Fillip 16 — Spring 2012

Ethics and the Production 
of Misunderstanding
Patricia Reed

The very mention of “ethics” relative to contemporary art leaves many suspicious of do-gooder activity in the guise of “social engagement.” In her now infamous essay “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” Claire Bishop has lamented the way in which “ethics” has been mobilized in art criticism, reproaching several critics for evaluating art based on its sheer moral capacity to instantiate communities—restoring so-called “alienated” human bonds among people without questioning the qualities of relations produced.1 Bishop has named this evaluative approach the “ethical turn of art criticism,” which follows a “social turn” in contemporary art practice.2

In a similarly charged manner, Jacques Rancière denounces the celebration of an “ethical turn” in aesthetics and politics, describing the “fashion” of ethics as nothing more than that of old-word morals—in other words, ethics apprehended as (absolutely) socially prescriptive and imperative. Rancière diagnoses a social condition in which ethics mirrors a generalized state of normativity against which a hegemony of judgment ensues across distinct spheres of operation, rendering them indistinct—including those of art and politics.3 In his characterization, the ethical turn of aesthetics and politics dissolves norms into fact and fact into law, merging what is with what could be—Alain Badiou’s concise definition of consensus.4

Considered thus, ethics functions as a quasi law against which the possibility of evaluation and decision, viz. judgment, is markedly impeded as it is continually subordinate to this (false) law. The lack of distinction between fact and law that constitutes the ethical turn of aesthetics and politics in Rancière’s view, coupled with Bishop’s critique of “ethical criticism,” positions ethics within the confines of a consensual social system, resulting in the erosion of politics proper.5 In equating “ethics” with regimes of consensus, however, both Bishop and Rancière end up relegating “ethics” to a natural law discourse and its permeation upon the social body, where ethics is apprehended as an outright (innate) task, unsituated and non-negotiable.

Naturalized ethics, namely consensual ethics, has a double implication: on the one hand ethics is based on popular, liberal norms premised on politeness, even political correctness in its most innocuous state of tolerant togetherness, and, in its more violent state, conceives of a constructed human subject as universally self-evident (equating the constructed human subject with natural fact). On the other hand, consensual ethics is inherently apolitical, abiding by, or even bowing to, unquestioned, naturalized moral-norms-as-fact/fact-as-law, the productive residues of which are banal re-presentations of those very (false) laws. In attending to the “ethical turn,” I refer to this problematic designation of ethics as being de facto consensual.

Although there is a plethora of contemporary artworks that can be read (and have been read) in this consensual ethical light—the kind of “socially reflective”6 artworks that merely reaffirm dominant cultural codes in an “appropriately” critical way—does this mean that the issue of ethics in art should be wholly reviled? If art has the capacity to disturb or augment given (consensual) sensorial topologies, does the mere discussion of ethics in art limit the capacity of art for enacting dissensus,7 for creating fissures in the tissue of normativity?

It would be an unfortunate move and indeed an oversight to ban the rich philosophical history of ethics from the realm of art based on such reductive analysis. Rancière, a philosopher who has fought for the semantic reinvention of words (indeed battling to rescue “democracy” from the shackles of its equation with a mode of governance), has clearly demonstrated the importance of “mere words,” as well as the relevance of defending them.8 Although both Bishop and Rancière correctly diagnose a contemporary apprehension of ethics (in some cases), what needs to be addressed is not the ethical turn in art and art criticism as a negative phenomenon as such, but rather its direct correlation with virtuous normativity, and with (unsituated) natural law discourses: a conflation that strips the subject of any self-authorizing force beyond the external decree of norms, and indeed the law itself. Rancière recalls that before ethics signifies moral norms, it signifies “both the dwelling and the way of being...that corresponds to this dwelling.”9 He goes on to acknowledge that in the ethical turn, when norms become law, our very ways of being and modes of action within an environment are conjoined—our modes of being (forms-of-life) are subjugated to this steadfast (false) law where we are trapped in a given order of things (where we can only act in what is and not what could be). What Rancière’s etymological excavation of “ethics” precariously neglects, however, is the linking of the word with enaction, with the activity that constitutes ethics. If ethics is a form-of-life in relation to an environment, then it is an activity, itself subject to forces of will and motivation. In the ancient Greek tradition, ethics was foremost a search for the good life (eudaimonia), in whichever way a conception of the good may have been manifest. By avoiding or denouncing ethics as such, do we not also denounce the very possibility of the good, whether in art or life? When condemning “ethics” tout court, do we not risk falling into the trap of the (false) law of a self-evident, alternative-less (Thatcherite)10 world of impotent activity?

