beautiful allows one to hope for the advent of a sub"ect as unity of
the faculties% and for a legitimation of the agreement of real ob"ects with the authentic
destination of this sub"ect% in the +dea of nature. 3 meteor dropped into the wor!
devoted to this twofold pro"ect% the 3nalytic of the Dublime% a Jmere appendixK% seems
to put an end to these hopes. Let what is of interest in sublime feeling is precisely what
detonates this disappointment #6995: 6;9&60$.
'he sublime% /yotard claims% )is nothing more than a sensus which is undetermined% but de jure>
it is a sentimental anticipation of the republic) #69<< 66<$. 'his is a sensus but not a communis%
or at least not yet. +t is the aistheton as an irreducible gap through which avant&garde painting
)escapes) the capitalist aesthetics of the beautiful to explore the sublime and formless )monsters) of
those )purely negative non&entities) that )ma!e presentation suffer) #6996 64;$. 'he sublime% Kant
says% is a reflexive "udgment% and so it ta!es us from the particular to the universal. 2ut what%
/yotard as!s% is this universalM 'his universal is nothing% a void% a radical absence% and aesthetics
and its politics is the sensible manifestation of this universal and transcendental lac!.
2ecause the feeling of the sublime is an affective paradox% the paradox of feeling publicly
and as a group that something is JformlessK alludes to a beyond of experience% that feeling
constitutes an Jas&if presentationK of the +dea of civil society and even of cosmopolitical
society% and thus an as&if presentation of the +dea of morality% right where that +dea
nevertheless cannot be presented% within experience. ?...@ 'his sign is progress in its present
state% it is as much as can be done) #69<<: 696$
Do the sublime offers a politics of radical negation% a negation of the universals that govern the
present )reality) of capitalist consensus% whether these are social )communication codes) or the
capitalist a priori of innovation and the )new). For Kant the infinite and sublime sensation that
exceeds presentation by the imagination is conse(uently comprehended in an +dea of totality% but
/yotard will reverse Kant on this point #something Ranci-re will ob"ect to$% arguing that the event
not only exceeds any sensus communis% but it also denies a passage to the transcendental +deas.
For /yotard% the pain of the excessive sublime sensation does not lead to the pleasure of !nowing
the absolute certainty of the +deas. +n fact its the other way around>
'he despair of never being able to present something within reality on the scale of the
+dea then overrides the "oy of being nonetheless called upon to do so. We are more
depressed by the abyss that separates heterogeneous genres of discourse ?ie.% sensibility
and reason@ than excited by the indication of a possible passage from one to the other
#69<<: 6=9$.
'here is% in other words% no redemption. Go redemption because the visual event of the painting is
both absence and presence% a diffrend to which the avant&garde consistently bears witness> )'he
message is the presentation% but it presents nothing> it is% presence) #6996: <6$. 'here is a partial
echo with eleu1e here% who will also find the irreducible difference between the faculties to be
genetic% and will found his system on this differential genesis. 2ut in eleu1e the priority Kant
gives the +deas over their sensible actuali1ation will be retained% and not as in /yotard reversed.
For /yotard the radical absence revealed by the sublime event is pure aistheton% sensation in the
absence of the human% or as he sometimes also calls% sensation as and of )the 'hing itself) #6996:
4;$. 'he 'hing dwells in the eternal dar!ness of primary repression% and its presence means that
everyone is eternally )exiled from the ownership of yourself) #4005: 667$. 'he 'hing is a pure
indeterminacy% )a presence as unpresentable to the mind)% it )demands a disarming of the mind)
#6996: 654% 6;6$. 2ut this exile from oneself is not simply a purely negative )loss)% because the
human a prior is determining sensibility have been exceeded by the presence of matter )itself). 3s
/yotard explains% )the aim for the arts% especially painting and music% can only be that of
approaching matter. Which means approaching presence without recourse to the means of
presentation) #6996 679$.
Fatter )itself)% as pure intensity without form% /yotard argues% is )nuance and timbre)% the
)scarcely perceptible differences between sound or colours)% or what )ma!es the difference) #6996:
650$. 'his difference is not conceptually determined as is that structuring musical notation or a
colour wheel but is a )coloured event)% a formless and abstract )apparition) that is )bound to its
disappearance) #4005: 66;$. 'his appearance*disappearance is a genetic differend> )+t ta!es place in
the world as its initial difference% as the beginning of its history. +t does not belong to this world
because it begets it% it falls from a prehistory% or from an a&history. 'he paradox is that of
performance% or occurrence) #6996: <4% see also 4005: 609$. 'he occurrence of this generative
difference is% /yotard believes% what is performed by Fodernity. Ane of the ways it does so is by
continually separate )cultural activities and that of artistic wor!) #6996: 67;$. +n bearing witness to
the diffrend modernity #/yotard)s example here is the wor! of 2arnett Gewman$ )is much closer
to an ethics than to any aesthetics or poetics) #6996: <6$.
