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  • Kairos and Affect in Rancière’s “Ten Theses on Politics”
  • Dean Mathiowetz (bio)

A commentary on “Ten Theses on Politics” by Jacques Rancière, Theory & Event, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2001)

The event of Rancière’s essay “Ten Theses on Politics” included not only its 2001 appearance in Theory & Event, but also a symposium on it published two years later.1 Thus my comment here, on the occasion of Theory & Event’s 20th Anniversary, marks only the most recent of several returns to Rancière’s essay in the digital flows of this journal. The 2003 symposium offered compelling entry points for commenting again upon “Ten Theses,” now fifteen years after its publication. One might ask, as did two of the symposium’s interlocutors in the immediate shadow of the 9/11 attacks, what it means to read the “Ten Theses” in contexts rendered by major political shifts, like the more recent 11/9.2 Or one might engage “Ten Theses” at the level of philosophical critique.3 In this short reflection, I instead approach the “Ten Theses” along lines suggested by Samuel Chambers: I accept the invitation, announced by the essay’s title, that Rancière’s polemic offers to think through and beyond this text in honor of its spirit.4

I will never the less take as my point of departure an essay from the 2003 symposium: Michael Dillon’s, which develops a critique of (what he calls) Rancière’s “structuralist ontology” of the political.5 More particularly, I take up Dillon’s claim that Rancière unhelpfully accepts a chronological image of time as the trajectory along which political events can be located. In the spirit of Rancière’s intention to disrupt our thoughts about politics by thinking divergently, I want to explore briefly the alternative presented by a kairological conception of time, and ask how attending to it can introduce dissensus into our thinking about politics. Attending to kairological time, I argue, draws out partitions of the sensible within which Rancière’s argument in “Ten Theses” takes place. Further thinking (and doing) politics may hinge, in part, on these partitions’ disruption.

The “Ten Theses on Politics” is the English translation (and edition) of work that Rancière delivered and composed some years earlier. Generally speaking, the essay distills key themes in his book, Dis-agreement.6 But it also stands on its own. Whereas Dis-agreement [End Page 87] is principally oriented toward disputing classical topoi of political philosophy, “Ten Theses on Politics,” is marked by some of political theory’s preoccupations at the turn of the Twentieth Century—Arendt and Schmitt, Strauss and Heidegger.7 These theses’ reception into the American scene of academic political theorizing energized readers attuned to debates around those figures, as well as readers of Sheldon Wolin’s writings on “the political” and “fugitive democracy.”8 For fugitive democrats, Rancière’s work supplemented Wolin’s assiduously American orientation with more evident philosophical rigor and a continental flair. And more so than Disagreement, in “Ten Theses” Rancière thinks democracy not only against, but also through and thus beyond Aristotle, claiming territory for left Aristotelianism outside of Hannah Arendt’s well-known (and at times dubious) appropriations of The Politics in The Human Condition.9

By alluding to Luther and Marx in its title, “Ten Theses” announces itself as a polemical intervention.10 Given professionalizing forces that these days encourage most political theorists to engage less as political thinkers in their own right, and more as decoders and transmitters of others’ political ideas (or as political thinkers by way of decoding or transmitting), it’s not surprising that the default practice of most commentators has been to treat “Ten Theses” as a text to be explicated rather than as a provocation to political thinking.11 In the spirit of taking the “Ten Theses” invitation to think politically by thinking polemically, I propose to do with Dillon’s critique of Rancière what Rancière does with his critique of Aristotle—stage a disagreement through which to carry the latter’s thinking beyond his thought.

Dillon took Rancière’s “Ten Theses” to task for...


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