by Begüm Özden Fırat
Paper presented at Encuentro II Migratory Politics, Universiteit van Amsterdam, September 2007. A section of A Seventh Man, the book by John Berger to which this paper makes sustained reference, is online at the Abahlali baseMjondolo website.
Istanbul in the 1960s. Hundreds of people line up in front of the liaison offices of the German Federal Employment office in Istanbul and Ankara every day, waiting for a job in a German company. The people who were applying for jobs first had to undergo a medical examination and a test of their technical abilities. If they were successful, they got on the train, and travelled for 50 hours all the way up to Germany. At the end of their exhausting journey, they all arrived at Munich main station, track number 11, where they were welcomed by a Turkish interpreter. After a short break and a meal they were accompanied to their final destinations in different German cities. That is how it started…
One of the early books to narrate the experiences of these guest workers in Europe was a collaborative project between John Berger and Jean Mohr entitled A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe (1975). Berger’s essay, divided into sections of departure, work, and return, explains, in a poetic Marxist tone, why and under which conditions these peasants from underdeveloped countries such as Portugal, Greece, Turkey and Yugoslavia had to immigrate to another country, and the ways in which they survived in Europe as “mere cogs” of the international division of labor. Mohr’s photographs accompany the fragmented stories of the immigrants and show how they turned their heads away from the camera while they were undergoing medical examination with numbers written on their chests; the railways they left and arrived at; how they constructed roads, tunnels or buildings, and worked in the factories; where they slept and ate; how they stared and waited. In “A Note for the Reader” Berger writes that the book concerns a dream/nightmare. He contemplates:
"By what right can we call the lived experience of others a dream/nightmare? Not because the facts are so oppressive that they can weakly be termed nightmarish; nor because hopes can weakly be termed dreams. In a dream the dreamer wills, acts, reacts, speaks, and yet submits to the unfolding of a story which he scarcely influences. The dream happens to him. Afterwards he may ask another to interpret it. But sometimes a dreamer tries to break his dream by deliberately waking himself up. This book represents such an intention within a dream which the subject of the book and each of us is dreaming".
The metaphor of a dream/nightmare dreamt by everyone constitutes the narrative of the book. The seventh man cannot escape from the dream because his migration is like “an event in a dream dreamt by another,” everything he does “is determined by the needs of the dreamer’s mind” (43). Even his final return is mythic. When he goes back he realizes that “an assured place for him no longer exits in his village” (221). This is why “two or three years after his final return he or other members of his family will be compelled to go abroad once more” legally or illegally (219). His is a perpetual dream/nightmare.
As a figure in a dream the seventh man is lonely, cannot understand the language, and cannot speak even though he utters words. Levent Soysal argues that the migrant in “A Seventh Man” is “not heard and seen, remaining invisible beyond walls that separate him from European imagination” (2003: 497). He is a figure of absence of speech and gesture. He is utterly silent:
The written letters of the other language are jumbled together to make silent sounds.
SCHOKOLADE IST GUT!
The silence is his. Whatever they are saying, he, with the silent sounds in his head, is going to nod. (Berger and Mohr, 1975: 66)
In his 1990 essay “DissemiNation: Time, Narrative and the Margins of the Modern Nation,” post-colonial critic Homi Bhabha returns to John Berger’s “A Seventh Man.” In this seminal essay, Bhabha gives a critique of the essentialist reading of nationhood and argues that nation is a narrative written in “intermittent time, and intersticial space, that emerges as a structure of undecidability at the frontiers of cultural hybridity” (1990: 312). He argues that the uncanny moments of enunciation of cultural difference at the limits of the nation’s narrative scatter the homogenous and horizontal view of society based on unified national space and time. It is through the “foreignness of language,” a notion that Bhabha borrows from Walter Benjamin, that it becomes “possible to inscribe the specific locality of cultural systems — their incommensurable differences — and through that apprehension of difference, to perform the act of translation” (315).
In the beginning of the section “The Foreignness of Languages,” which deals with the enigma of language through the figure of the migrant, Bhbaha states that he must give way to the vox populi:
"…a relatively unspoken tradition of the people of the pagus — colonials, postcolonials, migrants, minorities — wandering peoples who will not be contained within the Heim of the national culture and its unisonant discourse, but are themselves the marks of a shifting boundary that alienates the frontiers of the modern nation" (315).
They are those who speak the “encrypted discourse of the melancholic and the migrant” across the accumulation of the history of the West. They voice the lost object — the national Heim — and this lost object is written across the bodies of the people, as “it repeats in the silence that speaks the foreignness of language” (315). The emblematic figure of this silent speech is none other than the Turkish worker in Germany. Bhabha quotes Berger extensively:
"…. The migrant's intentionality is permeated by historical necessities of which neither he nor anybody he meets is aware. That is why it is as if his life were dreamt by another [.…] They watch the gestures made and learn to imitate them [....] The rate of work allows no time to prepare for the gesture. The body loses its mind in the gesture. How opaque the disguise of words.... He treated the sounds of the unknown language as if they were silence. To break through his silence. He learnt twenty words of the new language. But to his amazement at first, their meaning changed as he spoke them. He asked for coffee. What the words signified to the barman was that he was asking for coffee in a bar where he should not be asking for coffee. He learnt girl. What the word meant when he used it, was that he was a randy dog. Is it possible to see through the opaqueness of the words?" (315-16)
For Bhabha, this silent Other of gesture and failed speech, who is without the language that bridges knowledge and act, “leads the life of a double, the automaton” (316). The speech he utters thwarts understanding because it remains “eerily untranslated in the racist site of its enunciation.” According to Bhabha the Turk as a dog is a complex form of social fantasy, an axis of identification — the desire of a man (white) for a man (black) — that underwrites that utterance and produces the paranoid “delusion of reference,” which the man-dog confronts with his own alterity, his foreignness. In this sense, the seventh man becomes what Freud calls the “haphazard member of the herd,” the Stranger, whose “languageless presence evokes an archaic anxiety and aggressivity by impeding the search for narcissistic love-objects in which the subject can rediscover himself, and upon which the group's amour propre is based” (316).
The immigrant’s desire to “imitate” language makes present the opacity of language, its untranslatable residue and it produces a void in the articulation of the social space while the racist fantasy, which disavows the ambivalence of its desire, opens up another void in the present. The nation’s space and time becomes ambivalent through the migrant’s silence that elicits “those racist fantasies of purity and persecution.” In the process, “by which the paranoid position finally voids the place from where it speaks,” Bhabha contends, we begin to see “another history of the German language” (317). This dream/nightmare experience of the Turkish gastarbeiter represents what Bhabha calls “the radical incommensurability of translation,” in contrast to Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, which attempts to redefine the boundaries of the Western nation, so that the “foreignness of languages” becomes the inescapable cultural condition for the enunciation of the mother tongue (317).
Some critics working on German-Turkish migrant literature or cinema were aggravated by Homi Bhabha’s rendering of “the Turkish migrant worker in Germany as an incommensurable, alienated, speechless victim without any voice” (Göktürk, 2002: 4; Soysal 2003).2 They argued, against Bhabha’s portrayal, that even the works of the so-called Gastarbeiterliterature proved that “the opaque Other has broken its silence and begun to speak back to the West… in speaking ‘our’ language, it has begun to speak back” (Teraoka, 1987: 80).
In contrast to critics like Göktürk and Soysal, my problem with Bhabha’s text does not stem from his rendering of the Turkish migrant as a speechless victim when he has already become an articulated writer. What is problematic for me is Bhabha conceptualization of the silent speech of the migrant representing the “radical incommensurability of translation” merely in psychological terms. For him, the silent double gives rise to uncanny feelings, invokes archaic anxiety and aggression, a paranoid position of “delusion of reference” upon which the group’s amour propre is based. This, according to Bhabha, is a complex form of social/racist fantasy that is evoked by the failed speech of the migrant. In contrast to Bhabha, I will argue that the notion of “the radical incommensurability of translation” should be seen as a form of political “fantasy,” which, as I will suggest, forecloses the realm of politics.
The speech of the “uncounted”
While Bhabha flashed his reader back to the unspoken tradition of the pagus, I suggest that we go back first to Aristotle and then to Ancient Rome following political philosopher Jacques Rancière’s Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (1995). Rancière starts his book by disagreeing with Aristotle’s understanding of the “political animal” based on the idea that “man alone of the animals possesses speech” while the “mere voice….can indicate pain and pleasure, and therefore is possessed by the other animals as well” (Aristotle, Politics I, quoted in Rancière, 1999: 1). According to Rancière, in Aristotle’s “limpid demonstration several points remain obscure” (1999: 2) such as Aristotle’s speaking animal “is split from the beginning,” and he is already decentered (Chambers, 2005: par.17). There is a fundamental difference between “speaking” language and “possessing” it, as the possession of language is not a physical capacity that separates men from animals but a “symbolic division between the order of speech and that of bodies” (Rancière, 2004: 5).
In “Ten Theses on Politics,” Rancière asks:
"[H]ow one can be sure that the human animal mouthing a noise in front of you is actually voicing an utterance rather than merely expressing a state of being? If there is someone you do not wish to recognize as a political being, you begin by not seeing them as the bearers of politicalness, by not understanding what they say, by not hearing that it is an utterance coming out of their mouths (2001, par. 23)."
Rancière contends that traditionally it had been enough not to hear what came out of the mouths of the majority of human beings — slaves, women, workers, colonized peoples— as language and, instead, to hear only cries of hunger, rage, or hysteria in order to deny them the quality of being political animals (2004: 5). What Bhabha calls the radical incommensurability of translation relates to such preclusion of the migrant from being a political animal possessing a language. It is through such a denial that the migrant’s utterance of “girl” is taken to mean that he is a randy dog. What is seen through the opaqueness of words is a political “fantasy” that adorns the migrant only with a “sort of bellowing” which is “a sign of need and not a manifestation of intelligence” (2004: 5). Such an understanding reverses Bhabha’s argument: it is not that the migrant is deprived of language or gesture (or, for that matter, of the capacity of translation) but he is not recognized as possessing speech, which, actually, is the denial of the migrant as a political being.
This “fantasy” makes the speech of some people unheard, ununderstandable and untranslatable in relation to those who have to power to speak or power over language. Rancière gives a historical example to make his point about possessing and speaking the language and the political implication of their separation. He recalls the plebeian secession on the Aventine Hill in Ancient Rome — as it was rewritten by the French thinker Ballanche in 1830 — when the plebeians demanded a treaty with the patricians which was denied on the basis that plebeians did not have human speech, and they could not give them what they did not have. Rancière writes,
"[….] in order to be audibly understood and visibly recognized as legitimate speaking subjects, the plebeians must not only argue their position but must also construct the scene of argumentation in such a manner that the patricians might recognize it as a world in common. The principle of political interlocution is thus disagreement; that is, it is the discordant understanding of both the objects of reference and the speaking subjects. In order to enter into political exchange, it becomes necessary to invent the scene upon which spoken words may be audible, in which objects may be visible, and individuals themselves may be recognized" (2000: 116, my emphasis).
