12 September 2006

A Brief Note on Ranciere's "Police"

I have a terrible habit of posting multiple, ponderous, lengthy diaries in a short span of time. On the one hand, I think this is because thoughts and connections occur in clusters, so that it's necessary to get them down as they come, lest they be lost. Of course, the issue here isn't that they are of any great value, but rather that if they're not inscribed somehow in the Other, the other thoughts that might emerge from half-formed thoughts themselves never get formed. On the other hand, I suspect that there might be something of a nasty obsessional symptom at work in this practice. Lacan liked to joke about the "psychoanalytic" idea that analysis ends when the analysand has become capable of oblative love-- a truly selfless and giving love --arguing that this was the obsessional symptom par excellence. The obsessional, filled with anxiety whenever encountering the desire of the Other, tries to transform this desire into a specific set of demands or requests that he can then satisfy so as to negate the Other. Zizek often seems to behave in this way in public discussions. If he can just keep talking, if he can make all the necessary points, then he can forestall any encounter with the Other. Similarly, I sometimes wonder whether the whole point of my ponderous and numorous posts is precisely to not be read (even though I generally feel forelorn and insignificant when I get no response at all-- Hint, hint. Nudge, nudge --governed as I am by the logic of reciprocity, or the unconscious structure that every gift requires a counter-gift. Thus, so as to unburden myself of any obligation to the Other, I have a compulsion to respond to everything... A habit I'm trying to break myself of. I experience a sort of horror in the non-response, as if I've said something completely moronic, irrelevant, or am simply being negated out of existence... All of which is transferential, of course).

At any rate, in the previous post I suggested that Luhmann's conception of social systems is a variant of Ranciere's concept of the "police", and leads politics to a view that there is only governance insofar as it refuses to acknowledge any constitutive exceptions ("reals") haunting the social system in question. This is not to diminish Luhmann's achievement or the strengths of his autopoietic account of communicative systems, only to indicate that it makes no room for the political. In this connection, I thought it worthwhile to say a word or two as to what Ranciere means by the "police", as the connotations of the word might make it obscure as to how it's related to something such as an autopoietic system. Ranciere writes,
I do not... identify the police with what is termed the 'state apparatus'. The notion of a state apparatus is in fact bound up with the presupposition of an opposition between State and society in which the state is portrayed as a machine, a 'cold monster' imposing its rigid order on the life of society. This representation already presupposes a certain 'political philosophy,' that is, a certain confusion of politics and the police. The distribution of places and roles that defines a police regime stems as much from the assumed spontaneity of social relations as from the rigidity of state functions. The police is essentially, the law, generally implicit, that defines a party's share or lack of it... The police is thus first an order of bodies that defines the allocation of ways of doing, ways of being, and ways of saying, and sees those bodies are assigned by the name to a particular place and task; it is an order of the visible and the sayable that sees that a particular activity is visible and another is not, that this speech is understood as discourse and another as noise. It is police law, for example, that traditionally turns the workplace into a private space not regulated by the ways of seeing and saying proper to what is called the public domain, where the worker's having a part is strictly defined by the remuneration of his work. Policiing is not so much the 'disciplining' of bodies as a rule governing their appearing, a configuration of occupations and the properties of the spaces where these occupations are distributed. (Disagreement, 29, my italics)
Since no one appears to be particularly invested in Luhmann (save my dear friend Robert who's currently not talking to me, as I behaved badly recently in email, defended Hallward's reading of Deleuze, and criticized autopoietic theory), I take it that few will object if I assert that Ranciere's claims here can easily be imported into the framework of Luhmannian social theory. When the police are referred to as the "law", law here shouldn't be equated simply with written laws and legal institutions, but all those unwritten laws that define social practices and customs. This is clear from Ranciere's assertion of the "spontaneity" of social relations. Written law is a moment of self-reflexivity for a system where it attempts to steer its own development, where as the unwritten social practices are not.