The “Could-ness” of the Good

The good is not necessarily virtuous nor is it bound to the sphere of normative sociocultural protocols of interaction. The good, as Simon Critchley argues, is a concept that is subjectively perceived as a demand to which a self binds itself in approval. When the self adheres in fidelity to this perceived demand of the good, a system of ethics ensues.11 The good, as a subjectively identified sense, is thus a capacity for judgment enacted, that capacity of judgment for what could be against an environment and forms-of-life that already are. The good, in Critchley’s theoretical constellation, may be better grasped as a good, as something that denotes the possibility of multiplicity, rather than a singular instantiation of good-ness. In the unabashedly heroic tone of Alain Badiou’s discourse, the capacity to imagine a good is in fact what gives humans their humanity; it is what gives humankind what Badiou calls “immortality,” a humanity beyond the mere biological finitude of human existence, liberating it from the victimizing fate of certain organic death (where immortality is the affirmation of other forms-of-life). Consequently, to reject the possibility of imagining a good is to deprive humankind of humanity as such.12 The subjective perception of a good, furthermore, cannot be generalized. As Badiou writes, there is no ethics in general, but only the capacity of humanity to conceptually recognize a good in particular situations—a good is, above all, a situated good and not a given good.13 For Critchley, the perception of a good is manifest in the figuration of the other; this perception is equal to the capacity to perceive what the other is demanding, and because the demand is infinite, it can never be fulfilled. The demand, as it were, is one’s perceptive, lifelong labour. It is precisely this imbrication of “a good” or “could-ness” with otherness14 that constitutes an ethical system where we may articulate a conception of ethics dissensually. Rather than denouncing the ethical turn in art, aesthetics, and politics, I suggest the contrary: that the ethical turn has not turned enough, that we need to reconstitute the potential could-ness embodied in the enaction of ethics itself to get out of the consensual trap. For it is by way of the could-ness of an intangible otherness that the politicity15 proper to art can be located, a could-ness of a good, which, as I shall later discuss, comes by way of a wrong.

The affective quality of Critchley’s perceived demand in approval and fidelity to a good is an aesthetic affinity—referring to aesthetics not as denoting the hierarchical category of the display of art, but as that which is apprehended sensorially. Considering that a demand is aesthetic and must be perceived, the structure of the demand is always already relational. It is precisely in this ethical structure of an internalized relation (the apprehension of the could-ness of a good, the perception of an other possibility) where Critchley calls into doubt the sovereignty of autonomy, calling the subject dividual—that is, annexed—since one’s sovereignty is inflected by the experience of a relational demand. Borrowing Deleuze’s term where the dividual is “neither divisible nor indivisible,”16 Critchley’s dividual is better understood as an aggregate subject rather than a split self. In an impassioned lecture addressing his Bijlmer Spinoza Festival project (2009), Thomas Hirschhorn discussed what can be called a productive state of non-sovereign autonomy, stating unequivocally that “leaning” on autonomy had become central to his practice. This “leaning” on autonomy incites an inherent relationality, a form of autonomy that he further qualified as headless, insistent, faithful, co-existent, graceful, and that which touches on the unexpected.17 Within the context of art and art-making, this understanding of autonomous-relationality brings with it some poignant consequences as to how we (con)figure our positions as artists entrenched in the world(s) in which we act, and how a system of ethics may serve our actions politically, rather than condemning ethical practices to a feel-good, liberal status quo.

