Ranciere, J.  (2006) 'Thinking between disciplines: an aesthetics of knowledge'.  Trans Jon Roffe. Parrhesia 1: 1--12

Notes by Dave Harris

[This is more or less or condensed version of the chapter on Bourdieu in The Philosopher and His Poor.  Even the same overworked example of the aesthetic carpenter!]

This is not an argument that forms of knowledge must take on an aesthetic dimension, rather that aesthetics is immanent in knowledge.  To insist on a separate dimension is to divide the notion of knowledge, and thus introduce 'a dimension of ignorance' (1).

We understand that aesthetics involves not a theory of the beautiful, and nor of sensibility, but 'a specific regime of visibility and intelligibility of art...  The reconfiguration of the categories of sensible experience and its interpretation'.  This experience was systematized by Kant.  It involves a departure from ordinary or habitual experience.  Aesthetic objects are neither objects of knowledge nor objects of desire, and aesthetics does not involve a concept.  It follows that artists do not proceed through applying their every day [or theoretical?] knowledge.  What is beautiful has its own reasons, independent of desire or negative feelings.  We have to suspend our normal judgments, hence the example of being able to appreciate the beauty of a palace regardless of the sweat of those who built it.  This is a 'will to ignorance' [of social conditions etc] (2).

It always was a scandalous argument.  Bourdieu in particular has critiqued it [the main purpose of Distinction for Ranciere].  This is a misrecognition for him, based on a belief that it's possible to leave behind class origins of judgments.  Thus it is only petty bourgeois intellectuals who can judge palaces, since they neither own one nor have built it, and can ignore the struggle of capital and labour.  This is where apparently universal thought and disinterested taste comes from.

This implies that you either know the reality or you do not know how to grasp it.  Those who do not grasp it do not want to, because this is actually their social role, their way of accommodating and misrecognising the system.  Only particular sociological savants can understand this.

Behind the argument is a notion of a true liberating knowledge and a false oppressive knowledge.  But aesthetics challenges this schema as too simple.  Instead knowledge is combined with certain kinds of ignorance, and, sometimes, knowledge can repress and ignorance liberate.  The builders of palaces do not just ignore their exploitation.  Indeed they can't ignore it, but are aware of its limiting oppression, and this stimulates them to 'create another body and another way of seeing than that which oppresses them' [cf Marx on Christianity as the 'sigh of the oppressed' -- but also as 'the opium of the masses'](3).  Every day knowledge is 'an ensemble of knowledges...[and]... an organized distribution of positions'. 

For Bourdieu, builders are supposed to have enough knowledge to perform their technical tasks, but insufficient knowledge to appreciate 'the adequation of their work to a superior end' [revealing that this the end is seen as superior].  Awareness of this combination enables them to continue to play their part, although they are not supposed to know how the whole system of roles works.

This is really Platonic.  Artisans have to get on with their work, and they also lack those qualities, "gold", given to those who run the city.  Their occupation defines their aptitudes and limits, and this serves to confirm their occupation.  They don't need actually to believe that they are differently constituted, just enough to act on that basis: everyday experience confirms it.  This is not exactly misrecognition, more a matter of belief, a perceived accordance between these views and real life [an ideology for marxists].

However, aesthetic experience threatens this arrangement.  It breaks out from the accepted distribution of roles and apparent competencies.  For sociologists, this is merely 'the illusion of the philosopher' (4).  But builders want and value of this kind of challenge to the existing order.  We know this from evidence [!] such as the journal of a worker in 1848 who seems to be paraphrasing Kant—and an extract from the text follows.  [Actually, this is not the text itself but a summary and commentary on it, on behalf of the actual builder who lays the floor.  Nevertheless, Ranciere is confident that this reveals 'a disjunction between an occupation and the aptitudes which correspond to it', as the builder is capable of 'acting as if what was being enjoyed by the gaze also belonged to him' (5)].  Apparently this is sufficient to rebuke Plato, who treated ultimate ends as myths in order to justify social order.

For Plato, knowledge had to be delivered in the form of stories, within an ethical framework.  However, what ethics meant for him was not a matter of judgement according to universal values, but rather an abode, an appropriate place, and appropriate feelings and thinking.  People must live according to the conditions to which they belong.  In this way there is no 'aesthetics'  in the Kantian sense.

Aesthetics really means a finality without end, a pleasure with no defined end.  It acts with a particular 'as if', which assumes gazes can be detached from the issues like who built the palace.  Hence builders act as if they were at home in the houses they build [don't they just!].  This belief though does not hide reality, rather adds to it, splits the conventional view that beliefs are only appropriate to particular positions.  Workers can have doubled identities, adding 'a proletarian identity' to their everyday one—'the identity of a subject capable of escaping the assignment to a private condition and of intervening in the affairs of the community' [so we have escalated from private musings about the beauty of one's work, at the end of the day's labour, to an active political agent ready to challenge the system].

For sociologists, this can only be an illusion.  Knowledge is not combined with aesthetics, but contradicts it.  Aesthetic experience only divides knowledge, and attempts to disrupt the scheme whereby knowledge belongs to social positions again.  This is not just confined to Bourdieu.  Sociology itself depends on 'a demonstration of a certain idea of knowledge—in other words, a certain idea of the rapport between knowledge and distribution of positions'(6) [but not for axiomatic philosophical reasons -- as an empirical hypothesis, admittedly with a political intent, but not a conservative,intent?]. This is what makes it a discipline. 

