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  • Of Queer Neutrality
  • Jacques Khalip (bio)
John Paul Ricco, The Decision Between Us: Art and Ethics in the Time of Scenes, Chicago and London, University of Chicago Press 2014, 252pp

In what way does the concept of ‘decision’ invariably involve space and being-together? How can it be at once a relational term and a mark of apartness that structures being? To decide something means to already come belatedly to a scene of decisions that has preceded us without our knowing. Perhaps the simplest and yet most complex artifact that radiates these questions, taken from John Paul Ricco’s extraordinary and beautifully composed new book, is the blank sheet of paper: on the one hand, as a medium of inscription, representation, and communication, it subtends and actualizes the decision to commit word and image to the page; on the other, it is the inert blankness that overrides any inscribed decisions in the first place, undoing and admonishing forms as the paper’s whiteout points to what is always already there - the vacancy of the emptied and erased page that endlessly separates meaning from matter, sense from sensuality, subject from object. Like the bounding lines of an Agnes Martin drawing, where ink seems to cut into a background that very soon pulses to the fore at closer view, the blank sheet is the aesthetic event, collecting us together to decide while also dispersing us of judgment by way of its residual and persistent nothingness. In The Creation of the World or Globalization, Jean-Luc Nancy notes that ‘separation, the stepping-out-of-one-another, is at the same time, Entscheidung, decision: it is the decision of Being, the decision of nothing into being or to being … the whole of existence as an ensemble or partition of singular decisions’.1 Citing this passage in his introduction, Ricco draws us towards queerly intimate scenes of separation, differentiation, anonymity, or together-in-aloneness, scenes that appear just as soon as they disappear into several contemporary visual, theoretical and literary objects that wrestle with the impersonality of sociability and sexuality. In the second term that guides the book, ‘scene’, Ricco again turns to Nancy, in order to consider how being-together, if thought performatively, exceeds figuralization: ‘scene’ describes the ‘spacing and transitivity’ that at once establishes the mobile mise-en-scène of exposed being. In other words, ‘scenes’ describe ‘the name for the spacing and transitivity of being-together (the to or toward of shared exposure), which perhaps even does without a figure and identification’ (p8). The scenic is the space of decisions, and throughout his book, Ricco’s arguments pay strong tribute to a mise-en-scène set by Nancy, Roland Barthes and Maurice Blanchot. His readers are led along pages of deft analyses that are concise and tightly woven, if at times [End Page 257] allusive and uncompromising in their unwavering attention to an archive of anti-identitarian and anti-relational thought.

And in a similar way as in his first book, The Logic of the Lure, Ricco pursues a series of ‘scenes’ that primarily engage Nancy’s theoretical opus as an impetus for aesthetic elaboration, particularly the recurring notion of a queerly ‘inoperative community’ that balks at economization, membership, or identification. It is to this precise point that Ricco consistently returns in his writing: the anonymity of relationality itself, the sheer impersonal demands of shared, common, life-in-retreat. As a reminder of the failures of expectation and awareness that sear the social, Ricco tarries with the ethical, political and aesthetic practices through which an ‘unbecoming community’ might be thought.

In this way, The Decision Between Us argues for an inoperative aesthetics, or a perversely Kantian purposive purposelessness that endlessly performs this negative strain, cutting through the liberal norms of co-existence, belonging and commonality. If the book’s analytic language often seems to ward off any positive declarations, it is because the scene of the decision, for Ricco, is aligned not with autonomous agreement or consensus, but with forces of thought that are external to or outside of decisions themselves. We are thus quite far away from conventional reductions of decision to mere ‘decisionism’, or the self-authorising and...


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pp. 257-260
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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