It will be recalled that for Luhmann, a social system isn't composed of individuals that ontologically pre-exist the social system, but rather a social system, like any system, constitutes its own elements. It is precisely this constitution by the system that Ranciere is referring to with regard to his concept of the police. Moreover, since, according to Luhmann, social systems are characterized by closure, they only relate to information in terms of their own code, processing information-events in terms of those distinctions or codes. Anything that doesn't fit that model of the code is treated by the communication system as noise and summarily ignored. This is precisely what Ranciere is referring to when he speaks of the order of the police distinguishing between discourse and noise.

From the Luhmannian perspective, this leads to the conclusion that all politics unfolds according to the order of the police order or that there is nothing (for the system in question) outside the police order. For Ranciere, by contrast, the political is a relationship to that noise that can't be counted by the system, not the order of the police or the system's own system of distinctions between self-reference and other-reference. As Ranciere puts it, "Politics exists through the fact of a magnitude that escapes ordinary measurement, this part of those who have no part that is nothing and everything" (15). That is, it is possible for parts to appear in a system that evade all the determinations of the code governing the system, thereby indicating the excess of being over how the system strives to organize the world. What this appearance signifies (Badiou will go on to argue along these lines as well), is that "The foundation of politics is not in fact more a matter of convention than nature: it is the lack of foundation, the sheer contigency of any social order. Politics exists simply because no social order is based on nature, no divine law regulates human society [nor do ineluctable and inescapable systems govern the social order]" (16). That is, the appearance of this "part of no part" signifies the ultimate contingency of the code organizing a social system, its lack of foundation, or the ontological equivalence of all parts of the system, contrasted with the organization of the system that introduces distinctions among parts (thereby constituting elements) and which creates a heirarchy among these elements that then comes to appear "natural" or obvious (where a system or the police is understood as that mechanism where parts are transformed into elements for the system).

It is the possibility of such elements appearing that Luhmann (and I would add Negri and Hardt, Deleuze and Guattari) reject. However, here I do not think Luhmann is so far apart from Ranciere (and Badiou) as he might think. As I have argued, like Badiou, Luhmann argues that a system constitutes its elements (consistent multiplicities) out of what is, in effect, chaos. Luhmann simply doesn't think through the explosive potential this noise has, focusing as he does on the functioning of various social systems themselves. Similarly, one can find something like the appearance of a "part of no part" in Deleuze in his account of the "encounter" in chapter 3 of Difference and Repetition, which is the appearance of a part that cannot be classified according to the system of habitus. The point, however, is that Luhmann does not develop these claims and is thus only able to see the functioning of the system or police. It is his conception of autopoietic closure that is problematic.


Anonymous Mark Crosby said...

Slavoj Zizek's "The Lesson of Ranciere" is the afterword to Gabriel Rockhill's English translation of Jacques Ranciere's THE POLITICS OF AESTHETICS, giving a nice summary of Ranciere's MESENTENTE categories of ARCHI-POLITICS, PARA-POLITICS and META-POLITICS (to which Zizek is compelled to add his own category of ULTRA-POLITICS ;) But, where Zizek really shines here (with an evil Joker grin ;) is when he comments on Brecht's 1950's line about "Would it not be easier for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?" Zizek insists" "it effectively IS a duty - THE duty even - of a revolutionary party to 'dissolve the people and elect another', ie, to bring about the transubstantiation of the 'old' opportunistic people (the inert 'crowd') into a revolutionary body area of its historical task" (75). Zizek adds: "The aesthetic metaphor in which a particular element stands for the Universal, is enacted in the properly political short-circuit in which particular demand stands for the universal gesture of rejecting the powers that be" (76).

September 15, 2006 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

"Thus, so as to unburden myself of any obligation to the Other, I have a compulsion to respond to everything..."

I think it is sad that this massive effort to reach out to others interprets itself in this way.

You're hard on yourself, man!

If it starts to look like an effort of avoidance to me, I will let you know.