+n fact% /yotard writes% )the sublime is none other than the sacrificial announcement of
the ethical in the aesthetic field. ?...@ 'his heralds the end of an aesthetics% that of the beautiful% in
the name of the final destination of the mind% which is freedom) #6996: 67=$. 'his freedom is in fact
very similar to Kant)s% because our true freedom lies in following the ethical categorical imperative.
From the side of the sub"ect% a sublime ethics )re(uires one)s freedom from any motivating pathos>
ethics allows only that apathetic pathos accompanying obligation) #69<<a 666$. 3rt is ethical%
/yotard believes% because it obliges us to give way all personal interest% to subside in front of its
event% to be disinterested. 'his ethical art demands that you )be answerable to the /aw and you must
be unable to answer) #4005: 660$. 'his inability to answer has )the force of an obligation)% an
obligation issued by the 'hing to listen. +n this sense the art wor! is )the silent feeling that signals a
differend remains to be listened to) #69<<: 6=6$. 3s /yotard tells it> )+ #the viewer$ am no more than
an ear open to the sound which comes to it from out of the silence> the painting is that sound% an
accord) #6996: <7$. +t is a sublime sound% a discordant accord% a presentation of the unpresentable. +t
is an ethics of the Ather that is a poetics and a politics% because in the pure atemporality of its event
art refuses any universal% any +dea that would presume to understand the aistheton% that would
wrap it within a consensus or a completeness. +n this sense% /yotard argues> )'he same ought to
apply for a revolution% and for all great historical upheavals: they are what is formless and without
figure in historical human nature) #69<<: 66=$.
Ranci-re will accuse /yotard #and eleu1e$ of collapsing politics and aesthetics into
ethics% but it could e(ually be argued that they ma!e ethics the ground of any possible aesthetics or
politics. /yotard often evo!es passivity as an aesthetic and political strategy% and also argues that
our inade(uate attempts )to capture the unrepresentable event of apparition) can only produce an act
of )mourning) #4005: 666$. 2ut there is e(ually in his wor! a sense in which this )passivity) is
productive% and productive in a political sense% because it dis(ualifies in advance any claims to a
sub"ective or ob"ective coherence or dominance% let alone ontological consistency. )2eing and
beings do not reveal themselves>) /yotard writes% )they present tiny universes with each wor!)
#69<9: 696$. +n other words the wor! the wor! (ua event comes first% and in bearing witness to
the 'hing it gives birth to an infinite multiplicity of others% each a uni(ue experiment and
experience. 'he wor! of art% he says% gives birth to a coloured matter that )irradiates) a )chromatic
world) #400=: 665$.
'his ethical necessity of art is also a politics in as much as bearing witness to the Ather
evo!es the horrors of past attempts to obliterate it% especially the Nolocaust. 'he continual eruption
of the event is therefore a way of disrupting the amnesia of postmodernity% forcing us to remember
the extermination of the ,ews in World War 4. +t is certainly no accident that /yotard finds a
particularly ,ewish understanding of the visual arts in 2arnett Gewman)s wor!% where the highest
law for a sublime art is the ,ewish prohibition of images #an analogy to the sublime Kant was also
drawn to$. 'his prohibition% a prohibition that is as well an obligation% is nothing but the
unbridgeable chasm between sensible and super&sensible worlds% between the human and the
inhuman% between the individual and his or her obliteration in the absolute. 'his is the genetic
chasm that founds the world% the irreducible diffrend that demands "ustice% and that gives to the
world its "oyful pain% as Giet1sche would say% the pain of childbirth.
For /yotard the sublime is a pure sensory event acting as a sign for what exceeds any
possible thought. 'his )radical re&reading) of Kant gives the avant&garde% Ranci-re claims% )the
paradoxical duty of bearing witness to an immemorial dependency of human thought that ma!es
any promise of emancipation a deception) #4060: 670$. WhyM 2ecause in /yotard)s version of the
sublime reason)s inability to conceive of matter and its events causes it to brea! down% powerless%
while in Kant imagination)s collapse clears the way for Reason)s power #4009: 94$. 'hus% in Kant%
the sublime leads us from the autonomy of the beautiful experience to a )superior autonomy)% that of
reason and the super&sensible world. )/yotard%) Ranci-re says% )turns this logic strictly on its head)
#4009: 97$. +f% Ranci-re argues% )the aesthetic condition is enslavement to the aistheton) #/yotard
(uoted by Ranci-re 4009: 97$% then the avant&garde event can only bear witness to its own
paradoxical alterity. 3s a result% )/yotard ma!es this passage out of the realm of art the very law of
art) #4009: 64=$. 'his is why aesthetics and politics are obliterated in /yotard by ethics% because the
singularity of the sensation simply )becomes a submission to the law of the Ather) #4009: 64<$. 'his
)overturning) of aesthetics into ethics% Ranci-re claims% )forgets) that modernity is constituted by the
two poles of the aesthetic regime. )?O@ the times when philosophers such as /yotard intervened in
contemporary events% or the suggestions they would ma!e for the improvement of political issues%
were considered in government legislation% are no more) #Wa!efield 4060: 60$.