According to Rancière, the creation of such a common polemical space requires a novel perceptual universe, one where those who were previously “regarded as not speaking the language prove that their mouths do, indeed, emit common speech” (2006). For Rancière, politics proper consists of the construction of a polemical scene by means of speech acts articulating a common wrong — concerning what place belongs or does not belong to it and who is able or unable to make enunciations and demonstration about the common. This situation concerns disagreement, defined as “a determined kind of speech situation: one in which one of the interlocutors at once understands and does not understand what the other is saying (1999: x). In disagreement “discussion of an argument comes down to a dispute over the object of the discussion and over the capacity of those who are making an object of it” (1999: xii). Such conflict disrupts the logic of police order, a term Rancière uses to refer to the general law determining “the distribution of parts and roles in a community as well as its form of exclusion,” which is, first and foremost, an organization of “bodies based on a communal distribution of the sensible” (2004a: 88). The essence of the police order is a certain distribution of the sensible, which is a system of coordinates “defining modes of being, doing, making, and communicating that establishes the borders between the visible and the invisible, the audible and the inaudible, the sayable and the unsayable” (88). It is a certain manner of partitioning the sensible based on the principle of saturation; it is a mode of the partition of the sensible that recognizes neither lack nor supplement.
Politics disturbs this order by introducing either a supplement or a lack that is not recognized by the police order by those who have no part, those who are uncounted within the existing system. It persists as long as there is a dissensus about the givens of a particular situation, of what is seen and what might be said, on the question of who is qualified to see or say what is given. It opens a gap in the sensible through the “emergence of a claim to enfranchisement by a group that has been so radically excluded that its inclusion demands the transformation of the rules of inclusion” (Martin, 2005: 39).
The political “fantasy” I was referring to in relation to Bhabha’s term “the radical incommensurability of translation” can be related to the logic of the police that distributes lots in such a way as to give each person his or her place in the order of things, a place tied to identity. The migrant without the language belongs to those who remain invisible, inaudible, those who are uncounted and have no part. He is the underdog. However, such a relegation of the migrant to not speaking a language does not reflect “the obstinacy of the dominant or their ideological blindness,” but, rather, it expresses “the sensory order that organizes their domination” (Rancière, 1999: 24). It is a sensory illusion. In spite of, or due to, this sensory illusion, politics exists because those who “have no right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account, setting up a community by the fact of placing in common a wrong that is nothing more than this very confrontation” (1999: 27). This confrontation makes visible that which had no reason to be seen and it lodges one world into another that creates “a shared world the other does not see.” It is “the construction of a paradoxical world that relates two separate worlds.” (Rancière, 2001: par. 24)
Following Rancière’s ideas summarized above, I would like to discuss whether or the ways in which the figure of the seventh man would emerge as the dissident who possesses and voices his speech so as to bring about a disagreement that creates a common polemical scene in our so-called post-political times. I will argue that the gastarbeiter figure of Berger and Bhabha has been replaced (or has to be replaced) by that of the “illegal(ised) immigrant.” My suggestion, firstly, stems from the fact that the figure of the gastarbeiter as an empirical, juridical and social term does not exist since the formal guest worker programs had been cancelled following the oil crisis in 1973. Secondly, those who arrived as part of the bilateral agreements, as well as their descendent, have been incorporated in the (failed) multicultural “order” as guests (paradoxically and welcome or not) and given their places, roles and status. However, in contradiction to this supposedly stable and closed off order the process of immigration is still going on as people illegally cross the borders of Europe everyday, as “we speak.” It is, I contend, the so-called illegal immigrant through her multiple displacements or internment in deportation camps who reenacts the precarious everyday experience of the previous gastarbeiter, albeit under different circumstances.6 They are invisible — after all who can tell apart an illegal from a legal immigrant — segregated and they wander around as supposedly speechless victims. However, they are hyper-visible in official and right wing discourse as a threat to nation’s well-being and raise anxiety and racial aggresivity in their absence.
In the opening of “DissemiNation,” Bhabha writes that, having seen/experienced migration himself, he has lived “the moment of scattering of the people that in other times and other places, in the nations of others, becomes a time of gathering” (291). He continues:
"Gatherings of exiles and émigrés and refugees; gathering on the edge of “foreign” cultures; gathering at the frontiers; gatherings in the ghettos or cafés of city centres; gathering in the half-life, half-light of foreign tongues, or in the uncanny fluency of another’s language; gathering the signs of approval and acceptance, degrees, discourses, disciplines; gathering the memories of underdevelopment, of other worlds lived retroactively; gathering the past in a ritual of revival; gathering the present. Also the gathering of people in the diaspora: indentured, migrant, interned; the gathering of incriminatory statistics, educational performance, legal statutes, immigration status — the genealogy of that lonely figure that John Berger named the seventh man" (1990: 291).
Let me introduce another form of gathering, that of the illegal immigrants. Six years after the publication of “DissemiNation,” in the summer of 1996, 300 African illegal immigrants occupied the St. Bernard church in Paris for several months. Some of them were asylum seekers and some were long-term working residents of France whose status had been made illegal as a result of legislative changes.7 The event was considered a turn in French national discussion about migration policies and the presence of what traditionally has been called “clandestine migrants.” Those who occupied the public space declared themselves sans-papiers (literally, without papers) and asked for “papers for all.” Mireille Rosello argues that even though the occupation ended with a police eviction the movement achieved, at least, a symbolic victory of replacing the previously common name clandestin with sans-papiers (2001: 2). She states that the sans-papiers struggle created “a space of sociological, legal, and philosophical debate in the very heart of the French capital” (2) and made the French citizens question the relationship between “the city and the nation, between the refugee and the law, between rights and equity” (5).
The act of the “illegals” naming themselves sans-papiers is comparable to Rancière account of 19th century revolutionary Auguste Blanqui’s self-proclamation as “a proletarian” in response to a prosecutor seeking to “reduce him to a social class or a profession” (1999: 37). By doing so, Rancière argues, Blanqui gave the word proletarian a different meaning and inscribed the uncounted in a space where they are countable as uncounted (39). Similarly, in replacing the xenophobic term clandestine, which addressed the illegal as the enemy and the criminal, with sans-papiers, the movement not only declared a membership of a collective but also opened up a space for the uncounted to be counted as those who speak. In Excitable Speech Judith Butler writes that to be “addressed injuriously is not only to be open to an unknown future, but not to know the time and the place of injury, and to suffer disorientation of one’s situation as the effect of such speech” (1997: 4). Such shattering exposes the volatility of one’s place within the community of speakers, she argues, “one can be ‘put in one’s place’ by such speech, but such a place may be no place” (4). In this respect, the articulation of the new name can be considered a re-orientation of the illegal immigrants as a response to a pejorative name given by those who can speak. The act of self-naming denounces the non-place where one is put by appropriating a negative identity. The term sans-papiers evidently points to a lack; it is an identity sans — without, which leads Jacques Derrida to question the appropriation of “the terrifying phrase” sans-papiers as it adds new, perverse implication to their plight. He ponders, “Those we call, in a word, ‘undocumented’ supposedly lack something. He is un—. She is un—. What is missing exactly?” (quoted in Rosello, 2001, p 180-1, n 5). This lack that makes Derrida worry, actually hints at an overlap with Rancière’s understanding of “the poor” or “the people,” those who are not counted or have no part. What the sans-papiers lack is not only the precious documents but also their count or their part in the whole.
Rancière calls this process, by which the clandestine immigrant becomes the sans-papiers, “political subjectification.” It refers to an enunciative and demonstrative capacity to reconfigure the relation between the visible and the sayable, the relation between words and bodies that is distributed by the police order. It is, thus, not the recognition or embrace of an already-given identity, but the disruption of it (1999: 36). It is the production of a space between the identity of the police order and a new political subjectivity that does not exist prior to the disagreement. He writes:
"A mode of subjectification does not create subjects ex nihilo; it creates them by transforming identities defined in the natural order of the allocation of functions and places into instances of experience of a dispute. “Workers” or “women” are identities that apparently hold no mystery. Anyone can tell who is meant. But political subjectification forces them out of such obviousness by questioning the relationship between a who and a what in the apparent redundancy of the positing of an existence" (1999: 36).
L'affaire des sans-papiers de Saint-Bernard, as a collective action of enunciation and demonstration by “supplementary” subjects, was not aimed at creating a separate space to speak from a minority position. Instead, it manifested a dissensus by means of collapsing two different worlds (of those who are excluded and included, visible and invisible, and possessing and speaking a language) into a polemical scene. Politics, Rancière writes, consists in transforming the “space of ‘moving along’ into a space for the appearance of a subject.” It is an act that reconfigures the space “of what there is to do there, what is to be seen or named therein” (2001, paragraph 22). The sans-papiers populated the French national public space, occupied its streets, churches and theaters, its everyday and media so as to become visible and audible as non-counted, as those who posses logos. This is a performative process of identification of the non-part with the whole that in turn transforms the partition of the whole. In his analysis of the sans-papiers movement, Laurent Dubois argues that the movement gained success because they phrased their demands “through universalist discourse with expressions of cultural identity, bringing together approaches often considered incommensurable in French political culture” (2000: 15). They formulated their demands in a language of Republican rights and “spoke of universalism in foreign languages, presenting themselves as ‘foreign’ cultures at home in France, and so articulated the issue not as one about the ‘assimilation’ of outsiders but rather as the problem of a Republic which was violating the rights of men and women who lived within it, who had constructed it and were a part of its past, present and future” (2000: 29).
The symbolic and political space opened up by the “French” sans-papiers contaminated other European national spaces and triggered the formation of different national/transnational struggles, organizations, networks and campaigns on issues of migration, freedom of movement, and the right to stay against border policing, racism, deportation and detention camps.8 The term sans-papier was mostly embraced in different contexts as it is considered a status that everybody with a foreign passport can achieve under “wrong conditions.” One year after the events in Paris, the campaign-network kein mensch ist illegal (no one is illegal) was formed during the Documenta X in Kassel by a group of activists including photographers, filmmakers, artists, and media activists. The goal of the network is to hide and support illegal migrants, squatting churches, organizing public or semi-public debates about illegal border-crossing and starting actions against deportations. It promotes the idea of opening up all borders for all and initiates campaigns such as “everyone is an expert” and “deportation class” and organizes multiple border camps every year at the borders of the “Fortress Europe.”9 The cultural/political activist migrant network Kanak Attak was founded a year later with multiple branches in Germany working on issues of racism and legalization not only by organizing actions but also video festivals and sound performances.10 In January 2001, a group of “Belgian” sans-papiers occupied the abandoned Somalian embassy building in Brussels, known as the Ambassade Universelle (Universal Embassy). In line with the occupation of public buildings in Paris, occupying the Universal Embassy is a very symbolic act. A building in the embassy quarter that used to belong to a state now hosts people without a state. In the Embassy, in the words of Hito Steyerl, two types of spaces met: “the abandoned wreckage of the ‘failed state’ of Somalia in the shell of its bourgeois, West European villa” and a “political fiction that attempts to take this space of the collapse of state order and make it inhabitable for migrants who are interpellated as political, ethnic and universal subjects” (2004 a). The embassy not only gave visibility to the sans-papiers, but also a special “passport”—a photo ID that provided them with some tangible recognition of a unrecognized universal citizenship.
