At the risk of being overly schematic, one might say that there are three, related, philosophical provocations to the kind of political thought of which Jacques Rancière’s political thought is a specific structuralist example. It helps contextually to specify these. First is the deconstructive ruination of being. Second is the ruination of the subject via the void, supplementarity or excess in existence itself that is said to ruin all onto-theological accounts of being. Third, is the technological ruination of the world, said to follow from avoiding, via technologisation, the void that effects the ruination of being and subject. Taken together the ruination of being, subject and world amount to a comprehensive dissolution of the markers of certainty for political thought, since neither the unity of being, the stable properties of a pre-formed subject nor the existence of a reified world of abiding functional necessities allows one to read-off the nature of politics from these supposedly secure bearings. Because the ruination of being, subject and world are open to a wide variety of interpretations, thinking politics in their wake becomes a diverse and by no means uniform or homogeneous enterprise.
These philosophical provocations do not simply create a void in political thought. More fundamentally, they create a void — the void deeply implicated in this tripartite ruination of being, subject and world — for political thought from out of which political thought is challenged to re-think politics. Jacques Rancière’s political thinking seeks to do precisely this. As he says, “The whole question of the political lies in the interpretation of this void.” The object of my response to his thinking is not of course to ask how true is Rancière’s account of politics. Rather, out of a basic sympathy with the provocations that prompt it, and out of a deep admiration for the way in which Rancière himself responds to those provocations in a rare and sustained act of political thinking, my reading of him is concerned to determine from whence his thought derives? What logic drives it? And, what entailments or collateral effects are consequent upon the operation of that logic?
I want to concentrate on the last two of these three questions. The first would entail an exegesis for which there is no space here. In any event the ruination of being, subject and world gestures towards at least some of the influences at work in Rancière’s thinking, if it by no means exhausts them. In particular, the last two questions direct the line of questioning to Rancière’s most recent work, Ten Theses on Politics. The line of questioning is itself political in as much as it attempts to disagree. It is political also in ways, I charge, not specified by Rancière. It not only attempts to bring Rancière into question, it also seeks to put Rancière to the question, thereby evoking something more than, something in excess of, the proprieties of politics that Rancière himself identifies. I deliberately want to invoke a scene that moves us beyond the scholastic rendition and organisation of litigation, argumentation and demonstration, favoured by Rancière as the modes proper to politics, towards a more performative theatre of violence, power and cruelty. Since there is always already an excess of performativity over litigation, argumentation and demonstration, incorporating the full power, violence and decision of the political ‘passage á l’acte’ forcibly breaches and exceeds the proprieties of Rancière’s politics of Dis-agreement. However much I sympathise with Rancière’s fundamental point concerning the essentially polemical character of politics, Rancière struggles to domesticate the radical impropriety of politics by confining it to a proper topos and to proper tropes of encounter in a structurally underwritten scene of dis-agreement.
The title of my response, (De)void of Politics?, thus signals a suspicion concerning Rancière’s rendition of the void whose interpretation, he rightly says, is crucial to any account of politics deprived of the fixed bearings of being, subject or world, and thus a suspicion...