Ranci-re)s ob"ections to /yotard are therefore made strictly from his own perspective% a
fact we should always !eep in mind. 2ut they are ob"ections about the destiny of the avant&garde%
and this is what ma!es them relevant for contemporary art. Ranci-re ob"ects to how /yotard)s
sublime and avant&garde event refuses to lin! art)s specificity to a future emancipation% but connects
it instead )to an immemorial and never&ending catastrophe) #4009: 649$. 'his% Ranci-re continues%
)transforms every promise of emancipation into a lie) and ma!es )resistance) an )endless wor! of
mourning) #4009: 670$. /yotard% Ranci-re claims% gives an )implicit refutation of Dchiller)s vision)
by placing art and aesthetics on this )one&way detour) to ethics% and in doing so only succeeds in
)bloc!ing the originary path from aesthetics to politics) charted by the avant&garde #4060: 676$.
Ranci-re% as we have seen% re"ects the )fantasy) of art)s purity in favor of the tension between art and
politics that constitutes his own aesthetic regime. 2ut Ranci-re will go beyond a simple re"ection of
/yotard)s account of the sublime by including /yotard)s position in his own.
Ranci-re extends the differential logic of the aesthetic regime to the )tension) Dchiller
finds between the beautiful statue)s charm and its self&sufficiency #the statue is the Juno
Ludovisi$. 'he statue% he claims% both attracts us and ma!es us recoil% calms and agitates us. )'here
is then%) Ranci-re argues% )no rupture between an aesthetics of the beautiful and an aesthetics of the
sublime. issensus% i.e. the rupture of a certain agreement between thought and the sensible% already
lies at the core of aesthetic agreement and repose) #4009: 9<$. Ranci-re cannot expect us to ta!e this
claim seriously% in as much as it reduces the difference between sensibility and thought% and the
attac! on sub"ectivity mounted by the sublime% to the relative differences of attraction and disgust%
or of agreement and disagreement% as they are played out within the a priori of our common
linguistic capacity. Ranci-re can claim for Dchiller)s aesthetic state a political significance over and
above the promise of social mediation implied by Kantian common sense% but he can)t have it both
ways and also e(uate this with the sublime. )3esthetic common sense% for Dchiller% is a dissensual
common sense) #4009: 9<$ Ranci-re writes% but this is not the same as the destruction of all common
sense in the sublime that /yotard% as well as eleu1e% turn into the very principle of art.
/yotard)s anti&aesthetic% Ranci-re argues% depends on a primal scene that grounds both
art)s autonomy and the promise of human emancipation in the experience of a )sensorium of
exception) where the active*passive% sub"ect*ob"ect and form*matter oppositions conditioning
experience are negated. Dchiller% on the other hand% offers a community to come that doesn)t have to
endure the alterity of aesthetic experience in which art becomes )an unseparated collective life)
#4009 600$. 'he neither...nor... of the aesthetic regime replaces ethics with politics% it replaces
passivity with activity% mourning with resistance% alterity with intervention. For Ranci-re the choice
is clear> )Either dissensus is reduced to the conflict between appearance and reality% or a new
consensus is formed for the purpose of transforming the appearance of art into the realities of
common life% in other words% of transforming the world into the product and mirror of human
activity) #4009 600$.
Ranci-re argues that /yotard disconnects artistic modernism from the )grand narrative)
of the emancipation of the proletariat and reconnects it to that of the extermination of the ,ews. 'he
avant&garde thereby moves from inscribing the contradiction between capitalism and art to
mourning the absence of the 'hing #the Nolocaust$ from the sensible% forcing the sub"ect to either
submit to the violence of the aistheton% or undergo its absence. /yotard thereby effaces what
Ranci-re posits as the original lin! between aesthetic suspension and political emancipation. +nstead
of Dchiller)s )freedom or death)% /yotard gives us )servitude or death)% )a "oint suppression of both
aesthetics and politics) in which )there is nothing to be done except obey the immemorial law of
alienation) #4009: 60;$. 2ut Ranci-re overstates the case when he claims /yotard effaces the
criti(ue of capitalism in bearing witness to the ,ews !illed in the Nolocaust. /yotard does privilege
heterogeneity as the ethical mechanism of art% but he does not efface his criti(ue of capitalism in
mourning. +n fact it is Ranci-re)s wor! that has been critici1ed for its lac! of any account of political
economy% and it is true that he does not clearly articulate how artistic dissensus might effectively
engage with the commodification of visual culture #see Dhaviro 4006$. 'here is the suspicion that
)dissensus) could be another name for capitalist )innovation)% and that its )resistance) is merely the
research and development arm of commodity production. +f this is true then we are right to consider
the more radical aesthetic attac!s on capitalism proposed by /yotard and eleu1e.