Non-sovereign Autonomy

If the charge against the ethical turn in aesthetics and politics is largely due to the collapse of distinct spheres of possible, situated judgment under a regime of morality-turned-law, then artworks operate in mimetic concurrence with given forms-of-life of the social body, and therefore efface their dissensual capacities. The mistrust of the (consensual) ethical turn in art is ultimately linked to the displacement of art’s autonomy—to the renouncement of the very autonomy that makes art particular and sets it apart from the mundane. The dissolution of autonomy, in Bishop’s account of the “social turn” in contemporary art, may well have been a reaction to the type of artistic autonomy championed under modernism; yet in Rancière’s aesthetics as politics, he dramatically redirects the site of autonomy from the action of the maker to the particular form of experience that constitutes art as art. In what he has termed the “aesthetic regime of art,” where there are no definitive properties through which to define art as art (no categorical modes of representation, style, subject matter, technical mastery, materials, form, etc.), art becomes recognized as art through a way of being or appearing that is different from ordinary forms of sensory experience. The politicity of aesthetics presumes a relational autonomy, an affective autonomy as it were, since it holds the capacity to suspend normative categories of sensory apprehension, producing other communities of sense. In shifting the site of autonomy to the realm of sensory experience to elucidate the relationship between aesthetics and politics, autonomy abuts heterogeneously with given modes of sensible distribution; but, because it is contingent on a relation, autonomy cannot be sovereign. This important acknowledgment of the politicity of autonomous apprehension of art as art, does not, however, usurp the role of the author, for the creation of such possible experiences must be instigated. The politicity of autonomy becomes shared between artist and audience, between the task-less decision to generate an experience of something other, and an other who perceives possible otherness.

If the politicity of autonomy in art lies in its non-sovereignty (its interdependence with the creation of a relation of heterogeneous experience)—akin to Critchley’s ethical dividual—it seems that we are left with a paradox: a notion of autonomy that is incongruous with sovereignty. I will name this paradox co-autonomy, and, in so doing, will not resolve the contradiction but deploy it as an ethical concept articulating a position of tension between art and life; between artist and audience; between art for art’s sake and the becoming life of art. The two-part composition of “co-autonomy” is both connected and separated by a hyphen, where the “co” indicates a situated “with-ness” or relational property of autonomy, a with-ness that is both shared and divided. In clarifying the term “co-autonomy,” it is useful to contrast it with Liam Gillick’s neologism “semi-autonomy.” In The Good of Work,18 Gillick introduces semi-autonomy as a strategy to combat the neoliberal working ethos of artists/freelancers who are wholly reproductive of the communicative capitalist machine that they purport to work against. Semi-autonomy is a zone wherein artists set their own deadlines (recognizing the constructed nature of the deadline structure in normalized work) and selectively take on or refute those very deadlines. There are two aspects of note that distinguish semi-autonomy from co-autonomy: Firstly, semi-autonomy remains exclusively the property of the artist; it is not (simultaneously) located in the realm of the possible experiences created by the artist. Co-autonomy, on the other hand, inheres to the artist, yet concurrently indicates a sphere of heterogeneous experience thus created. Secondly, “semi” denotes a partiality, so to be semi-autonomous is to partly sacrifice autonomy; in contradistinction to the with-ness of the “co,” which is a compounding of autonomy, it is not extracted from the world as a sovereign agent, but is implicated in the relational experience of other sensorial orders as an agency of perception.

Co-autonomous Ethics

For Critchley, philosophy begins not with wonder but in disappointment, and his crucial work on ethics addresses precisely the plight of nihilism, qualified as a breakdown in the structure of meaning since the metaphorical and philosophical death of God.19 Critchley identifies two modalities of nihilism in contemporary culture: passive (retreating from the world into oneself, e.g.,“European Buddhism”) and active (the drive to violent destruction). I would equate both forms of nihilism with a regime of consensus (that lamented “ethical turn”)—for both states of dwelling/acting in the world ultimately deny the potentiality for imagining a good, a good that is alter to what is. On the passive side, the self refuses to perceive a demand by withdrawing into a sovereign “island-state” (the cult of self-betterment, self-retreat, etc.), and on the active side, a nihilistic declaration of meaninglessness manifests in vehement, worldly destruction (and not the creation of something other). Critchley’s thesis is that we vitally need to forge a concept of ethical motivation and commitment if we are to conceive of what he calls “a politics of resistance.”20 Resistance, however, does not adequately describe the triad of ethics-aesthetics-politics, for it conjures notions of defensiveness, whereas the politicity of aesthetics I am speaking of is wholly affirmative. The agency in perceiving a demand is only ethical insofar as it affirms the demand in fidelity to its call—and, for Critchley, because this demand is infinite, it can never be totally fulfilled. The fidelity to a demand, as such, operates as a mode-of-being (a processual state), rather than a normative measure, or a demand that can be completely satisfied through action. The complex of co-autonomy, within a context of art, contains three interwoven claims:

1. Autonomy is not sovereign but relational. It constitutes itself on two levels: in the politicity of alter-experience through the work of art and on the part of the author who responds to the perceived demand of a good in creating alter experiences, producing other sensorial worlds.

2. The “co” of co-autonomy does not strip a subject of agency (it is not sacrificial); it separates the subject (Critchley’s dividual), but this separation also denotes linkage to a world via otherness—an affirmative (motivational) with-ness to contexts and situations within which, for which, and against which, one responds. The “co” moves away from the “vacuum-state” of (modern) autonomy, and situates subject(s) in relation to environments of possible perception.

3. With-ness relative to the world is infinite (there are innumerable ways of being in the world); accordingly, the demands of co-autonomy are infinite (just as our modes of recognizing art as art in the aesthetic regime are). It is a life’s work, rather than the modern(ist) autonomous fulfillment of a work. Co-autonomy is a shared process among artist, work, spectator, and territories of heterogeneous experience; it is not an exclusive property of one element over another, but the movement among these elements.

How might the processual fidelity to a good take shape as a mode of political affectivity through artistic practice without resorting to an ethics of virtue that has been fated to the consensual sphere? How can we conceive and apprehend those elusive demands as demands with regards to the non-sovereign nature of co-autonomy? As a good is precisely what could be, it is of the domain of imagination, the domain of speculation. This self-evident statement would seem to grant art a privileged position for dealing with the realms of the imaginary, and yet, while art can indeed create other modes of perceptibility, this by no means situates all artistic activity within a co-autonomous, and therefore, dissensual, ethical system. If we are to work in fidelity towards a perceived good, a politicized good insofar as it is not merely a matter of virtue, our task as artists is to invent tactics and positions against the sea of consensus that allow us to apprehend the demand of a good—a demand of what could be, towards the creation of heterogeneous conditions of experience, seizing the co-autonomous politicity proper to art.

The Good of Critique?

Criticality, within the field of art, has long been regarded as the main device through which art takes on political relevance. One could say that “critique” has been positioned as the good towards which artistic demands respond; “socially engaged artists” work in response to not “a good” but “the good” of critique. However, the ubiquity of the very word “critical” across exhibition press releases, school programmes, artists’ statements, discursive essays, and so on, is emblematic of its utter normalization as a position of privileged knowledge, rather than an act of creation. “Critique,” as a term designating a convention of approach towards unveiling the world hiding behind surface appearances, has become a “displaced mediator,” in the parlance of Jodi Dean.21 That is, an idea that accounts for fundamental change, yet one where the mediator (critique in this case) is quickly overtaken by the very change it has instigated. From its Enlightenment inception,22 critique represented an integral strategy to diagnose the actual—a huge leap for modernity, since a popular tool was invented through which to illuminate and challenge the inner workings of our increasingly complex lives and social systems. In naming critique as a displaced mediator, I am not suggesting that critique has failed, but rather the opposite—and this is precisely the problem. The overly successful artifice of critique indicates its conventionality of casting doubt on the portrayal of events, the construction of facts, and the dirty inner workings of the capitalist machine, but the consequence of this convention is precisely its consensual normalization. The appropriation of the conventions of critique (what I call “appropriately critical”) result in its depoliticization, where its potential political rigour is toned down to that of mere opinion, and in some cases, perilously abused in the conspiracy-laden ideologies that rhetorically underpin much of the extreme right and the extreme left. When the conventions of critique cease to hold weight, and only reveal the selfsame laws of systemic machinations at their core, has critique itself, in the words of Bruno Latour, not run out of steam?23 The appropriation of critique has left it as just that: something appropriate that is accorded a given space and prescribed function within the social. If being critical is how we as artists have come to justify our bearing in the world (we have all, no doubt, been party to at least a few “critical theory” courses in our varying pursuits), do our practices not also risk becoming appropriately critical? How are we to refashion our tools and sharpen our sensorial weapons in response to this appropriation? How may we conceive an inappropriate criticality, a criticality that has no preordained site, function, or target—an inappropriate criticality that can affirm other modes of reality, beyond the actuality of our conceived present reality?