These are a few examples of how illegal immigrants resist and struggle within the urban everyday of Europe.12 There are also those who disagree with the deportation or detention centers — administrative spaces in which men and women who have not committed any crime are denied their right to mobility — that are placed all over Europe and also its neighboring states. Those in-between spaces of inclusion and exclusion that Giorgio Agamben describes as the “materialization of the state of exception and ... subsequent creation of a space in which bare life and juridical rule enter into a threshold of indistinction” (1998, 174) have become sites of conflict especially in Spain and Italy as well as in Germany. These struggles emphasize the existence of a “wrong” and bring forth a disagreement on who is included and who has the right to be seen and heard within the contested borders of Europe. These transnational and transitional processes of political subjectification not only create new litigious spaces and subjectivities but also new objects and concepts of discussion such as the autonomy of migration, precarity, or lager. They also draw new cartographies that visualize processes and places that cannot be incorporated by “regular maps” such as the map of detention and deportation centers; the map of movements and constraints within the geopolitical space of the Strait of Gibraltar; the map of supranational governance operating the European migration regime function; as well as maps and videos for illegal border crossings.13 These movements and maps open up alternative semantic fields to those subsumed within the police order and offer different signifying practices.
The oppositional practice initiated by the sans papiers movement in Paris constituted a sort of collective “insurrectionary speech” that calls for emancipation and equality precisely by those who have been “radically disenfranchised from making such a call” and thereby “reterrotorial[izing] the term from its operation within dominant discourse precisely in order to counter the effects of [one’s] marginalization” (Butler, 158). This speech questions what Butler calls “foreclosure,” which is tacitly referenced in those instances in which we ask: “what must remain unspeakable for contemporary regimes of discourse to continue to exercise their power? How is the ‘subject’ before the law produced through the exclusion of other possible sites of enunciation within the law?” (1997: 139). The foreclosure as that which cannot be said and remains unspoken — reminiscent of Rancière’s police order — can be broken into the unspeakable by “a subject who speaks at the border of the speakable” taking “the risk of redrawing the distinction between what is and is not speakable” (139). This political act of appropriating the “unspeakable” or “speaking impossibly” can lead to the political inclusion of dispossessed or marginalized people.
Indeed, the “embodied speech” of the illegal immigrants is an impossible one. Writing on “political becoming” of what he calls “abject subjects,” emerging in sites as diverse as the sanctuaries of the sans papiers in France or the detention camps of the rioting refugees in Australia, political scientist Peter Nyers points out that the risks taken by the talking abject foreigner — i.e. taking the risk to become a speaking agent — is an “impossible activism.” It is impossible “because the non-status do not possess the ‘authentic’ identity (i.e. citizenship) that would allow them to be political, to be an activist” (2003: 1080). The ambivalence, to use one of the favorite terms of Bhabha, created by the improper political subject coincides with Butler’s fleeting mentioning of Rosa Parks who, as Butler writes, had no prior right to sit in front of the bus yet, by “laying claim to the right for which she had no prior authorization, she endowed a certain authority on the act, and began the insurrectionary process of overthrowing those established codes of legitimacy” (1997: 147).
Similarly, the sans-papiers as “illegitimate” interlocutors initiated another insurrectionary process that Rancière calls politics. This process of becoming political subjectivities is quite different from the mimicry of the seventh man, his repetitive imitative gestures and irritating silences of failing speech. But, it is also different from the process of dissemination of meaning, time, peoples, cultural boundaries and historical traditions — as it seems to be suggested by Rushdie in The Satanic Verses — through which the radical alterity of the national culture would create new forms of living and writing. According to Bhabha, these new forms of living and writing open up and simultaneously take place within the contentious internal liminality of the nation space that “provides a place from which to speak both of, and as, the minority, the exilic, the marginal, and the emergent” (Bhabha, 1990: 300). This liminal space between boundaries is where social differences are articulated through a process of negotiation. This is the space where those marginalized by the exclusionary forces of nation time/space resist and become political agents.
In contradiction to Bhabha’s liminal site of resistance, the disagreement uttered by the illegal immigrants acts “in the places and with the words that are common to both, even if it means reshaping those places and changing the status of those words” (Rancière, 1999: 33). They make the homogeneous and harmonious everyday urban space litigious and heterogeneous by surfacing a negation against the police order that “configures well-identifiable groups with specific interests, aspirations, values, and ‘culture’” (Rancière, 2000: 125). In their attempts to make themselves visible and audible, they make the space of the “other” a common polemical space. They imitate the language to raise political dissensus by invoking equality as a universal right with expressions of cultural identity. While the liminal space operates through multiple negotiations, the space of the politics proceeds by means of negations. Bhabha conceives the liminal as a place from which to speak both of, and as, the minority, the exilic, the marginal, and the emergent that opens up the possibility of “other narratives of the people and their difference” (1994: 300). The space of the political, conversely, narrates the enunciative and demonstrative struggles of the uncounted for equality and emancipation in their difference, as underscored by Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience.
In his essay “In Good Faith,” Salman Rushdie writes, “Mélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. It is the great possibility that mass migration gives the world, and I have tried to embrace it. The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love-song to our mongrel selves” (1991: 394). Is there another way of bringing newness to the world other than change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining?
Aesthetics of migration
John Berger wrote that “A Seventh Man” intends to deliberately wake up the dreamer from his dream in which the seventh man finds himself without being able to will, act, react
or speak as he is not the dreamer himself. If one can still “call the lived experience of others a dream/nightmare,” the struggles of the illegal immigrants might be seen as a wake-up call. A call for a time to “redistribute the sensible.”
As I argued, immigrant movements across and beyond European urban space and within and outside of the deportation or detention centers, create new subjects, spaces, and objects of litigation available to experience intervening the police order, as we know it. This political act of interrupting the given distribution of the sensible is, for Rancière, inherently aesthetic in so far as the political disruption is a reconfiguration of the order of what is visible or perceptible. That is to say, politics is the disruption of an order that claims to be total, not only by subordinating each of its parts to a particular place within it, but, in so doing, by establishing the conditions of visibility for a part to be a part. Consequently, its inclusion does not just demand that it is recognized as akin to other parts, but demands a transformation of the fundamental terms by which parts are seen or become visible — that is, a transformation of experience. In The Politics of Aesthetics Rancière writes:
"If the reader is fond of analogy, aesthetics can be understood in a Kantian sense …. as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience. It is a delimitation of 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. Politics revolves around what is seen and what can be said about it, around who has the ability to see and the talent to speak, around the properties of spaces and the possibilities of time." (2004a: 13)
Therefore, aesthetics is not a matter of art and taste; it is, first of all, a matter of time and space. Aesthetic acts are “configurations of experience that create new modes of sense perception and induce novel forms of political subjectivity” (2004a: 9). In this respect, it understands actions, silences, thoughts, dreams, perceptions or enunciations not in terms of a social content that could be judged as relatively good or bad, but rather as the production of formal arrangements and forms of sense distribution that are, at heart, simultaneously aesthetic and political. Therefore, the political is always aesthetic because “politics is only efficacious as a formal arrangement of social agents, institutions, and possibilities; aesthetic forms are always political because they are never anything less than the arrangement and distribution of forms of perception that are ultimately social and political” (Highmore, 2005: 455).
Herein lies the link between migratory movements and aesthetics. Yet, this knot should not be understood as an uncomplicated manifestation of the global multitude transforming every territory they go as curator Hou Hanru writes in the statement of the exhibition entitled Wherever We Go: Art, Identity, Cultures in Transit:
"In fact, the migrants turn their “exile” into a process of engaging and negotiating with the urban/suburban spaces. Culturally and physically, their presence and active involvements strongly change the social and cultural structures of the city, to produce new cities out of the old cities (often European traditional styles). The booming of China Towns, Arabic quarters, etc. are the most visible signs while, internally, the structure of the population, public behaviours, values, etc. are being diversified and transformed towards a much more variable and wealthy climate."
Hanru’s curatorial statement seems to operate within the discourse of the multicultural art world promoting what Hito Steyerl calls the “jargon of inauthenticity,” that is as sentimental and essentialist as Adorno’s notion of “jargon of authenticity,” except for the fact, that “what is being essentialized resently is not localist rootedness, but the requirements of the global market: adaptability, innovation and mobility” (2004b: 165-6). According to Steyerl, this jargon fits in the national rhetorics of multiculturalism centered on “integration” and “enrichment” epitomized in Hanru’s argument that the booming of ethnic quarters would accumulate in the diversification and transformation of the structure of the population, public behaviours, and values “towards a much more variable and wealthy climate.”
The suggestion of a “wealthy climate” to come can be regarded as functioning within what Rancière calls the “logic of consensus” through which “the givens of any collective situation are objectivized in such a way as they can no more lend themselves to a dispute, to the polemical framing of a controversial world into the given world” (2006). It is the dismissal of the “aesthetics of politics” by “plugging the intervals and patching over the possible gaps between appearance and reality” (2004c: 305). Politics, as Rancière understands it, does not emerge through mere movement or mere appearance in a space. It occurs when unrepresented subjects create a polemical space where they put into contention the objective status of what is “given” and impose an examination and discussion of those things that were not “visible,” that were not accounted for previously. It is an utterance of disagreement, a struggle “for one’s voice to be heard and recognized as the voice of a legitimate partner” (Žižek, 1998: 63). It is the reconfiguration of one’s body, of one’s lived world, of one’s space and time. And this process might be another way in which newness enters the world. Perhaps not only by means of “sly civility” but also by acts of disagreement, as the legacy of the sans-papiers reminds us.