Do although Ranci-re)s reading of /yotard effectively restricts him to occupying only
one side of his own aesthetic regime% it also highlights aspects of Ranci-re)s regime that from
/yotard)s perspective remain problematic. 'he first is the way Ranci-re relativi1es any
heterogeneity by ma!ing it a political force that emerges from and aims towards the shared
sensibility of a common discursive regime. 'his last is finally Ranci-re)s basic condition for
democracy% which remains the condition for aesthetics and politics% and what is effaced in
Ranci-re)s view by /yotard #and as we)ll see eleu1e)s$ turn to ethics. 2ut this means% it seems% that
there is no room for radical exteriority within Ranci-re)s aesthetic politics and its discursive regime.
+n fact he insists that there is nothing that is unrepresentable% including the Nolocaust #4009: 646$.
+n this way he posits the dissensual democracy of his aesthetic regime as the best response to our
contemporary demands for a philosophy of immanence. 2ut is this really the caseM +t seems to me
that from another perspective /yotard% in a way very similar to eleu1e% locates an interior outside
#the inhuman$ as the genetic difference that insures immanence remains ontologically #rather than
discursively$ "ustified. +n this sense the search for )"ustice) that Ranci-re seems to find offensive in
/yotard)s aesthetics #and in eleu1e)s% see 4005b 6$ is neither a moral cause% nor does it necessarily
replace political activism with passivity% but instead acts as a stimulant to life in Giet1sche)s sense% a
stimulant by which the given produces something new and un!nown. 'his is the )"ustice) by which
the )Figure disappears) in the )Dahara)% according to eleu1e% the )"ustice) of overcoming the human
in the sublime #4007: 4=$.
+n this sense the aim of aesthetics and politics in /yotard and eleu1e is not to produce
a new sensual community% a new political body whose discursive framewor! allows it to negotiate
relative differences% but instead aesthetics as politics #or ethics$ would introduce an immanent
outside% a difference that was productive inasmuch as it was absolute and it eternally returned. +n
this sense it is somewhat surprising that Ranci-re does not spend more time reading /yotard)s other
aesthetic writings% those which do not insist on the pre&eminence of painting% and so do not fall so
easily into the modernist side of his aesthetic regime. For example /yotard)s boo! on uchamp
explores the event through an ironic and playful )politics of incommensurables) #6990: 4<$%
introducing nonsensical elements into the )common sense) of pictorial practice. 3s /yotard remar!s%
)'he uncommentable thing has nothing mystical about it: it)s simply the incommensurable brought
bac! into commentary)% under the principle that )nonsense is the most precious treasure) #6990: 66$.
+n his texts on uchamp the incommensurable diffrend produces humour and uncertainty as
textual affects% and seems to point directly to a way in which aesthetic ambiguity% especially in
relation to the given% might proliferate into both poetic and political conse(uences.
+n other words% the aim of politics and aesthetics for /yotard is not to overcome
alienation in a new community% but to orient the community around alienation as its productive
principle. 3s ,ohn Ra"chman has perceptively pointed out% this could lead to an understanding of
/yotard)s wor! as )an immanent materialism ?...@% appealing to experimentation rather than
"udgment) #699<: 66$. 'his immanent materialism would be precisely what /yotard shares with
eleu1e% an ontological commitment to difference )in itself) that is re"ected by Ranci-re)s more
linguistic and hence )deconstructive) account. 3lthough we will see that there are clearly also
differences between /yotard and eleu1e)s accounts% they are closer to each other than either are to
eleu1e often ac!nowledged his debt to /yotard)s )great boo!) Discours, Figure #69=6$,
)a schi1o&boo!) whose )importance) was )that it mar!s the first generali1ed criti(ue of the signifier)%
and of the structuralist )can!er) that )has contaminated art or our comprehension of art) #4004 465 see
also eleu1e and 0uattari 69<7 457$. /yotard)s boo! #which was the publication of his 8h% for
which eleu1e had been on the examining committee$ eleu1e claims% went beyond the dialectical
and representational relation between signifier and signified to explore )figure&images) on one hand%
and the )pure figural) on the other. 'he first explores the embodiment of designation% its
materiali1ation% and the second elucidates a figural matrix that connects images to their libidinal
production #4004: 465&;$. /yotard)s analysis of the )figural) was especially important for eleu1e%
who used it extensively in analy1ing the painting of Francis 2acon. For both /yotard and eleu1e
the figural emerges as the expression of invisible forces% an expression or actuali1ation of a super&
sensible realm that only appears through the destruction of the human% all too human. +n this sense
the experience of the figural is sublime for both thin!ers% and reveals a world of pure sensation that
escapes the a priori relations determining the figurative form. 3lthough eleu1e)s concept via
/yotard of the figural is clearly crucial for an understanding of his aesthetics% and is the clearest
and most extensive example of their similarities% + will not pursue it here where my focus is on the
eleu1e and /yotard share an interest in the sublime% but their understanding of it is not
entirely the same. +n fact their respective readings of the sublime reveal both the closeness and
distance between their wor!. 2oth thin!ers will attempt to integrate the Kantian difference between
the faculties of the super&sensible and the sensible into an ontology of sensation. 2ut while both
began from a monist ontology of immanence% /yotard will increasingly utili1e the sublime as part
of a dualist understanding of the 'hing and its sensible event. +n fact% in Anti!edipus eleu1e
and 0uattari offer precisely this criticism of /yotard)s Discours, Figure% which effectively
anticipates their subse(uent differences. 3fter some very positive comments praising /yotard and
his concept of the )figural)% )which carries us to the gates of schi1ophrenia as a process)% eleu1e and
0uattari drop a heavy )but). "ut% they write% /yotard too often returns this process )toward shores he
has so recently left behind)% bac! to the discursive structures and spaces in relation to which these
processes can only be secondary )transgressions) a coded insult referring to eleu1e)s dismissal of
2ataille. 'his is predominantly achieved% they continue% because )/yotard reintroduces lac! and
absence into desire> maintains desire under the law of castration% at the ris! of restoring the entire
signifier along with the law) #69<7: 455$.