To be absolutely clear, critique as an approach towards a sharper, healthily skeptical, perhaps more honest understanding of the world and its complex workings is a conceptual innovation that I do not want to dismiss. The force of critique, however, was once antagonistic and, as such, wielded the capacity to disrupt the normative sphere and bring about new knowledge through a direct challenge to “surface appearances.” The appropriation of critique leaves its antagonistic potential very much in question and it is from this angle that the critique of critique should be grasped—because the fact is that the social conditions for the effectiveness of appropriate critique have dramatically changed. For example, the healthy questioning of the construction of scientific facts has been appropriated by climate-change naysayers (as political lobbyists) in the name of maintaining the status quo.24 This continually changing context is of key importance in relation to an ethics of co-autonomy, since, as a non-sovereign ethical concept, co-autonomy’s sharing of the social and attentive with-ness to its textured terrain is part of what allows the perception of a demand. In regards to ethics, the speculation that critique could act as a signpost orienting artistic practice towards the demand of a good is flawed from the beginning. If the task of critique is largely diagnostic in order to better understand the truth of something (a kind of social MRI), then critique confirms the actual by elucidating what is going on beneath the layers of spectacular distraction. Considering, however, that the ethical demand exists always in relation to an unfulfillable good of could-ness that does not yet exist, then a good to which the demand inclines is potential, meaning an inclination towards that which could exist otherwise, rather than to a “critical” revealing of the actual. A co-autonomous ethics stands in relation to an understanding of a world (not unlike critique), but goes one step further and affirms a good of potential world(s), world(s) in difference. The affirmation of world(s) in difference is nothing less than the articulation of a worldly misunderstanding—the setting into sensorium of a wrong in common.

A Good of a Wrong

What is this “wrong in common” and how might it become equal to a good of co-autonomous ethics? In Rancière’s politics, 
particularly those outlined in Disagreement (La mésentente, 1995),25 there are two key operators that forge antagonism against the normative social ordering: the “part with no part” and the “wrong” in common. The “part with no part” is the community, function, place, identity, and so on, unaccounted for in the given sensibility of the social order. The part with no part is that which does not yet exist (it is a potential party—a party being s/he or that which is recognized as sensible presence) in the given symbolic order and, as such, it is not merely a dispute between parties; it is, rather, the very constitution of a party as a party. Before a dispute can occur over the sharing or partitioning of interests, the part with no part must articulate some mode of perceptibility, some mode of account. The articulation of this appearance goes by the name of a “wrong”; it is the antagonistic bringing into relationship of a supernumerary part with no part within a given symbolic ordering. In Rancière’s words, this articulation of an appearance sets “up a community by the fact of placing in common a wrong that is nothing more than this very confrontation, the contradiction of two worlds in a single world: a world where they are, and the world where they are not.”26 Within the context of politics, Rancière deploys the example of the Plebeians making their voice heard as speech, and not merely as expressive, noisy utterances, in relationship to the ruling Patricians, in order to illustrate the setting in motion of a wrong as constitutive of a political relationship. The wrong is the creation of a heterogeneous world in conjunction with the given territory of perceptibility, and, in this regard, it is the manifestation of fidelity to a could-ness—a good, a difference, an other—articulated in the face of what is. From this understanding of politics, we can trace the ethical claims of co-autonomy in the field of art. Because the creation of differential sensory experiences is a capacity of art in general, and the capacity for the creation of difference (for being or appearing otherwise) is contingent upon fidelity to the demand of a good (the could-ness of possible heterogeneous sensory experiences), the articulation of difference, of dissensus itself, is equal to the setting in motion of a wrong. A good, implicated in co-autonomous ethics, is the affiliation, or wilfulness towards a wrong that drives the possibility for the articulation of difference—a possibility that may be materialized or rendered sensible.