Agamben Giorgio 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, D. Heller-Roazen (trans.), Stanford: Stanford University Press
Bhabha, Homi 1990. “DissemiNation” in Nation and Narration, Homi Bhabha (ed.), London and New York: Routledge, 291-322
Berger, John and Jean Mohr 1975. A Seventh Man: A Book of Images and Words about the Experience of Migrant Workers in Europe, London: Penguin
Butler, Judith 1997. Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative, New York, London: Routledge
Chambers, Samuel 2005. “The Politics of Literarity” Theory and Event, 8:(3), http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v008/8.3chambers.html [as on December 2006]
Dubois, Laurent 2000. “La République Métissée: Citizenship, Colonialism, and The Borders of French History,” Cultural Studies, 14 (1), 15-34
Göktürk, Deniz 2002. “Turkish Delight, German Fright: Migrant Identities in Transnational Cinemas,” in Mapping the Margins: Identity Politics and the Media, Deniz Derman and Karen Ross (eds.), Creskill, NJ: Hampton
Hanru, Hou 2006. “Wherever They Go, They Create A New World-- Fragmental Notes on Migration, Cultural Hybridity and Contemporary Art,” http://www.sfai-art.com/News/NewsDetail.aspx?newsID=1178&navID=§ionID=8 [as on December 2006]
Highmore, Ben 2005. “The Politics of Aesthetics” Book Review, The British Journal of Aesthetics, 45(4): 454-456
Martin, Stewart 2005. “Culs-de-sac, Review of The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible,” Radical Philosophy, 131, 39-44, http://www.radicalphilosophy.com/pdf/highlights131.pdf [as on December 2006]
Nyers, Peter 2003. “Abject Cosmopolitanism: The Politics of Protection in the Anti-deportation Movement,” Third World Quarterly, 24 (6), 1069–1093
Rancière, Jacques 2006. “The Politics of Aesthetics,” http://roundtable.kein.org/node/463 [as on November 2006]
2004a. The Politics of Aesthetics, Gabriel Rockhill (trans.), London, New York: Continuum
2004b. “Introducing Disagreement,” Angelaki: Journal of the Theoretical Humanities, 9. 3, 3
2004c. “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” The South Atlantic Quarterly 103 (2/3), 297-310
2001. “Ten Theses on Politics,” Theory & Event, 5 (3), http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/theory_and_event/v005/5.3ranciere.html [as on December 2006]
2000. “Dissenting Words: A Conversation with Jacques Rancière” diacritics 30.2, 113-126
1999. Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, Julie Rose (trans.), Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press
Rosello, Mireille 2001. Postcolonial Hospitality: The Immigrant as Guest, Stanford: Stanford University Press
1998. “Representing Illegal Immigrants in France: From Clandestins to L'affaire Des Sans-Papiers De Saint-Bernard,” Journal of European Studies, 28, 137-51
Rushdie, Salman. 1991. “In Good Faith,” in Imaginary Homelands, London: Granta, 393-414
Soysal, Levent 2003. “Labor to Culture: Writing Turkish Migration to Europe” The South Atlantic Quarterly 102 (2/3), 491-508
Stereyl, Hito 2004 a. “Eurospcapes” http://www.berlinbiennale.de/bb3/eng/h01_hub_01.php3?sid=hub_01_01 [as on November 2006]
2004 b. “Gaps and Potentials: The Exhibition Heimat Kunst Migrant Culture as An Allegory of the Global Market,” New German Critique, 92, 59-168
Žižek, Slovoj 1998. “For a Leftist Appropriation of the European Legacy,” Journal of Political Ideologies, 3 (1) continue reading
Tuesday, 29 April 2008
by Begüm Özden Fırat
A fragment from Alain Badiou's Les leçons de Jacques Rancière: Savoir et pouvoir après la tempête (2006) translated by Richard Stamp and published on the Jacques Rancière blog on 29 April 2007
"I believe that Rancière’s principal transformation of the question of education is to demolish [destituer] the question “Who educates whom?” It is precisely this question that is poorly posed. Since it leads either to the assumption of the figure of the master, or to the anarchy wherein knowledge and non-knowledge are made equivalent in the power [puissance] of life, whether everyone educates anyone, or no-one educates anyone. This is a classic example of a battle on two fronts. We must accept neither the One of the master, nor the inconsistent multiplicity of spontaneous knowledges. The struggle continues [La lutte continu] against the University and the Party, but also against the advocates of vitalist spontaneity, the partisans of the pure movement, or those of Negri’s multitude."
Also see What is the Left? by Alain Badiou and Ten Thesis on Politics by Jacques Rancière. continue reading
Thursday, 24 April 2008
by Meena Kandasamy in Ultra Violet, 14 April 2008
ON MARCH 28, Lalpari Devi, a 45-year-old Dalit woman was accused of being a witch by caste-Hindu, feudal villagers in Bihar who mercilessly beat her up, paraded her through the streets, tied her to a palm tree, cut her hair and smeared her face with limestone paste. She was saved from certain death by the timely arrival of the police. Lalpari somehow managed to survive the ordeal of social censure and hysteric, mob-driven humiliation. Many of her sisters have not been that lucky.
According to conservative (official, and outdated) estimates, 2,556 women were branded as witches and killed in India between 1987 and 2003. From 1991 to 2000, over 522 cases of witch-hunting have been registered in Bihar alone. In the same decade, about 300 people were done to death in the Telangana region in Andhra Pradesh on the suspicion that they were practising black magic. Bihar, for all its backwardness, was the first state in India to pass a law against witch-hunting in 1999. Jharkhand followed up with its anti-witch-hunt law in 2001, Chhattisgarh in 2005 and Rajasthan in 2006. An essential excerpt of the legalese: “a crime would be considered to have been committed when any person or community intentionally or inadvertently abets, conspires, aids and instigates the identification of a woman as a witch leading to her mental and physical torture and humiliation.” What is wonderful on paper rarely gets translated into something effective in practice. Besides, the threat of punishment and conviction hasn’t been a deterrent since the perpetrators of the crime (always male, almost always caste-Hindus who enjoy political clout) know that they will not be brought to book for what will be seen as an incidence of mob fury. Sometimes, it is the knowledge that the state will stand by them.
This free hand gives a free run to their imaginations, and witch-hunts have grown macabre by the day. The helpless ‘witches’ are hounded and punished by being stripped naked, paraded around the villages, their hair is burnt off or their heads tonsured, their faces blackened, their noses cut off, their teeth pulled out (they are supposedly defanged) so that they can no longer curse, they are whipped, they are branded, sometimes, they are forced to eat human faeces and finally, they are put to death (here again the Indian imagination takes over: the victim is hanged, impaled, hacked, lynched or buried alive). And you have got it all wrong if you assumed that such stomach-churning, toe-curling torture is done in dingy, shadowy places: vast, open village lands come in particularly handy as favoured locations, and the cheering crowd can fill a modest stadium. Where these women are left to live, they are considered inauspicious and malevolent, socially ostracized and forced to forgo their livelihood. Where they don’t end up losing their life, they are made to lose their mental balance.
It is no surprise that almost all the ‘witches’ have been Dalit or Adivasi women. Nowhere else in Indian history can we see such an explicit tie-up between patriarchal oppression and casteist subjugation. Witch-hunting is a powerful tool in the hands of caste-Hindu men who want to persecute assertive Dalit and Adivasi women who might directly challenge caste hegemony, or indirectly subvert local power equations.
Because names and places and stories speak stronger than statistics, here’s a sample: A Dalit woman, Badam Bai was beaten to death by four men at Bhunein village in Sultanpur in Kota district. Lajwanti Harijan of Kamolar village in the same district met with a similar fate. When a Dalit woman in Tarra village in Raipur district claimed rights to her dead husband’s land, she was killed after being branded a witch by her brother-in-law. Memki Bai Bhajaat of Varlipahada village and Sakri Bai Meena of Sailana village of Udaipur district were branded witches because of property disputes. Subhadra Basumatray, a 40-year-old Bodo woman in Tilapara village of Goalpara district in Assam, denounced rituals conducted by witch-doctors. Just as she started to voice her dissent, she ended with a fractured arm, broken ribs and bruised legs. Her own family members colluded with others to declare her a witch because she had demanded a share in her father’s property. An Adivasi woman panchayat president in Udaipur district in Rajasthan was declared a witch by caste-Hindu villagers who wanted to settle political scores. In neighbouring Nepal, a 52-year-old Dalit woman Dayawati Urab and her daughter Sunita Kumari Urab of Sunsari village were stripped naked, beaten, and forced to eat human faeces because villagers suspected them of indulging in sorcery.
Such humiliations, lynchings and killings, done with nauseous ingenuity haven’t spared old women either. In November 2004, Dhoopi Raigar, a 70-year-old Dalit woman from Jita Ka Dalda in Tonk district was forcibly dragged out of her son’s house by some villagers who cut off her hair and attempted to immolate her. Her son’s increasing prosperity infuriated the ‘upper’ castes who sought to prevent it by accusing Dhoopi of being a witch. A 65-year-old Dalit woman labourer Pochamma and her 70-year-old husband Sailu were burnt to death in Ulitimaipalli village near Hyderabad because they were suspected of using black magic to kill cattle. In Gaandi village in Angara Block in Ranchi, two old Dalit widows Jeetan Devi and Dubhan Devi were tortured and held responsible for the death (due to malaria) of two children. The women were tonsured, beaten, paraded and burnt to death. Before the final disgrace, earthen pitchers were broken on their heads. As recent as August 2007, Bali Bharu Doli, an 85-year-old Dalit woman in Rajasthan was mercilessly beaten and forced to keep a burning coal in her mouth on the suspicion that she was a witch. Barely a month later, on Sep 2, 2007, two elderly women in their 60s were murdered by their sons in Orissa’s Keonjhar district for allegedly practicing sorcery.
Where do these cruel and perverse caste-Hindu witch-hunters get the moral high ground to condemn Dalit and Adivasi women? Revolutionary Dr. Ambedkar observed that the Atharva Veda itself is “nothing but a collection of sorcery, black-magic and medicine,” so witchery is not something new to the ‘upper’ castes. And shouldn’t the caste-Hindus be reminded of Joan Mencher’s sociological insight into sorcery in Travancore, that “some social control over the excesses of the high-caste landlords was exercised through the thread of Pulaya black magic” since Pulaya medicine men and witch doctors were believed to possess the “powers of bringing malaise and misfortune on wrongdoers, especially the cruel landlords and wicked bossmen.” Shouldn’t the oppressor caste-Hindus be ashamed that Dalits could have come up the idea of black magic and communion with the spirit world only in order to subvert the caste system where the priestly caste alone enjoyed the hotline to God?
It is true that lack of adequate health care systems have spawned the growth of alternative beliefs and faith healing, and consequently witch-doctors. But that is not the reason why Dalit and Adivasi women have been singled out for public humiliation. By punishing those who are seen as vile and wild, oppressors want to send a not-so-subtle message to the women of their own castes: docility and domesticity gets rewarded, anything else gets punished. This has been the legacy of violence against women.
When sin meets superstition, as in witch-hunting, the victims are also single (read widowed / deserted / divorced) women of a certain age who are no longer burdened with reproductive duties. The word ‘witch’ is thrust on these ‘dangerous’ women who asserted their entitlement to rights and thus challenged patriarchal and caste supremacist diktats. Dalit or Adivasi women who dared to contest elections and directly challenged the political power of the landed caste-Hindus have been labeled hags. They have been accused of exercising black magic when in fact they have only been exercising their fundamental rights. Witchcraft, when used by brutal caste-Hindus in the modern context, has come to signify women’s resistance to oppression, and the price they have paid for it.