For eleu1e and 0uattari castration is an oppressive )universal belief) that brings
everyone together under )one and the same illusion of consciousness). Castration separates
consciousness and its sub"ective desires from the )inhuman) and unconscious )great Ather) as /acan
calls it.
2eginning from castration as an a priori of human consciousness therefore condemns desire
to being a signifier for what can never be named or appear what /yotard will later call the 'hing.
3ccording to eleu1e and 0uattari /yotard does not manage to escape this logic of lac!% and
despite the promising developments in Discours, Figure% he is finally condemned for ma!ing the
sub"ect enter desire through castration. 'his% they finally say% is a )perverse% human% all&too&human
ideaP 3n idea originating in bad conscience% and not in the unconscious) #69<7: 49;$. 3lthough
Anti!edipus is written after eleu1e)s encounter with Kant% it nevertheless encapsulates
perhaps in harsher terms than + would prefer the basic difference between eleu1e and /yotard)s
concepts of sublime difference. /yotard% as we have seen% posits the 'hing as absolute and super&
sensible% and it is only ever its unpresentable presence that can be revealed in the visual event or
aistheton. 'his results in an aesthetics of lac!% or absence% and a !ind of obligation to this absence
that Ranci-re will condemn for obscuring aesthetics and politics in ethics. eleu1e% on the other
4 Dee Dlaughter on the relationship between eleu1e)s boo! on Francis 2acon and /yotard)s earlier wor!.
5 For an account of /yotard)s relation to /acan% see Fyers.
hand will% li!e /yotard% see in the sublime experience the emergence of a sensation that is beyond
human comprehension% but this will not be understood according to the irreducible dualism of the
diffrend and its demand for "ustice% but as the inhuman emergence of an +dea% an immanent
principle of reason acting as the real condition of the appearance of a transcendental field or
eleu1e)s reading of Kant begins from the ob"ection that Kant)s a priori principles of the
understanding were traced from the psychological structures of perception% and so failed to discover
experience)s real and genetic conditions #6995: 67;$. Kant)s third Criti(ue anticipates these
ob"ections )at least in part)% inasmuch as it )uncovers the ultimate ground still lac!ing in the other
two Criti(ues) #4004: 66$. 'he ground it discovers is the faculties) )free agreement% indeterminate
and unconditional)% meaning that )with the #riti$ue of Judgment% we step into 0enesis) #4004:
6<&9$. 2ut for eleu1e% Kant)s most important discovery in the third Criti(ue is not the )free play) of
the faculties in the beautiful but the sublime% which% he will argue% is the way experience goes
beyond its conditions of possibility and transcendental empiricism discovers difference as its real
and genetic condition. +n the sublime the genetic conditions of experience emerge in themselves% as
the difference between the faculties% a difference eleu1e raises to a higher power that overcomes
the very possibility of common sense. What eleu1e calls )real experience) is the repetition of the
difference between the super&sensible and the sensible% its eternal return in an open and multiplying
series of faculties and the experiences that exceed them.
eleu1e)s reading of the third Criti(ue begins from what he calls the )formidable
difficulty) of understanding the )mysterious) harmony of the faculties in common sense #69<5: 44$.
'his harmony re(uires the presupposition of aesthetic common sense% but% eleu1e says% this is an
Qunsatisfactory solutionR #4004: 60$ because% )the Criti(ue in general demands a principle of this
accord% of the genesis of common sense) #69<5: 44&7$. 'he 3nalytic of the Dublime gives this
)genetic principle) #4004: =0$ that demonstrates% for Kant% how reason secures the free indeterminate
accord of the imagination and the understanding in the beautiful. eleu1e however% reading Kant
very literally on this point% will find in the sublime a transcendental genetic principle of discord or
difference that will overcome common sense and its human% all too human sensibility.
'he sublime% as Kant remar!s% is Qbeyond all comparison greatR #69<= S 4;$% so it cannot
be a measurable ob"ect of the senses. 3s a result% the sublime presents the imagination with an
experience that is formless% and this forces it to confront its own limit. +magination has no limit
when it is apprehending successive parts because as long as it has established a unit of measure it
can apprehend successive parts to infinity. 2ut imagination does reach its limit when it attempts to
simultaneously reproduce this infinity of parts, which it cannot synthesi1e into a single experience.
