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Jacques Rancière “The Politics of Aesthetics”

Rancière, Jacques 2011. The Politics of Aesthetics. London; New York: Continuum.

I call the distribution of the sensible the system of self-evident facts of sense  perception  that  simultaneously  discloses  the  existence  of something in common and the delimitations that define the respective parts and positions within it. A distribution of the sensible therefore establishes at one and the same time something common that is shared and exclusive parts. (12)

If the reader is fond of analogy, aesthetics can be understood in a Kantian sense – re-examined perhaps by Foucault – as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of [14] spaces and times, of the visible and the invisible, of speech and noise, that simultaneously determines the place and the stakes of politics as a form of experience. (13)

It is on the basis of this primary aesthetics that it is possible to raise the question of‘aesthetic practices’ as I understand them, that is forms of visibility that disclose artistic practices, the place they occupy, what they ‘do’ or ‘make’  from the standpoint of what is common to the community. Artistic practices are ‘ways of doing and making’  that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as in the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility. (13)

The arts  only ever lend to projects of domination or emancipation what they are able to lend to them, that is to say, quite simply, what they have in common with them: bodily positions and movements, functions of speech, the parcelling out of the visible and the invisible. (19)

There is first of all what I propose to call an ethical regime of images. In this regime,  art’ is not identified as such but is subsumed under the question of images. As a specific type of entity, images are the object of a twofold question: the question of their origin (and consequently their truth content) and the question of their end or purpose, the uses they are put to and the effects they result in. (20)

In this regime, it is a matter of knowing in what way images’ mode of being affects the ethos, the mode of being of individuals and communities. This question prevents art’ from individualizing itself as such. (21)

The poetic – or representative – regime of the arts breaks away from the ethical regime of images. It identifies the substance of art – or rather of the arts – in the couple poieis mimesis. The mimetic principle is not at its core a normative principle stating that art must make copies resembling their models. It is first of all a pragmatic principle that isolates, within the general domain of the arts (ways of doing and making), certain particular forms of art that produce specific entities [29] called imitations. (21)

I call this regime poetic in the sense that it identifies the arts – what the Classical Age would later call the ‘fine arts’ – within a classification of ways of doing and making, and it consequently defines proper ways of doing and making as well as means of assessing imitations. I call it representative insofar as it is the notion of representation or mimesis that organizes these ways of doing, making, seeing, and judging. (22)

A regime of visibility is at once what renders the arts autonomous and also what links this autonomy to a general order of occupations and ways of doing and making. (22)

The aesthetic regime of the arts stands in contrast with the representative regime. I call this regime aesthetic because the identification of art no longer occurs via a division within ways of doing and making, but it is based on distinguishing a sensible mode of being specific to artistic products. The word aesthetics does not refer to a theory of sensibility, taste, and pleasure for art amateurs. It strictly refers to the specific mode of being of whatever falls within the domain of art, to the mode of being of the objects of art. (22)

The aesthetic regime [33] of the arts is the regime that strictly identifies art in the singular and frees it from any specific  rule,  from any hierarchy of the arts, subject matter, and genres. Yet it does so by destroying the mimetic barrier that distinguished ways of doing and making affiliated with art from other ways of doing and making, a barrier that separated its rules from the order of social occupations. The aesthetic regime asserts the absolute singularity of art and, at the same time, destroys any pragmatic criterion for isolating this singularity. It simultaneously establishes the autonomy of art and the identity of its forms with the forms that life uses to shape itself. (23)

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