Crossroads (Day 4)

I really enjoyed Sudeep Dasgupta‘s talk on “Space, Time and the Political: The EU Constitution and the Partition of History.” This was part of the panel (4.19) on “Time, Space and the Unfolding of Culture.” The hinge of his argument, as I understood it, is that Jacques Rancière provides a conception of the democratic that presupposes an equality that the law has already institutionalized. This is a radically different premise than arguments based on alterity, which have to rely on appeals to ethics regarding one’s relations with the Other. Rancière simply declines to engage at that level, as if “Others” are outside the law, trying to get in and be covered it. He argues that the law already has established principles of equality. Period. From this basis one can proceed in quite practical terms to reframe debates about justice &emdash; “the coordinates around which democracy is organized” &emdash; instead of about difference (which necessarily invokes non-knowledge, invisibility, and a kind of absolute alterity).
Dasgupta contrasts Rancière with Derrida, who he finds “useless in real life,” while still relying on some of Derrida’s conceptual notions, such as “the ‘secret’ history of Europe (Derrida 1994, 1995) and the temporalization of the spatial. The context is the recent (2005) rejection of the EU Constitution by the Dutch and the French. Anti-Turkey and anti-Islamic themes in public discourses were used to localize Europe: as it seeks to extend its space through enlargement it also heightens its borders (Fortress Europe).
Photo: Poster of a sextant from the Rahmi M. Koc Museum.

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What is exciting about Rancière is that his notion of the spatialization of the political actually describes how space is created for the presence or position of difference. Sudeep said (possibly quoting Rancière), “politics is that disruption effected by those who do not count as having a legitimate place in the partition of the sensible.” It is this “space of the non-part [the part held by those who do not count] which actualizes dissent … [putting] into action the premise of equality.” Note that equality is taken as given, as a premise, but its condition of possibility is difference. It is this premise, the premise of equality, which “sets up an excess inherent to democracy as dissensus.”
Sudeep (or Rancière, or both, smile) labels the assignment of place (a position in space) “spatial policing.” This reminds me of Bülent Somay‘s talk, which I reacted to, twice (!), but only partially summarized. His point is that position has replaced identity in the emerging social infrastructure (I hesitate to label it either global or postmodern &emdash; both are accurate and neither is enough). In this regard, Condoleeza Rice can fill the position of a white man, and this position has more salience than any other “identities” she may hold. “Meaning is the outcome of positions,” Somay states, referring to mathemathics’ dependence on positionality (first, second, etc). Identity, in contrast, is the outcome of desire. (At some point these must blur….if what I desire is position, then that becomes the reference point for my identity.)
Bülent’s local example generated a peal of laughter: “Any Kurd can be a Turk. In Turkey, a Kurd can be anything: a prime minister, general secretary…..In Turkey a Kurd can be anything except a Kurd.” This is a position, apparently, that cannot be filled by the local spatial policing. Now, here I get confused. Bülent talked of “a gap” that is created when someone of the proletariat passes into a bourgouise position; Sudeep spoke of “an excess.” Sudeep’s excess comes from “the premise of equality which is inherent in democracy as dissensus;” Bülent says the gap can only be filled by another subaltern, but one who is “a speaking subject.” As an example, Bülent recalled a campaign by the German Green Party in which one of their slogans was, “I am a foreigner.” Their non-part-ness is clearly political and emphasized by their identification (!) with the position of non-citizens, but what gap do they fill? It seems to me that they move into a political space of excess by claiming difference.
Yes, the Greens are clearly speaking subjects… and foreigners may or may not have access to the positions that give them legal leverage from which to claim the premise of equality. It seems to me a privileged move, into a space already occupied, rather than a move into a space that has been vacated.
I must be missing something. (Wouldn’t be the first time!) 😉

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