Nere eleu1e follows Kant)s account of the aesthetic synthesis% which determines a unit of measure.
3n aesthetic synthesis is made up from sub"ective "udgments Kant claims% because its unit of
measure is always our body. 2ut in the face of the )absolutely great) this aesthetic synthesis brea!s
down% forcing us to turn to the +deas% which can thin! the infinity of the )absolutely great) even if the
imagination cannot apprehend it. Nere% the sublime gives rise to )a feeling of a super&sensible
faculty within us) #Kant> 69<= S 4;$% and reveals the super&sensible substrate underlying intuition.
Gature is sublime in the phenomena that convey an +dea of their infinity% and in this we get% Kant
tells us )infinity comprehended) #69<= S 46$. Nere we comprehend an +dea of Gature that is super&
sensible and that underlies both Gature and our own faculty of reason.
Ranci-re will condemn eleu1e)s )sublime aesthetics) for the same reason he re"ects /yotard)s%
for obliterating the tension between art and politics in an )ethical turn). Ranci-re offers% in this
respect% a very perceptive reading of eleu1e)s wor! that begins with the observation% which + thin!
we can ta!e as being correct% that for eleu1e )3rt is politics) #4060: 6=4$. 'he art wor! is%
according to eleu1e% a raw sensation torn from the cliches and banalities of the world in such a
way as to allow this genetic difference to become productive. 'his sensation is in no way
representational% and it opens onto inasmuch as it is part of a )molecular world% in&determined%
un&individuali1ed% before representation% before the principle of reason). 3s we have seen% it opens
onto chaos. 'his% Ranci-re claims% is a world of indeterminacy in relation to concepts% but )the
discovery of fraternity) in political terms #4005a 6;0$. +n eleu1e however% this )fraternity) is not of
humans% but as in /yotard of the inhuman. eleu1e)s figures for this inhumanity vary greatly% a
variety perhaps expressed by the series in A %housand &lateaus of becoming&woman&girl&
animal&molecular&indiscernible. 3s in /yotard% it is the sublime gap between the human world and
the sensation that both expresses and constructs any future community or )people to come). An this
account eleu1e)s aesthetics% li!e /yotard)s% clearly fits into the )modernist) side of Ranci-re)s
schema% where art)s politics are )mar!ed by the paradox of )artistic) resistance. 3rt promises a people
in two contradictory ways: it does so insofar as it is art and insofar as it is not art) #4060: 6==$. 3rt
announces a )people to come) through a sublime brea!% an art wor!*brea! acting as the
transcendental ob"ect of a political community% the inhuman and immanent excess directing a
process of individuation in which the organism is overcome% and a new world is born.
For Ranci-re the problem is that this both affirms art in the highest terms% and implies
its disappearance. 'his% Ranci-re claims% is the )ethical confusion) by which art and politics vanish
through their union. What results from this is not liberation% but )a humanity referred to the
vanity of any fraternal dream) #4060: 6<7$. For Ranci-re the point is not to obliterate the difference
between art and politics )but to maintain the very tension by which a politics of art and a poetics of
politics tend towards each other% but cannot meet up without suppressing themselves #4060: 6<7$.
Abviously then% the )modernist contradiction) Ranci-re finds at wor! in eleu1e and /yotard is only
a contradiction from his perspective% where a constant circulation of politics and art defines both of
them. Ranci-re has very little interest in the super&sensible% and inasmuch as modernist art poses the
super&sensible as an ethical*political alternative to the ruling sensible regime% it must% on Ranci-re)s
account be reconciled with its opposite #the sensible everyday$ to avoid becoming totalitarian.
eleu1e% li!e /yotard% refuses this !ind of reconciliation% and insists on the sublime sensation as the
eruption of an inhuman art in the human. 3s such% transcendental difference emerges in and as real
experience% and obliterates any common sense or sensible )regime). +n other words% the people to
come announced by art is never% for eleu1e% a sensus communis% it is the actuali1ation of a
transcendental difference by which human being becomes #something else$. Ranci-re is therefore
not wrong to claim that for eleu1e the art wor! is )not simply the promise of a people but its
reality) #4060: 6=9$% inasmuch as the real is the third form of time for eleu1e% the real is the future.
For eleu1e art gives the sensation in which the future erupts in the present as an aesthetic event% a
tear in the fabric of things sweeping aside all sub"ective givens% and all human communities% in an
experience strictly co&extensive with what eleu1e and 0uattari call a )becoming&Tniverse) #6995:
669$. 3t this point it is meaningless to spea! about )communities) united by what they have in
)common)% as here everything is ta!ing place on the entirely material level of singular )multiplicities)
in which the particular and the Tniverse have become indiscernible. +n this sense then% eleu1e uses
the sublime to achieve Kant)s original ambitions for the aesthetic as the bridge between the sensible
and reason% between the empirical particular and the transcendental +dea.