September 15, 2006 10:25 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Mark, I think this is the question... How is it possible to dissolve the people? If identity is oppositionally defined by the structure of a situation, then a revolutionary subject must be one that dissolves this identity (or the identities populating the field in general). I take it that this is what Zizek and Badiou have in mind when they talk of truth being "transversal" to the field of distinctions defining a situation (which is why they've been so interested in Saint Paul, as "jew and roman become indifferent).

Two issues: On the one hand, Zizek, following Hegel, constantly emphasizes the manner in which "essence must appear", which is to say that the universal is always contaminated by the particular; raising the question of whether this is possible at all. Following this first point, we get the question of how to avoid the Jacobin terror, that seeks to abolish all on the basis of the ideal embodiment of the law.

September 15, 2006 1:18 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks Yusef :)

September 15, 2006 1:18 PM  
Anonymous Mark Crosby said...

Well, /Le Peuple/ ... is not ... an identifiable group or a pre-constituted collectivity ... [WE] are the unaccounted for within the police order, the political subjects that disclose a wrong and demand a redistribution of the sensible order" (G Rockhill's Glossary for J Ranciere's THE POLITICIS OF AESTHETICS, 88). This people must be constituted, in a transversal line of flight, not dissolved into what Ranciere / Rockhill calls "L'okhlos ... a community obsessed with its own unification, at the expense of excluding the demos" (ibid.)

In Bob Dylan's new CD, MODERN TIMES, there's a blurb for Dylan's XM _Theme Time Radio Hour_ that advertises "Dreams, Schemes, & Themes". Dylan's got his trichotomy screwed in widdershins. Joining this with Ranciere's logic we get the following levels of politics:
1st) metapolitical demos dreams,
2nd) parapolitical police schemes,
3rd) archipolitical ochlos themes.
Each person or group must simultaneously negotiate these 3 spheres (and that's what makes the world go round ;) It's that eternal return of 3rdness to 1stness that Zizek calls the ultrapolitical. Jacobin terror occurs when one (or many) get(s) stuck in the dualistic, paranoid, fascist loop between the parapolitical and the archipolitical, unable to make the ultrapolitical return to the metapolitical dreamtime.

This dreamtime, by the way, I think is what Bergson & Deleuze really had in mind with the 'pure past' (and is taken to its ultraphilosophical preclusions by Michel Serres, in his works tra(ns)versing Lucretius ;) "backwards and forwards over a complex network of paths which overlap & cross, forming nodes, peaks & crossroads, interchanges which bifurcate into 2 or several routes" ("Paris 1800" - a 1989 essay quoted in Steven D Brown's (online) article, "Michel Serres: Science, Translation, and the Logic of the Parasite").

Serres also writes: "Systems work because they do not work. Nonfunctioning remains essential for functioning... Given two stations and a channel, they exchange messages. If the relation succeeds, it is perfect, optimum & immediate; it disappears as a relation. If it is there, if it exists, that means it has failed. It is only mediation" (THE PARASITE, 1980, p79). As William Paulson puts it: "Serres is extracurricular: You have to read him on your own time" ("Writing that Matters", _SubStance_ #83, 1997).

Henri Bergson writes: "There would thus be inextension & quality, on the one hand, extensity & quantity, on the other hand. We have repudiated materialism, which derives the first term from the second; but neither do we accept idealism, which holds that the second is constructed by the first. We maintain, as against materialism, that perception overflows infinitely the cerebral state; but we have endeavored to establish, as against idealism, that matter goes in every direction beyond our representation of it ... But just because we have pushed dualism to an extreme, our analysis has perhaps dissociated its contradictory elements [and] may thus prepare the way for a reconciliation" (MATTER & MEMORY, 181 - where my margin note indicates that Daniel W Smith's Intro to ESSAYS CRITICAL & CLINICAL describes this as also being Deleuze's method, which sounds frightfully similar to Zizek's ultrapolitical approach ;)

September 16, 2006 11:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ranciere' hatred of democracy is indeed controversial issue to discuss to!for me, it is capitalist who rule the democratic society, people beome consumerists in a sense the their power as a rule of majority is being distorted.

November 20, 2008 12:15 AM  

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