Also see My Name is Radharani Ari and This is How My Consciousness Was Raised and 'The Great Caliban: The struggle against the rebel body' and 'All the World Needs a Jolt: Social Movements and Political Crisis in Medieval Europe' both from Caliban & the Witch.
Wednesday, 23 April 2008
by Grace Kwinjeh in Pambazuka, 17 April 2008
I was just sent a copy of this statement by the Feminist Political Education Project [pasted in below] and must admit to being more than a little bewildered and shocked by what is suggested in light of recent events in Zimbabwe, by sisters whom I know very well – who are part of the Feminist Political Education Project.
Sisters dare I say, I have worked with you over the years – some of you have mentored me to be the woman I am. I hope that in the interest of fostering a robust debate amongst ourselves as sisters, feminists, comrades in the struggle you will read and understand my response to the positions you have put forward, with a view to promoting holistic transformative politics in our country, not a duplication or reconstruction of the status quo under a different order, in which as women especially are forever held at ransom by elitist, patriarchal notions of what constitutes our liberation.
I hold no brief for Morgan Tsvangirai, neither can I even be classified as some-one who belongs to his ‘inner’ circle. I respond to fellow sisters on matters of principle as a comrade with a track record and history in the struggle for Zimbabwe’s liberation, firstly and as a Feminist who has stood up against male ‘bigotry’, within the MDC and the broader democratic movement.
Based on these ‘credentials’ I have no fears or guilt in taking on fellow sisters on -especially when they advance or propagate reactionary views as a way to resolving a crisis that has left us not only scarred but deeply traumatised. What they suggest is a preservation of the status quo! Particularly if those views are then misconstrued as representing the broader Feminist movement in Zimbabwe – I beg to differ.
I will not at this stage go into an intellectual or theoretical discussion on Feminism and its various components and articulations, especially in our Zimbabwean case – that is a subject those of us who claim to be Feminists have to debate at some stage. Of concern for me at the moment is the ‘Position Paper.’ And wonder whose ‘Position’, we are debating here while asserting that this ‘Position’ has nothing to do with us women.
Indeed, it appears from the views put forward to be an implicit acceptance that the democratic will of the people is not paramount, and infers that a group of men (as this is who makes up the political ‘leadership’) are going to sit around a table and work together in a Transitional Authority for the common good of all Zimbabweans - and this promoted by a group of self-proclaimed feminists, nogal!
How many of our female comrades in the labour, student, constitutional movements or even the church were consulted before such a paper was presented to the world? Do the opinions of these women matter? Or by virtue of belonging to the lower classes in our society they remain excluded and marginalised even in discourse by senior Feminists who purport to be pushing their cause? Not taking into account the fact that the bulk of these women are at the front-line of our struggle as they take Mugabe on daily- they pay with their lives, their homes and their loved ones. The continued refusal by my sisters to acknowledge the existence of these women as leaders in their own right is a cause for concern.
I have argued elsewhere in the MDC Teresa Makone debacle that as women we are not a homogenous group – but there are certain sisters who know better than to be agents of replicating the same patriarchal notions in terms of our participation in the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis in a way that normalises our second class citizen status. We refuse to be under-dogs in perpetuity!
Can we therefore locate the ‘Position –Paper’ by fellow Feminists within the context of them using Feminism to fight certain male agenda’s? That has nothing to do with us as female comrades, including our sisters, mothers and grand-mothers who continue to suffer under the yoke of Mugabe’s dictatorship.
What is suggested also presupposes that Zanu-PF has the capacity to act honestly as a coalition partner - something of which there is absolutely no evidence. This is almost similar to Trevor Ncube’s commentary through Ferial Hafferjee’s editorial 10 days ago in the Mail & Guardian that suggested a coalition must include ‘moderate’ Zanu-PF people such as Mnangagwa, Gono and Murerwa! And that there must be a blanket indemnity for Mugabe and his security chiefs – whilst some sort of amnesty may well be negotiated, South Africa’s experience as elsewhere shows that immunities from prosecution can, and I would argue must be bolstered by some form of accountability (especially if a line is to be drawn in the sand to avert a repeat performance at a later stage). This need not always mean prosecution, but this potential stick must always be present!
The equating of Tsvangirai with Mugabe in the FePEP statement is, to put it mildly, obscene. Certainly, there is much to be concerned about in terms of internal issues within the MDC, although one could hardly argue that they have operated in normal circumstances. The conflation of concerns and grievances has clouded many people’s vision. Certainly, Tsvangirai should look for coalition partners and should draw on expertise within fellow opposition ranks and maybe even ZANU-PF, but it must be on collective acceptable terms - NOT as part of a negotiated settlement, or in this case something that is suggested for imposition as in this statement! The assumption that he will not adopt a constructive conciliatory route unless this is imposed on him is arrogant, patronising and fundamentally undemocratic.
It should also be noted that Tsvangirai is not the MDC and that the MDC is a political movement with structures from ward to national level, to whom Tsvangirai, Khupe and the rest of the top leadership have to account. We have fought and resisted ‘Mugabeism’, in the MDC – some battles we have lost others we have won. It is the principles around the formation of the party, collective leadership, accountability, transparency and its ultimate goal for total liberation – political and economic justice that puts us in the awkward position always of resisting attempts at subverting the will of the people through the back door.
That will which expressed itself so strongly on March 29 – a will for change some will selectively ignore in pursuit of unpopular agenda’s that appease certain elites within ZANU-PF and the ANC Mbeki camp.
It seems to me that those who have promoted a ‘third way’ to date have fundamentally misread the situation as it stands at the moment in Zimbabwe. I see that some are now promoting the argument that the failure of the ZANU_PF rank and file to come out in their large numbers is largely due to Makoni. I’m struggling to find any empirical basis for this assertion. Are the FePEP promoters suggesting Makoni must be the national leader?
My reading of the arguments put forward by comrades on the ground and Zimbabweans in general in not supporting the Makoni project are as follows – he is the only leader with an apparent national profile who does not have a registered political party; a man with less than 8% of the vote? People did not vote for Makoni because they did not trust him, because he comes from Zanu-PF, because his track record in government is nothing to shout home about, and because of his enduring silence regarding human rights violations that have characterised Zanu-PF rule. Those marketing Makoni should have addressed the above concerns as a matter of strategy to appeal to the electorate other than seem to be imposing him through the back-door.
Are these the credentials of a man ‘fit to govern’? He may have jumped ship – although he still claims loyalty to the party, but that the current leadership has lost its way. The reality is that Zanu-PF is a ruling party that is dying – at least as a ruling party formation (as UNIP did in Zambia, the MCP in Malawi and KANU in Kenya) - it can limp along for the foreseeable future with an ever decreasing capacity to service its extensive and mutating patronage networks, but it has fundamentally lost its ability to control the support of the people - even though they tried hard to manipulate and buy it in this last election.
What was different this time was the acutely lower levels of violence and intimidation (although it was certainly present) and the small spaces that were opened up for the limited campaigning season. Mbeki has been praised for helping provide the space – but he has disingenuously argued that the only differences outstanding in terms of the mediation process between the MDC and Zanu were procedural. The differences were much more fundamental than that, but once again it was the MDC who was coerced to compromise into participating in elections where conditions were improved, but certainly not free and fair.
Leaving aside the evidently flawed electoral process, the fundamental problem in Zimbabwe remains the concentration of executive powers, which have rendered parliament largely impotent. It was this dilution of power that the MDC sought during the mediation in terms of constitutional changes, but which Zanu-PF failed to follow through on, despite the agreement of its negotiation team!
In this context of trickery and treachery, should we support positions such as the FePEP statement that essentially promote and reward such bad behaviour? There is no ‘magical’ solution to the situation in Zimbabwe in terms of making everyone happy. Elections mean there are winners and losers. Certainly, particular circumstances may necessitate negotiated outcomes, but negotiating the suggested governance situation (i.e. a TA with equitable representation) in these circumstances sets an awful precedent for the region - one which, in the future, we may see elements of other faltering and failing ruling parties adopting as some kind of survival strategy. If Zimbabwe can do this they may ask, why not us?
Let’s not even get into the sycophantic support for SADC’s ‘mediation’ initiative and the assumption that Mbeki has done a good job. Many people strongly believe that he has a great deal of responsibility for the mess the country is now in. The extent to which this is really the case is no longer relevant. He has consistently reinforced a perception that he is biased in favour of Zanu-PF, as have the ANC who continue to refer to Zanu-PF as their ‘comrades’ in a quirky turn of revisionist liberation history. Mbeki, alas, is simply no longer trusted to be an honest broker by most Zimbabweans and this perception alone disqualifies him from continuing to play this role.
It appears that the FePEP statement is little more than a reflection of desperation and the thinking of an elitist group of women purporting to speak on behalf of a ‘majority’ that I doubt they have any meaningful contact with. Certainly none can claim electoral legitimacy / representation (at least any more) in terms of popular support. Several work for corporate NGOs and large donor agencies – essentially insulated from the hard realities of life in Zimbabwe or exile. What is suggested is done so from the armchairs of comfortable hotels and NGO boardrooms. It is also very distressing that those who promote such positions appear to also have a certain amount of influence over where donor funds get located and utilised. Many NGOs and individuals have been beneficiaries of the Zimbabwean crisis. Theirs is a 9 to 5 struggle.
There is a very real danger that a ‘managed transition’ (as suggested) with the window dressing of transitional justice will be little more than an exercise in ‘elite pacting’, designed to ensure the old wine is decantered in new bottles. I’m afraid the FePEP ‘position paper’ simply feeds such agendas and does not further a transformative course of action that is so desperately needed.
*Grace Kwinjeh is a Zimbabwean Feminist.
End the Zimbabwe Political Impasse!
Feminist Political Education Project (FePEP) (2008-04-15)
We the under-signed Zimbabwean women, in our capacity as THE FEMINIST POLITICAL EDUCATION PROJECT (FePEP), urgently call for an end to the political impasse that our country is in. Over a week after we voted in the harmonized elections, we note with great dismay that the results of the Presidential elections are yet to be released. The country is in limbo. Violence, poverty, HIV & AIDS and deterioration of social services continue to disproportionately affect women and girls. We voted on the 29th of March for our representatives in Parliament and for a Head of State in the hope that collectively they can address these problems. As citizens we demand to know and see the fruits of our vote, which would affirm our rights to participate in politics.
We call for the immediate release of the presidential election results. But regardless of who wins this elections among the four presidential candidates, it is our view that the country is too politically polarized to move on. Whoever becomes our next President has the Herculean task of bringing all sides together to think nationally, and in the best interests of all Zimbabwean citizens, not just their own party, or personal self interest. We believe that neither Mr Robert Mugabe nor Mr Morgan Tsvangirai is trusted enough by everyone to foster unity and national coherence that will be required to move forward. We strongly believe that this is what is at the heart of the present impasse. Equally we do not believe that a run-off will be in our best interests as women. We are too familiar with the violence that was meted upon numerous of us from 1890 when the colonialists came into our country right up to the most recent elections. Chief among these forms of violence is sexual violence, and it concomitant implication, HIV infection. Zimbabwean women now have the lowest life expectancy world wide because of HIV & AIDS, 34 years. We can not afford yet another pointless violent election that will slice more years off our lives.