Gevertheless% for Ranci-re eleu1e)s concept of art has to pay a steep price> )the
reintroduction of a !ind of transcendence in the thought of immanence) #4060: 6<0$. Ranci-re
accurately locates this transcendence as being the sublime% )the excessive power of an aisthesis%
which is to say% in essence% the power of an ontological difference between two orders of reality)
#4060: 6<0$. Ranci-re also understands and points out how eleu1e)s account differs from Kant)s
because )the suprasensible element encountered in the experience of the sublime is not the
intelligible> it is the pure sensible% the inhuman power of life. +mmanence must be turned into a
form of transcendence) #4060: 6<6$. Dimilarly% in Kant the sublime moves us from the aesthetic to
the moral realm% while in eleu1e this difference is )reinvested) in the practice of art and aesthetic
experience. 3s Ranci-re argues in a discussion of eleu1e)s reading of literature% eleu1e )tears) the
)logic of sensation) from Romanticism and )establishes it in another territory) closer to pragmatism or
English empiricism. #4005a 6;=$. 3rt in this sense is the experience of the super&sensible sensible%
)an experience of the heteronomy of /ife with respect to the human) #4060: 6<6$.
Ance more Ranci-re is helpful in distinguishing eleu1e from /yotard% who% he says%
)drew diametrically opposite conse(uences from the same premises) #4060: 6<6$. /yotard is li!e
eleu1e in ma!ing art a sublime discord between the mind and an inhuman and excessive power.
'hey both invert Kant)s analysis by transforming the difference between the faculties of imagination
and reason into an experience of the sensible)s transcendence with respect to itself% and ma!e this
experience the principle of artistic practice. 2ut% Ranci-re argues% for eleu1e art is a
deterritoriali1ing force wor!ing against the /aw and calling for a people to come% while for /yotard
art separates the mind from itself and testifies to its irremediable alienation from the Ather. 'his is a
useful description of the difference between eleu1e and /yotard)s use of the sublime% which shares
a commitment to its inhuman difference% but differs when it comes to understanding how this
difference is actuali1ed. While for both the transcendental difference is genetic% in /yotard it can
only give rise to an ac!nowledgement of the impossibility of ever experiencing heterogeneity% to the
presence of this impossibility in experience% while in eleu1e transcendental difference produces a
real experience that is understood as an actual but nevertheless asub"ective individuation directly
expressing and constructing a virtual +dea. Ranci-re will finally say that /yotard)s conclusions
are assuredly less appealing ?than eleu1e)s@. + fear% however% that they are more logical%
that the transcendence instituted at the heart of +mmanence% in fact% signifies the
submission of art to a law of heteronomy which undermines every form of transmission
of the vibration of colour and of the embrace of forms to the vibrations and to the
embraces of a fraternal humanity #4060: 6<4$.
Considering Ranci-re)s earlier condemnation of /yotard this conclusion is both surprising and
definitive. For Ranci-re% eleu1e)s dubious achievement of fulfilling )the destiny of aesthetics by
suspending the entire power of the wor! of art from the JpureK sensible) is not only )anti&logical)
inasmuch as it affirms the )incoherent modern wor!) #4005b 67$% but also re"ects discursive
difference or )dissensus) upon which Ranci-re)s own system is based. Ranci-re sees very clearly that
in eleu1e)s #and in /yotard)s$ account of sublime difference the sensation obliterates the
)communication) of disagreement% and the )community) it produces. 'his is why the inhumanity of
eleu1e)s aesthetics worries him so much% because it is this aspect of the sublime that removes the
beautiful and precisely the beautiful as the undetermined difference constitutive of a democratic
discursive regime from the realm of art. 3s Ranci-re puts it% here )Gothing else is formed except
the identity of the infinite power of difference and the indifference of the +nfinite. 3nd the (uestion
remains: how can one ma!e a difference in the political community with this indifferenceM) #4005a
667$. 'he argument is very similar to that Ranci-re aims at /yotard> when the difference between
aesthetics and politics disappears in the ethical necessity% or )"ustice) of a sublime disruption of the
human% aesthetics can get no further than a continual re&enactment of the art&wor!s hysterical de&
figuration of the human% and )the interminable postponement or deferral of the promised fraternity)
#4005b ; and 4005a 664$. Ranci-re finds such pointless absolutism distasteful% he prefers the
constant discursive negotiations of contemporary art over a )beautiful) sensus communis to the
violent absolutism of the modernist sublime.