The Excess of Misunderstanding

A good of a wrong—that supernumerary call towards a sensorium in difference, as a co-autonomous ethical demand of art—does not result in a better understanding of the world, but manifests as the production of misunderstanding itself. When the constellation of a consensual regime (the ethical turn in aesthetics and politics) is uncontested or merely managed, it is so by way of a fundamental understanding of the given perceptible order and the playing out of virtues delineated by said order. Consensus is achieved only when this understanding is performed; the understanding that underlies modes of being and appearing that are in accordance with their appropriate function, place, speech-act, and identity. The logical inconsistency required for the maintenance of a consensual, hierarchical order rests on this shared capacity to apprehend delineated modes of identification, and their “rightful” place. In a consensual order there are those who impart orders and those who obey, but in order to obey you must, first, understand the order, and second, understand that you must obey said order. For this chain to be operative, one must assume a fundamental equality between those who delineate an order and those who obey it.27 Indeed, Rancière’s most significant contribution to philosophy is the identification of this paradoxical equality as a contingent core of all inequality—equality here is not a telos, but rather an axiom that underpins all social structures, the structures upheld by a shared capacity to perceive, to apprehend, and to understand (the capacity for aisthesis). The confrontation between the part with no part and the consensual order (via a good of a wrong) can only occur when there is an interruption in the seamless transmission of perceptibility that is the veritable glue (or better, duct tape) of the given symbolic order. The articulation of misunderstanding is equal to the putting into motion of a wrong—it inappropriates the naturalized chain of understanding that buttresses consensual regimes of perceptibility. Indeed, one must understand a great deal in order to articulate misunderstanding through the creation/perception of alter experiences, to playfully disidentify given modes of existing in a world as a sensible being. Misunderstanding is not a nihilistic negation of the transmission of perceptibility, for it is not a blockage, but a stoppage—a sensory interruption that intervenes in the monologue of given symbolic constitution, reshaping its sense through the perceptibility of shared alter-experience. Just as the theory of relativity misunderstood the given discourse of physics, the twelve-tone system misunderstood the composition of music, and the introduction of a readymade urinal misunderstood the constitution of art as art, these pivotal moments of affirmative misapprehension wholly redirect the topography of possible sense—sense as both that of perceptibility and meaning.

To misunderstand the given is nothing less than the instantiation of relations of heterogeneity, of appearing otherwise in a world, of creating other possibilities for meaning. The double signification of misunderstanding, as Rancière has noted, is both that of failed apprehension and of disagreement based on the misinterpretation of signs.28 Construing misunderstanding as a negative event reveals a will to solidify meaning, to freeze sense-making in language, to petrify the interpretation of gestures and modes of identification, as if we live in a world where words and images define things absolutely. If we are to elicit or provoke a commitment to the political capacities of art, it is here, where the “absolute” interpretation of ethics (the lamented ethical turn) as imperative, as norms-turned-law, demands a transformation of the semantic state. The articulation of misunderstanding, the supernumerary apprehension of a good that generates misunderstanding, affirms the contingencies among signs and semantics, between what is given and what is possible—it does not delight in revealing the actual state of things, but disentangles the actual from the sensible constraints of unconditional reification. It is in the artist’s unstable, task-less, and speculative work of creating conditions of and for sensory misunderstanding that demands a situated fidelity to an intangible good; a faithfulness to potential modes of sensibility in the face of a normative will for consensual semantic and operative fixity. When we refuse the (limiting) definition of “ethics” as a stand-alone abstract principle, but instead deploy it as something that can only be practiced in relation to a situation as a gesture of relation, of with-ness relative to an imagined mode of otherness, we are confronted with the fundamentally ambiguous call of all artistic practices: to perceive a virtual, murmuring, and not-yet-existing demand, and to orient our material (or immaterial) actions in fidelity to the politicity proper to shared autonomy. The relational condition of co-autonomy and its indeterminate modes of presence is the practice of could-ness, the elucidation of aesthetic contingency in the face of that which makes sense.

