Art of Being Political -Mark Franke
Fundamental throughout our studies in "The Art of Being Political in Theory" will be the simple yet truly daunting question of: what is politics? The course is not so much guided by a tradition of thinking politics as it is concerned with coming to understand how it is that politics are provoked as a matter of theoretical concern, such that so-called traditions of political theory are formed in response. We first want to ask: how is it that the political is a theoretical problem? On this register, the course places serious emphasis on the fact that, whatever we might identify as politics, the conditions of politics are formed in the relations, acts, and experiences of those for whom politics becomes an issue. Politics are not simply there; those deemed political beings are not political by nature; the political is not a domain of principles to be discerned by already given subjects of politics. Rather, this course begins from the understanding that it is the manners of being that are formed between persons in relation to one another that constitute politics as a problem of being. This course asks that we investigate the implications of confronting the problem of being with the politics it provokes. Moreover, it challenges us to think what it is to be political in terms of acts of being.
This course also asks that we take up this last question more directly in terms of our own acts, practices, and the formation of self and others within the context of Theory and Criticism. The broader question that we will open asks us to critically investigate and contemplate the politics of our being in Theory and Criticism. In pushing open the problem of politics itself as a matter of being, this course requires us to consider how politics are provoked in our respective acts of critical theoretical debate, research, and writing. How are politics at play in our respective efforts to be theoretical and critical? What are the political conditions under which Theory and Criticism are possible as subjects of study? What is politically at stake for us as theorists and critics? Also, what must be achieved politically in order for Theory and Criticism to appear apolitical, so that the doing of Theory and Criticism may appear "merely theoretical"?
Our studies in this course will push us to some basic concerns of ontology and representation, and we will most pointedly consider how these concerns may be re-thought in reference to our own rethinking of politics and the political. Insofar as we conduct our studies in relation to written responses to the problem of politics, as offered in most of the texts we will read from political theory, we will very often find good reason to shape our studies of ontology and representation in the terms of spatial-temporal relations, formations of boundaries between here and there/now and then/us and them, and acts of aesthetic judgement. Ubiquitous to the conjuring of politics as a problem are efforts to both think and resolve the problem in terms of specific spatial/temporal renderings of being. The most sophisticated of these renderings ground their enterprise in aesthetics as a core ground of politics. This course seeks to highlight the intensity with which the political is conventionally conditioned by senses of being as space-timed and aesthetic practice. Accordingly, it seeks also to detect ways in which critical re-thinking of the political and the politics in Theory and Criticism is made possible through re-thinking relations of space-time and politics as art.
At this point, the reading list for "The Art of Being Political in Theory" remains under construction. I can say with considerable certainly, though, that core contemporary texts read in the course will include several works written by Jacques Rancière. His writings on politics and the relationship of art to politics are crucial to the course's aims to open up the question of politics, as seen in his: Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (U. of Minnesota Press, 1999); The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible (Continuum, 2004); On the Shores of Politics (Verso, 1995); The Philosopher and His Poor (Duke, 2004); and "Ten Theses on Politics," Theory and Event (2001). In relation to Rancière's writings, I would like to bring together the interplay of relevant texts written by Giorgio Agamben, Alain Badiou, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, and Jean-Luc Nancy. We may also find it very useful to work through some selected writings by contemporary scholars reflecting on the implication of these specific set of author's ideas on questions of politics, art, and space-time quite specifically. Here I have in mind recent texts published by Erin Manning and Davide Panagia.
To fulfill the course's objective of considering how it is that politics becomes a problem of theory, it is of great interest that we spend some time examining or, at least, reflection on some key texts from the classic and modern contexts of political theory. In this regard, if it is possible to find the time, selections from Plato and Aristotle would be inevitable. It would also be of interest to engage and read against the grain some texts by Niccolò Machiavelli, Thomas Hobbes, Immanuel Kant, Max Weber, Carl Schmitt, and Hannah Arendt.
In our practices of trying to examine the considerable difficulty of responding politically to being political in theory, I would like for us to engage some texts written by scholars working to conjure politics in domains formed as largely depoliticised and foreclosed sub-sets of Theory and Criticism. Foremost in my mind are theorists struggling for critical purchase from the subject-positions of postcolonial theorist, cultural theorist, and gender theorist. There are a few scholars from these positions whose texts offer excellent insight in the geographies, temporalities, and aesthetics of being political in contemporary theory and the often apolitical/apoliticising character of Theory and Criticism. Likely candidates from whom I might draw these texts include: Partha Chatterjee, Rey Chow, Alberto Moreiras, Achille Mbembe, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
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