We boldly suggest that all political parties and players in Zimbabwe come together in a national Transitional Authority, (TA). The TA should be headed by a person who can be trusted by both ZANU PF and the MDC formations. She or he must not be the leader of a registered political party. The TA will be composed of up to 15 members, ensuring geographic, ethnic, and gender balance. We believe that such an interim authority will provide a moderating voice and can pave the way for a government of national unity that can steer Zimbabwe to a more democratic dispensation, guided by a new constitution.
We therefore call upon the Southern African Development Community, supported by the African Union, and the United Nations, to bring all the parties in Zimbabwe together to discuss a move towards this interim arrangement. In this regard the South African President Mr Thabo Mbeki should continue his mediation role. It is our contention that the people of Zimbabwe are so deeply polarized yet again and can not possibly negotiate on their own.
Our position as FePEP reflects and amplifies the voices of so many women, who are tired of seeing their country torn apart by selfish male egos, the quest for unbridled power, and total disregard for citizens’ rights.
Teresa Mugadzam, Isabella Matambanadzo, Thoko Matshe, Everjoice Win, Shereen Essof, Juliana Manjengwa, Karin Alexander, Janah Ncube, Priscllah, Misihairabwi-Mushonga Revai Makanje
Tuesday, 22 April 2008
Politics is not the exercise of power. Politics ought to be defined on its own terms, as a mode of acting put into practice by a specific kind of subject and deriving from a particular form of reason. It is the political relationship that allows one to think the possibility of a political subject(ivity) [le sujet politique], not the other way around.
To identify politics with the exercise of, and struggle to possess, power is to do away with politics. But we also reduce the scope of politics as a mode of thinking if we conceive of it merely as a theory of power or as an investigation into the grounds of its legitimacy. If there is something specific about politics that makes it something other than a more capacious mode of grouping or a form of power characterized by its mode of legitimation, it is that it involves a distinctive kind of subject considered, and it involves this subject in the form of a mode of relation that is its own. This is what Aristotle means when, in Book I of the Politics, he distinguishes between political rule (as the ruling of equals) from all other kinds of rule; or when, in Book III, he defines the citizen as 'he who partakes in the fact of ruling and the fact of being ruled.' Everything about politics is contained in this specific relationship, this 'part-taking' [avoir-part], which should be interrogated as to its meaning and as to its conditions of possibility.
An interrogation into what is 'proper' to politics must be carefully distinguished from current and widespread propositions regarding "the return of the political." In the past several years, and in the context of a state-consensus, we have seen the blossoming of affirmations proclaiming the end of the illusion of the social and a return to a 'pure' form of politics. Read through either an Arendtian or Straussian lens, these affirmations focus on the same Aristotelian texts gestured to above. These readings generally identify the "proper" political order with that of the eu zen (i.e., a conception of the good) as opposed to a zen (conceived as an order of mere living). On this basis, the frontier between the domestic and the political becomes the frontier between the social and the political; and to the idea of a city-state defined by its common good is opposed the sad reality of modern democracy as the rule of the masses and of necessity. In practice, this celebration of pure politics entrusts the virtue of the 'political good' to governmental oligarchies enlightened by "experts;" which is to say that the supposed purification of the political, freed from domestic and social necessity, comes down to nothing more (or less) than the reduction of the political to the state [l'étatique].Behind the current buffooneries of the 'returns' of the political (that include 'the return of political philosophy'), it is important to recognize the vicious circle that characterizes political philosophy; a vicious circle located in the link between the political relationship and the political subject. This vicious circle posits a way of life that is 'proper' to politics. The political relationship is subsequently deduced from the properties of this specific order of being and is explained in terms of the existence of a character who possesses a good or a specific universality, as opposed to the private or domestic world of needs or interests. In short, politics is explained as the accomplishment of a way of life that is proper to those who are destined for it. This partition - which is actually the object of politics - is posited as its basis.
What is proper to politics is thus lost at the outset if politics is thought of as a specific way of living. Politics cannot be defined on the basis of any pre-existing subject. The political 'difference' that makes it possible to think its subject must be sought in the form of its relation. If we return to the Aristotelian definition, there is a name given to the subject (politès) that is defined by a part-taking (metexis) in a form of action (archein - ruling) and in the undergoing that corresponds to this doing (archesthai - being ruled). If there is something 'proper' to politics, it consists entirely in this relationship which is not a relationship between subjects, but one between two contradictory terms through which a subject is defined. Politics disappears the moment you undo this knot of a subject and a relation. This is what happens in all fictions, be they speculative or empiricist, that seek the origin of the political relationship in the properties of its subjects and in the conditions of their coming together. The traditional question "For what reasons do human beings gather into political communities?" is always already a response, and one that causes the disappearance of the object it claims to explain or to ground - i.e., the form of a political part-taking that then disappears in the play of elements or atoms of sociability.
What is proper to politics is the existence of a subject defined by its participation in contrarieties. Politics is a paradoxical form of action.
The formulations according to which politics is the ruling of equals, and the citizen is the one who part-takes in ruling and being ruled, articulate a paradox that must be thought through rigorously. It is important to set aside banal representations of the doxa of parliamentary systems that invoke the reciprocity of rights and duties in order to understand what is extraordinary in the Aristotelian articulation. This formulation speaks to us of a being who is at once the agent of an action and the one upon whom the action is exercised. It contradicts the conventional 'cause-and-effect' model of action that has it that an agent endowed with a specific capacity produces an effect upon an object that is, in turn, characterized by its aptitude for receiving that effect.
This problem is in no way resolved by reverting to the classic opposition between two modes of action: poiesis, on the one hand, governed by the model of fabrication that gives form to matter; and praxis, on the other, which excludes from this relation the 'inter-being' [l'inter-être] of people devoted to politics. As we know, this opposition - replacing that of zen and eu zen - sustains a conception of political purity. In Hannah Arendt's work, for instance, the order of praxis is that of equals with the power of archein, conceived of as the power to begin anew: "To act, in its most general sense," she explains in The Human Condition, "means to take an initiative, to begin (as the Greek word archein, 'to begin,' 'to lead,' and eventually 'to rule' indicates);" she concludes this thought by subsequently linking archein to "the principle of freedom."7 Once Arendt defines both a proper mode and sphere of action, a vertiginous short-cut is formed that allows one to posit a series of equations between 'beginning,' 'ruling,' 'being free,' and living in a city-state ('To be free and to live in a polis is the same thing' as the same text puts it).
This series of equations finds its equivalent in the movement that engenders civic equality from the community of Homeric heroes; equals, that is, in their participation in the power of arche. The first witness against this Homeric idyllic, however, is Homer himself. Against the garrulous Thersites - the man who is an able public speaker despite the fact that he is not qualified to speak - Odysseus recalls the fact that the Greek army has one and only one chief: Agamemnon. He reminds us of what archein means: to walk at the head. And, if there is one who walks at the head, the others must necessarily walk behind. The line between the power of archein (i.e., the power to rule), freedom, and the polis, is not straight but severed. In order to convince oneself of this, it is enough to see the manner in which Aristotle characterizes the three possible classes of rule within a polis, each one possessing a particular title: 'virtue' for the aristoi, 'wealth' for the oligoi, and 'freedom' for the demos. In this division, 'freedom' appears as the paradoxical part of the demos about whom the Homeric hero tells us (in no uncertain terms) that it had only one thing to do: to keep quiet and bow down.
In short, the opposition between praxis and poiesis in no way resolves the paradoxical definition of the politès. As far as arche is concerned, as with everything else, the conventional logic has it that there is a particular disposition to act that is exercised upon a particular disposition to 'be acted upon.' Thus the logic of arche presupposes a determinate superiority exercised upon an equally determinate inferiority. In order for there to be a political subject(ivity), and thus for there to be politics, there must be a rupture in this logic.
Politics is a specific rupture in the logic of arche. It does not simply presuppose the rupture of the 'normal' distribution of positions between the one who exercises power and the one subject to it. It also requires a rupture in the idea that there are dispositions 'proper' to such classifications.
In Book III of the Laws, Plato devotes himself to a systematic inventory of the qualifications (axiomata) for ruling, along with certain correlative qualifications for being ruled. Out of the seven he retains, four are traditional qualifications of authority based on a natural difference; that is, the difference in birth. Those qualified to rule are those 'born before' or 'born otherwise.' This grounds the power of parents over children, old over young, masters over slaves, and nobles over serfs. The fifth qualification is introduced as the principal principle that summarizes all natural differences: It is the power of those with a superior nature, of the stronger over the weak - a power that has the unfortunate quality, discussed at length in the Gorgias, of being indeterminate. The sixth qualification, then, gives the only difference that counts for Plato; namely, the power of those who know [savoir] over those who do not. There are thus four couplings of traditional qualifications to be had, along with two theoretical couplings that claim priority over them: namely, 'natural' superiority and the rule of 'science' qua knowledge.
The list ought to stop there. But there is a seventh qualification: 'the choice of god,' otherwise referring to a drawing of lots [le tirage au sort] that designates the one who exercises arche. Plato does not expand upon this. But clearly, this kind of 'choice' points ironically to the designation by god of a regime previously referred to as one only god could save: namely, democracy. What thus characterizes a democracy is purechance or the complete absence of qualifications for governing. Democracy is that state of exception where no oppositions can function, where there is no pre-determined principle of role allocation. 'To partake in ruling and being ruled' is quite a different matter from reciprocity. It is, in short, an absence of reciprocity that constitutes the exceptional essence of this relationship; and this absence of reciprocity rests on the paradox of a qualification that is absence of qualification. Democracy is the specific situation in which there is an absence of qualifications that, in turn, becomes the qualification for the exercise of a democratic arche. What is destroyed in this logic is the particular quality of arche, its redoubling, which means that it always precedes itself within a circle of its own disposition and its own exercise. But this exceptional state is identical with the very condition for the specificity of politics more generally.
Democracy is not a political regime. Insofar as it is a rupture in the logic of arche - that is, in the anticipation of rule in the disposition for it - democracy is the regime of politics in the form of a relationship defining a specific subject.
What makes possible the metexis proper to politics is the rupture of all those logics of allocation exercised in the part-taking of arche. The 'freedom' of a people that constitutes the axiom of democracy has as its real content the rupture of the axioms of domination: a rupture, that is, in the correlation between a capacity for rule and a capacity for being ruled. The citizen who partakes 'in ruling and being ruled' is only thinkable on the basis of the demos as a figure that ruptures the correspondence between a series of correlated capacities. Democracy is thus precisely not a political regime in the sense of a particular constitution that determines different ways of assembling people under a common authority. Democracy is the institution of politics - the institution of both its subject and its mode of relating.