  1. Claire Bishop, “Antagonism and Relational Aesthetics,” October, no. 110 (Fall 2004), 51–79.
  2. Claire Bishop, “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents,” Artforum, February 2006, 178–83.
  3. Jacques Rancière, “The Ethical Turn of Aesthetics and Politics,” trans. J. P. Deranty, Critical Horizons 7, no. 1 (2006), 1–20.
  4. Alain Badiou, Infinite Thought: Truth and the Return to Philosophy, trans. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens (London: Continuum, 2005), 56.
  5. Jacques Rancière, Aesthetics and Its Discontents, trans. Steven Corcoran (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009), 109–32.
  6. On “socially reflective” artworks: When a distinction is made between “the social” and “politics,” the social is synonymous with the normative operation of things, functions, people, and places whereas the political is understood as that which disrupts a given ordering. Socially reflective artworks are then those that remain entrenched within a normative ordering, and mirror this system mimetically; they represent given structures of domination, without affirming something or indeed anything other.
  7. Jacques Rancière, “Ten Theses on Politics,” in Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Rachel Bowlby and Davide Panagia (London: Continuum, 2010), 27–44.
  8. Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, trans. Steven Corcoran (London: Verso, 2006).
  9. Rancière, “The Ethical Turn of Aesthetics and Politics,” 1–2.
  10. Margaret Thatcher coined what has now become the slogan of neoliberalism, repeating across countless speeches: “There is No Alternative” to the instituted policies of economic liberalism.
  11. Simon Critchley, Infinitely Demanding: Ethics of Commitment, Politics of Resistance (New York: Verso, 2007), 17.
  12. Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil, trans. Peter Hallward (London: Verso, 2001), 14.
  13. Ibid., lvi.
  14. “Otherness” is a term with multiple psychological/philosophical lineages, so it is necessary to clarify that I shall use it here with the most generic of significations: that which is inharmonious to the given and that which is unfamiliar/unknown—environmentally, socially, in the figure of the stranger and other subjectivities.
  15. A neologism in English, “politicity” is a translation of the French politicité, indicating the capacity to be political.
  16. Gilles Deleuze, Cinema 1: The Movement-Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (London: Athlone Press, 1986), 14.
  17. Thomas Hirschhorn, “The Bijlmer Spinoza Festival,” lecture at the Autonomy Project Symposium, Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, NL), October 8, 2011.
  18. Liam Gillick, “The Good of Work,” e-flux journal, May 2010,
  19. Critchley, Infinitely Demanding, 2.
  20. Ibid., 89.
  21. Jodi Dean, Blog Theory: Feedback and Capture in the Circuits of Drive (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2010), 26.
  22. Terry Eagleton, The Function of Criticism (New York: Verso, 2005), 10.
  23. Bruno Latour, “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern,” Critical Inquiry 30, no. 2 (Winter 2004), 225–48.
  24. Ibid.
  25. Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998).
  26. Ibid., 27.
  27. Ibid., 16.
  28. Jacques Rancière, “Literary Misunderstanding,” trans. Mary Stevens, Paragraph 28, no. 2 (July 2005), 91–103.
About the Author

Patricia Reed is an artist and writer who has participated in research and residency programs including at CCA Kitakyushu, Akademie Schloss Solitude (Stuttgart), the Banff Centre, and CCA Ujazdowski (Warsaw). She exhibits internationally, with recent and upcoming shows at Kunsthaus Langenthal; Botkyrka Konsthall (Stockholm), 0047 Projects (Oslo), the Limerick Art Gallery, Audain Gallery (Vancouver), PROGRAM (Berlin), and Württembergischer Kunstverein (Stuttgart). As a writer, Reed has contributed to magazines and journals including Art Papers, C Magazine, Fillip, Framework, Shifter, and YYZ Essays. Selected book contributions include Cognitive Architecture (010 Publishers, 2010), And the Seasons (0047, 2011), Waking Up from the Nightmare of Participation (Expodium, 2011), and Critical Spatial Practice (Sternberg, 2012).

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