Disciplines always operate with a relation between experience, [academic] knowledge, and the kind of ignorance which accompanies them.  This is how they manage what is thinkable, what can be known, and how they manage dissensus. This is shown in Bourdieu's work on the dispositif  linking phrases with photographs [ the empirical stuff in Distinction] .  In fact the questionnaires are designed to avoid allodoxia, including trick questions such as '" I love classical music, for example the waltzes of Strauss"', designed as 'a snare for the workers who lie, saying that they love classical music, but are betrayed, being ignorant of the fact that Strauss does not deserve to be considered'(7).  Results are presupposed.  [Handy way of dismissing empirical evidence -- does not apply to the extract of the builder's diary though]. In this way, science itself 'is an orthodoxy, a war machines against allodoxy', and it cannot recognize proper dissensus and disjunction between positions' and knowledge.  Politically, 'The settling of scores between the sociologist and Kant is first of all the settling of scores with our woodworker'. 

Sociology emerged as a response to the challenge of democratic revolution.  It wanted to reconstitute the society divided by ideas and philosophies, and it did this by trying to rebuild the social fabric to allocate people to appropriate places for appropriate of thinking and feeling.  This would produce 'collective harmony', an 'organicist vision'.  Modern sociologist do not hold this vision, but they still believe in trying to develop a science that will serve society [not to smash it?].  'The scientific war against the allodoxy of judgments continues the political war against "anomie"'and democratic unrest'.  This makes it complicit with Platonism in a way, but even worse—Plato admitted that inequality was an artifice, a story, while sociologists claim it arises from a scientific understanding of misrecognition.

The same can be said about history.  It now denies just chronicles facts about elites, and now focuses on the 'life of common people' (8).  This apparent democratic turn is still conservative, however, supporting 'long cycles of life' against mere periodic surface agitations, as in the dismissal of [the builder's gaze ] in 1848. Bloch is the target here, distinguishing between organized and real or true time, and the 'suspended time of aesthetic experience…  the "short" time, the "ephemeral" time of actors in the public sphere'.  This again is the notion of ethics as appropriate space and time [and there are hints that history also wants to be scientific].

These disciplines are engaged in war.  Disciplines are both assembled procedures and constitutions of suitable territory 'and therefore the establishment of a certain distribution of the thinkable...  A cut in the common fabric of manifestations of thought and language', a necessary split between what people say and what they mean.  This also involves the claim of privilege for such knowledge.  In this way, their activities are opposed to 'the war that the worker is himself fighting' (9), against being confined to a suitable position.

In fact there are many sources of perpetual disturbance, in freely circulating words and discourses, best seen with words like 'people, liberty, equality'.  There are unavoidable spectacles which 'transform the worker into an aesthete'.  Social science disciplines must constantly pacify these tendencies.

The term 'in– disciplinary thought' helps to recall this notion of a war.  It ignores disciplinary boundaries, and recasts them as 'weapons in a dispute'.  One way to do this is to take phrases of builders seriously, out of their normal context which sees them just as an expression of their condition.  We need to see these are not just as descriptions, but new relations between a situation and 'forms of visbility and capacities of thought'.  This can be seen as an anti platonic myth.  Indisciplinary procedures 'create the textual and signifying space' in which new myths are visible and thinkable.  This is an obvious place without boundaries, and a space of equality, where narratives engage in dialogue irrespective of the social position of the narrator. 

This also recasts relation between philosophy and the human sciences.  Philosophy is normally seen as above that of human sciences, reflecting and offering a foundation.  Human sciences sometimes attempt to reverse this hierarchy.  'But there is a third way' [sic] (10)—philosophy does not prop up these orders of discourse, but declares  them to be arbitrary.  This was already a tendency with Plato's insistence on the myth as essential to knowledge, the need for 'a beautiful lie' giving meaning to life, necessary but untrue—but not actually an illusion either.  Insisting on the role of such myths as integral to discourse suspends and challenges hierarchies.

Philosophy therefore has the role of literally discoursing about social reality, whether it abstracts or not.  The need for the beautiful lie is what connects reasons and narratives, and explains 'the organized distribution of lives'.  Plato urges us to speak the truth, but also tells us the story of the origin of this truth in myth.  The myth is then used to produce a justification for the ranks of Greek society, but paradoxically it also reveals 'the power of the story and that of the common language which abolishes the hierarchy of discourse and the hierarchies that this underwrites'(11).

Disciplines construct and defend their territory, and develop appropriate objects and methods that includes philosophy except when 'it wants to found its status as the discipline of disciplines'.  It can only do this by reminding that disciplines that their knowledges and methods 'are recounted stories', not worthless, but 'weapons in a war' to maintain territory and boundaries. 

Boundaries between subject are not absolute.  Nor are boundaries between ordinary discourse, say of builders, and social science.  It is simply a boundary 'between those who have thought through this question and those who have not'(11) [so insignifcant?]   The boundary can only be described as a story.  There is no final reason in disciplinary reasons.

This proposes 'a poetics of knowledges'.  It is partly a way of saying there is 'always literature in attempts at rigorous argumentation', but this still looks like an attempt to demystification.  Instead, disciplines are to be seen as not false but 'ways of intervening in the interminable war between ways of declaring what a body can do, in the interminable war between the reasons of equality and those of inequality'.  The reliance on stories does not make them invalid.  It is simply that they must 'borrow their presentations of objects' and forms of argument from ordinary language and thought.  We must reinscribe the presence and force of these ordinary descriptions and arguments, which will assert equality of common language and its operations.  'In this sense [a poetics of knowledge] can be called a method of equality'(12).

[Looks like early Foucault -- but even he had to recognise that scientific discourse was different -- right at the end!. All the problems of radical egalitarianism as well, like relativism. Is there no difference between a discourse that embraces equality and one that reserves it to a racial or economic elite? Can you have an egalitarian discussion with a fascist? Do anti-semites deserve uncondictional respect for their discourses? Was the Holocaust just a discursive event? Lyotard got into awful trouble with that one, and had to suddenly produce all kinds of criteria to evaluate discourses after all]

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