As we know, democracy is a term invented by its opponents, by all those who were 'qualified' to govern because of seniority, birth, wealth, virtue, and knowledge [savoir]. Using it as a term of derision, they articulated an unprecedented reversal of the order of things: the 'power of the demos' means that those who rule are those who have no specificity in common, apart from their having no qualification for governing. Before being the name of a community, demos is the name of a part of the community: namely, the poor. The 'poor,' however, does not designate an economically disadvantaged part of the population; it simply designates the category of peoples who do not count, those who have no qualifications to part-take in arche, no qualification for being taken into account.
This is exactly what Homer describes in the Thersites episode evoked above. Those who want to speak, though they belong to the demos, though they belong to the undifferentiated collection of the 'unaccounted for' [l'hors-compte] (anarithmoi), get stabbed in the back by Odysseus' scepter. This is not a deduction but a definition: The one who is 'unaccounted-for,' the one who has no speech to be heard, is the one of the demos. A remarkable passage from Book XII of the Odyssey illustrates this point: Polydamas complains because his opinion has been disregarded by Hector. With you, he says, 'one never has the right to speak if one belongs to the demos.' Now Polydamas is not a villain like Thersites; he is Hector's brother. Demos thus does not designate a socially inferior category: The one who speaks when s/he is not to speak, the one who part-takes in what s/he has no part in - that person belongs to the demos.
The 'people' that is the subject of democracy - and thus the principal subject of politics - is not the collection of members in a community, or the laboring classes of the population. It is the supplementary part, in relation to any counting of parts of the population that makes it possible to identify 'the part of those who have no-part'[le compte des incomptés] with the whole of the community.
The people (demos) exists only as a rupture of the logic of arche, a rupture of the logic of beginning/ruling [commencement/commandement]. It should not be identified either with the race of those who recognize each other as having the same origin, the same birth, or with a part of a population or even the sum of its parts. 'People' [peuple] refers to the supplement that disconnects the population from itself, by suspending the various logics of legitimate domination. This disjunction is illustrated particularly well in the crucial reforms that give Athenian democracy its proper status; namely, those reforms enacted by Cleisthenes when he rearranged the distribution of the demes9 over the territory of the city. In constituting each tribe by the addition of three separate boundaries - one from the city, one from the coast, and one from the countryside - Cleisthenes broke with the ancient principle that kept the tribes under the rule of local aristocratic chieftainships whose power, legitimated through legendary birth, had as its real content the economic power of the landowners. In short, the 'people' is an artifice set at an angle from the logic that gives the principle of wealth as heir to the principle of birth. It is an abstract supplement in relation to any actual (ac)count of the parts of the population, of their qualifications for part-taking in the community, and of the common shares due to them according to these qualifications. The 'people' is the supplement that inscribes 'the count of the unaccounted-for' or 'the part of those who have no part.'
These expressions should not be understood in their more populist sense but rather in a structural sense. It is not the laboring and suffering populace that comes to occupy the terrain of political action and to identify its name with that of the community. What is identified by democracy with the role of the community is an empty, supplementary, part that separates the community from the sum of the parts of the social body. This separation, in turn, grounds politics in the action of supplementary subjects that are a surplus in relation to any (ac)count of the parts of society. The whole question of politics thus lies in the interpretation of this void. The criticisms that sought to discredit democracy brought the 'nothing' which constitutes the political people back to the overflow of the ignorant masses and the greedy populace. The interpretation of democracy posed by Claude Lefort gave the democratic void its structural meaning. But the theory of the structural void can be interpreted in two distinct ways: First, the structural void refers to an-archy, to the absence of an entitlement to rule that constitutes the very nature of the political space; Secondly, the void is caused by the 'dis-incorporation' of the king's two bodies - the human and divine body. Democracy, according to this latter view, begins with the murder of the king; in other words, with a collapse of the symbolic thereby producing a dis-incorporated social presence. And this originary link is posed as the equivalent of an original temptation to imaginatively reconstruct the 'glorious body of the people' that is heir to the immortal body of the king and the basis of every totalitarianism.
Against these interpretations, let us say that the two-fold body of the people is not a modern consequence of the sacrifice of the sovereign body but rather a given constitutive of politics. It is initially the people, and not the king, that has a double body and this duality is nothing other than the supplement through which politics exists: a supplement to all social (ac)counts and an exception to all logics of domination.
The seventh qualification, Plato says, is 'god's part.' We will maintain that this part belonging to god - this qualification of those who have no qualification - contains within it all that is theological in politics. The contemporary emphasis on the theme of the 'theologico-political' dissolves the question of politics into that of power and of the grounding event that is its fundament. It re-doubles the liberal fiction of the contract with the representation of an original sacrifice. But the division of arche that conjoins politics and democracy is not a founding sacrifice: It is, rather, a neutralization of any founding sacrifice. This neutralization could find its exact fable at the end of Oedipus at Colonus: it is at the price of the disappearance of the sacrificial body, at the price of not seeking Oedipus' body, that Athenian democracy receives the benefit of its burial. To want to disinter the body is not only to associate the democratic form with a scenario of sin or of original malediction. More radically, it is to return the logic of politics to the question of an originary scene of power; in other words, to return politics to the state. By interpreting the empty part in terms of psychosis, the dramaturgy of original symbolic catastrophe transforms the political exception into a sacrificial symptom of democracy: It subsumes the litigiousness proper to politics under any of the innumerable versions of an originary 'crime' or 'murder.'
If politics is the outline of a vanishing difference, with the distribution of social parts and shares, then it follows that its existence is in no way necessary, but that it occurs as a provisional accident in the history of the forms of domination. It also follows from this that political litigiousness has as its essential object the very existence of politics.
Politics cannot be deduced from the necessity of gathering people into communities. It is an exception to the principles according to which this gathering operates. The 'normal' order of things is that human communities gather together under the rule of those qualified to rule - whose qualifications are legitimated by the very fact that they are ruling. These governmental qualifications may be summed up according to two central principles: The first refers society to the order of filiation, both human and divine. This is the power of birth. The second refers society to the vital principle of its activities. This is the power of wealth. Thus, the 'normal' evolution of society comes to us in the progression from a government of birth to a government of wealth. Politics exists as a deviation from this normal order of things. It is this anomaly that is expressed in the nature of political subjects who are not social groups but rather forms of inscription of 'the (ac)count of the unaccounted-for.'
There is politics as long as 'the people' is not identified with the race or a population, inasmuch as the poor are not equated with a particular disadvantaged sector, and as long as the proletariat is not a group of industrial workers, etc... Rather, there is politics inasmuch as 'the people' refers to subjects inscribed as a supplement to the count of the parts of society, a specific figure of 'the part of those who have no-part.' Whether this part exists is the political issue and it is the object of political litigation. Political struggle is not a conflict between well defined interest groups; it is an opposition of logics that count the parties and parts of the community in different ways. The clash between the 'rich' and the 'poor,' for instance, is the struggle over the very possibility of these words being coupled, of their being able to institute categories for another (ac)counting of the community. There are two ways of counting the parts of the community: The first only counts empirical parts - actual groups defined by differences in birth, by different functions, locations, and interests that constitute the social body. The second counts 'in addition' a part of the no-part. We will call the first police and the second politics.
The police is not a social function but a symbolic constitution of the social. The essence of the police is neither repression nor even control over the living. Its essence is a certain manner of partitioning the sensible. We will call 'partition of the sensible' a general law that defines the forms of part-taking by first defining the modes of perception in which they are inscribed. The partition of the sensible is the cutting-up of the world and of 'world;' it is the nemeïn upon which the nomoi of the community are founded. This partition should be understood in the double sense of the word: on the one hand, that which separates and excludes; on the other, that which allows participation (see Editor's note 2). A partition of the sensible refers to the manner in which a relation between a shared 'common' [un commun partagé] and the distribution of exclusive parts is determined through the sensible. This latter form of distribution, in turn, itself presupposes a partition between what is visible and what is not, of what can be heard from the inaudible.
The essence of the police is to be a partition of the sensible characterized by the absence of a void or a supplement: society consists of groups dedicated to specific modes of action, in places where these occupations are exercised, in modes of being corresponding to these occupations and these places. In this fittingness of functions, places, and ways of being, there is no place for a void. It is this exclusion of what 'there is not' that is the police-principle at the heart of statist practices. The essence of politics, then, is to disturb this arrangement by supplementing it with a part of the no-part identified with the community as a whole. Political litigiousness/struggle is that which brings politics into being by separating it from the police that is, in turn, always attempting its disappearance either by crudely denying it, or by subsuming that logic to its own. Politics is first and foremost an intervention upon the visible and the sayable.
The principal function of politics is the configuration of its proper space. It is to disclose the world of its subjects and its operations. The essence of politics is the manifestation of dissensus, as the presence of two worlds in one.
Let us begin from an empirical given: police intervention in public spaces does not consist primarily in the interpellation of demonstrators, but in the breaking up of demonstrations. The police is not that law interpellating individuals (as in Althusser's "Hey, you there!") unless one confuses it with religious subjectification. It is, first of all, a reminder of the obviousness of what there is, or rather, of what there isn't: "Move along! There is nothing to see here!" The police says that there is nothing to see on a road, that there is nothing to do but move along. It asserts that the space of circulating is nothing other than the space of circulation. Politics, in contrast, consists in transforming this space of 'moving-along' into a space for the appearance of a subject: i.e., the people, the workers, the citizens: It consists in refiguring the space, of what there is to do there, what is to be seen or named therein. It is the established litigation of the perceptible, on the nemeïn that founds any communal nomos.
This partition constituting politics is never given in the form of a lot, of a kind of property that obliges or compels politics. These properties are litigious as much in their understanding as in their extension. Exemplary in this regard are those properties that, for Aristotle, define a political ability or are intended for 'the good life.' Apparently nothing could be clearer than the distinction made by Aristotle in Book I of the Politics: the sign of the political nature of humans is constituted by their possession of the logos, the articulate language appropriate for manifesting a community in the aisthesis of the just and the unjust, as opposed to the animal phone, appropriate only for expressing the feelings of pleasure and displeasure. If you are in the presence of an animal possessing the ability of the articulate language and its power of manifestation, you know you are dealing with a human and therefore with a political animal. The only practical difficulty is in knowing which sign is required to recognize the sign; that is, how one can be sure that the human animal mouthing a noise in front of you is actually voicing an utterance rather than merely expressing a state of being? If there is someone you do not wish to recognize as a political being, you begin by not seeing them as the bearers of politicalness, by not understanding what they say, by not hearing that it is an utterance coming out of their mouths. And the same goes for the opposition so readily invoked between the obscurity of domestic and private life, and the radiant luminosity of the public life of equals. In order to refuse the title of political subjects to a category - workers, women, etc... - it has traditionally been sufficient to assert that they belong to a 'domestic' space, to a space separated from public life; one from which only groans or cries expressing suffering, hunger, or anger could emerge, but not actual speeches demonstrating a shared aisthesis. And the politics of these categories has always consisted in re-qualifying these places, in getting them to be seen as the spaces of a community, of getting themselves to be seen or heard as speaking subjects (if only in the form of litigation); in short, participants in a common aisthesis. It has consisted in making what was unseen visible; in getting what was only audible as noise to be heard as speech; in demonstrating to be a feeling of shared 'good' or 'evil' what had appeared merely as an expression of pleasure or pain.