Ane might say at this point that Ranci-re was (uite entitled to his opinion% and leave it at that. Go
doubt one could say the same of eleu1e and /yotard% whether one wanted to choose one over the
other or not. Certainly it is in Ranci-re)s favour that he elucidates the terms of this choice very
clearly. 2ut he does so% it must be said% through a final moment of bad conscience% the very same
one as that offered by another of eleu1e and /yotard)s colleagues in the philosophy department at
8aris H+++% 3lain 2adiou. 3ccording to this #in$famous reading of eleu1e% and here Ranci-re
parrots it exactly% )"ustice) for eleu1e is )conceived on the 8latonic model) whereby the virtual +deas
remain transcendent in relation to the material field of immanence they determine #4005a 667$. 3s a
result% and it is a searing indictment> )We do not go on% from the multitudinous incantation of 2eing%
toward any political "ustice. /iterature opens no passage to a eleu1ean politics) #4005a 665$. +n
fact% Ranci-re implies% because of this residual 8latonic transcendence there is no eleu1ian
What is interesting about this conclusion is that although it emerges from Ranci-re)s
mutually exclusive opposition of ethics and politics% it seems to imply a deeper opposition% also
mutually exclusive% between ontology and politics. +t is as if what really attracts Ranci-re to Kant)s
concept of the beautiful is that it remains undetermined by absolute +deas% or% in other words% by
ontological assumptions. +nstead there are only the discursive regimes constituting empirical reality
#the a prioris of the understanding$% and the )beautiful) aesthetic statements capable of disagreeing
with them. 'his effectively removes ontological commitments from the field of both aesthetics and
politics% "ust as it dis(ualifies any )ontological) understanding of the aesthetic realm of discursive
We are presented with a choice then% between an ontological understanding of Kant)s
aesthetics and a political one. 2oth eleu1e and /yotard will use the concept of the sublime to re&
orient aesthetics towards the ontological eruption #sensation$ of an absolute difference between the
human and the inhuman% or% in other words% between the sensible and the super&sensible. For
/yotard this difference will forever return through the impossibility of ever breaching it% while in
eleu1e it will forever return in privileged moments capable of living it. For both these )eternal
returns of difference) will be art. For Ranci-re on the other hand such returns are not only
impossible% they are a denial of politics. 2ut here politics is no longer understood in the extreme
ontological terms of the other two thin!ers% where politics is nothing else but the ethical obligation
of art #and philosophy$ to produce inhuman transformation% but is instead seen as a discursive
process negotiating the given conditions of existence. 'he production of aesthetic )dissensus) in this
sense negotiates what is seeable and sayable% but does not challenge the transcendental and still&
human conditions of seeing and saying as such. eleu1e and /yotard will sweep such a prioris
away in the pure heterogeneity of an event.
From this we can see why contemporary artists and activists are attracted to Ranci-re)s
wor!. 'hey share a set of assumptions and aims% and although Ranci-re)s insistence on the political
value of modernist painting% and his commitment to the avant&gardes and the )beautiful) sound odd
in the context of contemporary art% his affirmation of aesthetic production undetermined by
conceptual or ethical*ontological conditions of possibility% and art)s conse(uent ability to intervene
within the public sphere appeals directly to the current enthusiasm for politically engaged artistic
practice. Dimilarly% Ranci-re)s discussion of contemporary art wor!s and artists seems to repay in
!ind his upta!e by the contemporary art world. +n this respect his wor! feels far more )current) than
that of eleu1e and /yotard with their archaic affirmations of painting% and in eleu1e and
0uattari)s case their re"ection of Conceptual art #6995 69<$.
2ut% and it is a winsome )but) to end% /yotard and eleu1e both offer an aesthetic
philosophy that has a grandeur and level of commitment Ranci-re can)t #and admittedly doesn)t
want to$ match. 'hey both trump )dissensus) with the )inhuman)% raising the sta!es of political
commitment to sublime heights. +f we are less interested today in how art might achieve such
radical disintegrations of the human% both /yotard and eleu1e vividly return us to this primal
scene of overcoming. +t is% as Ranci-re says% a matter of choice% perhaps even a matter of aesthetics.
Ranci-re% /yotard and eleu1e have all been beneficiaries at various times of the fashion mentality
that drives the art world% but this is not an excuse to ta!e Ranci-re)s suggestion lightly. We must not
succumb% as /yotard has already remar!ed and it is as true in art as it is in theory to the taste of
the supermar!et shopper. We must choose then% but we must do so with a commitment that reflects
that of our theorist of choice% for this is the only way no matter who we choose that our choice
might ma!e a difference.
2rassier% Ray #400=$% 'ihil (nbound, )nlightenment and )*tinction. /ondon: 8algrave.
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Columbia Tniversity 8ress.
eleu1e% 0illes #69<5$% ,ant-s #ritical &hilosophy, %he Doctrine of the Faculties.
'ranslated by N. 'omlinson and 2. Nabber"am. Finneapolis: Tniversity of Finnesota 8ress.
eleu1e% 0illes #6995$% Difference and .epetition. 'ranslated by 8. 8atton. Gew Lor!:
Columbia Tniversity 8ress.
eleu1e% 0illes #4004$% Desert /slands and !ther %e*ts 01230145. 'ranslated by F.
'aormina% edited by . /apou"ade. Gew Lor!: Demiotext#e$.
eleu1e% 0illes #4007$% Francis "acon6 the logic of sensation. 'ranslated by . Dmith.
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