The essence of politics is dissensus. Dissensus is not the confrontation between interests or opinions. It is the manifestation of a distance of the sensible from itself. Politics makes visible that which had no reason to be seen, it lodges one world into another (for instance, the world where the factory is a public space within the one where it is considered a private one, the world where workers speak out vis-a-vis the one where their voices are merely cries expressing pain). This is precisely why politics cannot be identified with the model of communicative action since this model presupposes the partners in communicative exchange to be pre-constituted, and that the discursive forms of exchange imply a speech community whose constraint is always explicable. In contrast, the particular feature of political dissensus is that the partners are no more constituted than is the object or the very scene of discussion. The ones making visible the fact that they belong to a shared world the other does not see - cannot take advantage of - the logic implicit to a pragmatics of communication. The worker who argues for the public nature of a 'domestic' matter (such as a salary dispute) must indicate the world in which his argument counts as an argument and must demonstrate it as such for those who do not possess a frame of reference to conceive of it as argument. Political argument is at one and the same time the demonstration of a possible world where the argument could count as argument, addressed by a subject qualified to argue, upon an identified object, to an addressee who is required to see the object and to hear the argument that he or she 'normally' has no reason to either see or hear. It is the construction of a paradoxical world that relates two separate worlds.
Politics thus has no 'proper' place nor does it possess any 'natural' subjects. A demonstration is political not because it takes place in a specific locale and bears upon a particular object but rather because its form is that of a clash between two partitions of the sensible. A political subject is not a group of interests or ideas: It is the operator of a particular mode of subjectification and litigation through which politics has its existence. Political demonstrations are thus always of the moment and their subjects are always provisional. Political difference is always on the shore of its own disappearance: the people are close to sinking into the sea of the population or of race, the proletariat borders on being confused with workers defending their interests, the space of a people's public demonstration is always at risk of being confused with the merchant's agora, etc...
The deduction of politics from a specific world of equals or free people, as opposed to another world lived out of necessity, takes as its ground precisely the object of its litigation. It thus renders compulsory a blindness to those who 'do not see' and have no place from which to be seen. Exemplary, in this regard, is a passage from Arendt's On Revolution discussing the manner in which John Adams identifies the unhappiness of the poor with the fact of 'not being seen.' Such an identification, she comments, could itself only emanate from a man belonging to a privileged community of equals. And, by the same token, it could 'hardly be understood' by the people comprising the relevant categories. We could express amazement at the extraordinary deafness of this affirmation in the face of the multiplicity of discourses and demonstrations of the 'poor' concerning precisely their mode of visibility. But this deafness has nothing accidental about it. It forms a circle with the acceptance of an original partition, a founding politics, with what was in fact the permanent object of litigation constituting politics. It forms a circle with the definition of homo laborans as a partition of the 'ways of life.' This circle is not that of any particular theoretician; it is the circle of 'political philosophy.'
Inasmuch as what is proper to 'political philosophy' is to ground political action in a specific mode of being, so is it the case that 'political philosophy' effaces the litigiousness constitutive of politics. It is in its very description of the world of politics that philosophy effects this effacement. Moreover, its effectiveness is perpetuated through to the non-philosophical or anti-philosophical description of the world.
That the distinguishing feature of politics is the existence of a subject who 'rules' by the very fact of having no qualifications to rule; that the principle of beginnings/ruling is irremediably divided as a result of this, and that the political community is specifically a litigious community - this is the 'political secret' that philosophy first encounters. If we can speak of the privileged stature of the 'Ancients' over the 'Moderns,' it is a consequence of their having first perceived this 'secret' and not of having been the first to oppose the community of the 'good' to that of the 'useful.' At the head of the anodyne expression 'political philosophy' one finds the violent encounter between philosophy and the exception to the law of arche proper to politics, along with philosophy's effort to resituate politics under the auspices of this law. The Gorgias, the Republic, the Politics, the Laws, all these texts reveal the same effort to efface the paradox or scandal of a 'seventh qualification' - to make of democracy a simple case of the indeterminable principle of 'the government of the strongest,' against which one can only oppose a government of those who know [les savants]. These texts all reveal a similar strategy of placing the community under a unique law of partition and expelling the empty part of the demos from the communal body.
But this expulsion does not simply take place in the form of the opposition between the 'good' regime of the community that is both one and hierarchised according to its principle of unity, and the 'bad' regimes of division and disorder. It takes place within the very presupposition that identifies a political form with a way of life; and this presupposition is already operating in the procedures for describing 'bad' regimes, and democracy in particular. All of politics, as we have said, is played out in the interpretation of democratic 'anarchy.' In identifying it with the dispersal of the desires of democratic man, Plato transforms the form of politics into a mode of existence and, further, transforms the void into an overflow. Before being the theorist of the 'ideal' or 'enclosed' city-state, Plato is the founder of the anthropological conception of the political, the conception that identifies politics with the deployment of the properties of a type of man or a mode of life. This kind of 'man,' this 'way of being,' this form of the city-state: it is there, before any discourse on the laws or the educational methods of the ideal state, before even the partition of the classes of the community, the partition of the perceptible that cancels out political singularity.
The initial gesture of political philosophy thus has a two-fold consequence: On the one hand, Plato founds a community that is the effectuation of a principle of unity, of an undivided principle - a community strictly defined as a common body with its places and functions and with its forms of interiorisation of the common. He founds an archi-politics based on a law of unity between the 'occupations' of the city-state and its 'ethos,' (in other words its way of inhabiting an abode), as law but also as the specific 'tone' according to which this ethos reveals itself. This etho-logy of the community once again makes politics and police indistinguishable. And political philosophy, inasmuch as it wants to give to the community a single foundation, is condemned to have to re-identify politics and police, to cancel out politics through the gesture that founds it.
But Plato also invents a 'concrete' mode for describing the production of political forms. In a word, he invents the very forms of the refusal of the 'ideal state,' the settled forms of opposition between philosophical 'a-prior-ism-' and concrete sociological or political-scientific analyses of the forms of politics as expressions of ways of life. This second legacy is more profound and more long-lasting than the first. The sociology of the political is the second resource - the deuteron plous - of political philosophy that accomplishes (sometimes against itself) its fundamental project: to found the community on the basis of a univocal partition of the sensible. In particular, de Tocqueville's analysis of democracy, whose innumerable variants and ersatz versions feed the discourses on modern democracy, the age of the masses, the mass individual, etc., fits into the continuity of the theoretical gesture that cancels out the structural singularity of 'the qualification without qualifications' and the 'part of the no-part,' by re-describing democracy as a social phenomenon, of the collective effectuation of the properties of a type of man.Inversely, the claims for the purity of the bios politikos (of the republican constitution and of the community versus the individual or democratic mass, and the opposition between the political and the social) share in the effectiveness of the same knot between the a-prior-ism- of the 'republican' re-founding, and the sociological description of democracy. No matter which side one rests on, the opposition between the 'political' and the 'social' is a matter defined entirely within the frame of 'political philosophy;' in other words, it is a matter that lies at the heart of the philosophical repression of politics. The current proclamations of a 'return to politics' and 'political philosophy' are an imitation of the originary gesture of 'political philosophy,' without actually grasping the principles or issues involved in it. In this sense, it is the radical forgetting of politics and of the tense relationship between politics and philosophy. The sociological theme of the 'end of politics' in post-modern society and the 'politico' theme of the 'return of politics' both derive from the initial double gesture of 'political philosophy' and both move towards the same forgetting of politics.
The 'end of politics' and the 'return of politics' are two complementary ways of canceling out politics in the simple relationship between a state of the social and a state of statist apparatuses. 'Consensus' is the vulgar name given to this cancellation.
The essence of politics resides in the modes of dissensual subjectification that reveal the difference of a society to itself. The essence of consensus is not peaceful discussion and reasonable agreement as opposed to conflict or violence. Its essence is the annulment of dissensus as the separation of the sensible from itself, the annulment of surplus subjects, the reduction of the people to the sum of the parts of the social body, and of the political community to the relationship of interests and aspirations of these different parts. Consensus is the reduction of politics to the police. In other words, it is the 'end of politics' and not the accomplishment of its ends but, simply, the return of the 'normal' state of things which is that of politics' non-existence. The 'end of politics' is the ever-present shore of politics [le bord de la politique] that, in turn, is an activity of the moment and always provisional. 'Return of politics' and 'end of politics' are two symmetrical interpretations producing the same effect: to efface the very concept of politics, and the precariousness that is one of its essential elements. In proclaiming the end of usurpations of the social and the return to 'pure' politics, the 'return of politics' thesis simply occludes the fact that the 'social' is in no way a particular sphere of existence but, rather, a disputed object of politics. Therefore, the subsequently proclaimed end of the social is, simply put, the end of political litigation regarding the partition of worlds. The 'return of politics' is thus the affirmation that there is a specific place for politics. Isolated in this manner, this specific space can be nothing other than the place of the state and, in fact, the theorists of the 'return of politics' ultimately affirm that politics is out-dated. They identify it with the practices of state control which have, as their principal principle, the suppression of politics.
The sociological thesis of the 'end of politics' symmetrically posits the existence of a state of the social such that politics no longer has a necessary raison-d'être; whether or not it has accomplished its ends by bringing into being precisely this state (i.e., the exoteric American Hegelian-Fukayama-ist version) or whether its forms are no longer adapted to the fluidity and artificiality of present-day economic and social relations (i.e., the esoteric European Heideggerian-Situationnist version). The thesis thus amounts to asserting that the logical telos of capitalism makes it so that politics becomes, once again, out dated. And then it concludes with either the mourning of politics before the triumph of an immaterial Leviathan, or its transformation into forms that are broken up, segmented, cybernetic, ludic, etc...- adapted to those forms of the social that correspond to the highest stage of capitalism. It thus fails to recognize that in actual fact, politics has no reason for being in any state of the social and that the contradiction of the two logics is an unchanging given that defines the contingency and precariousness proper to politics. Via a Marxist detour, the 'end of politics' thesis - along with the consensualist thesis - grounds politics in a particular mode of life that identifies the political community with the social body, subsequently identifying political practice with state practice. The debate between the philosophers of the 'return of politics' and the sociologists of the 'end of politics' is thus a straightforward debate regarding the order in which it is appropriate to take the presuppositions of 'political philosophy' so as to interpret the consensualist practice of annihilating politics.