Friday, July 17, 2009

The political possibility of exceeding a politics of representation.

Ariella Azoulay

In the impossibility (or possibility) of this time I will not try to respond to the lecture “The Civil Contract of Photography” by Ariella Azoulay. Rather than present an argument, I prefer only to post some ideas to put into question the relationship between the politics of representation and the possibility of the political.

A distinction should be made between the political possibility of the image and the politics of representation in which images are inscribed. Photography is not (only) an action or an encounter but a production of images; images that are inscribed in a specific regime of knowledge that establishes some distributions on the sensible in which some things can be seen, heard and thought while others are just non-visible, non-hearable, non-thinkable even if there is an image that stands as the promise of “presentation”.

A photo is not the presentation of an event but the possibility of visibility. Visibility is not the grade of clarity in which we can see an object, but the logic that permit something to be open; visibility is not the act of the subject that sees, nor the empirical data of the visual sense, but the interaction between actions and reaction with the aesthetical (that we can understand as Rancière suggest, “as a system of a priori forms determining what present itself to sense experience.”[1]).

Photography might not be thought as a representation of anything as its own temporal and spatial structure is based in the spectrality of the dislocated manifestation of the un-present (thinking spectrality as the dialectical force, that resists the configuration of the image as a representation of something, that allows us to be related to an event not in the distance of its correspondence –symbol- with time and history but in the in the continuality of its manifestation) but we cannot deny that photography is inscribed in a system that creates and allows the production of meanings trough a given system of knowledge, a regimen that in modern western culture is based in the establishment of politics of representation as an epistemological device for the enforcement of the configuration of the sensible.

Images are part of the regime of knowledge and are one of the mechanisms of power (institutions, including the State) to create representations (as fixed meanings based in the structure of the symbol – as a correspondence between the object and the truth) in which to fix identities and meanings in order to legitimize some regimes of knowledge and orders of things.

In this scenario maybe what we have to think is how images can exceed this politics of representation, and how their emergence can be a political irruption that allows the possibility of new constellations of meanings to unsettle the dominant regime of knowledge.

How can an image create new knowledge if the image is inscribed in the same politics of representations, based on identities, based in the dominant system of power (state) based on the dichotomy of friend-enemy (in-law/out-law, citizen/non-citizen)?

In this sense what seems necessary is to suspend the functionality of the politics of representation and to search for a moment of manifestation in which the image can operate not as a correspondence with a fixed identity but as a moment of de-identification in which a new constellation of meanings can emerge.

Maybe we can think images not as symbols but as fragments; the image as an allegory that introduces the possibility of history, of the past not as gone but as a moment that keeps coming back, of time not as a fulfilled structure but a collapsed one in which modernity (as progress) can no longer operate.

Perhaps the poetical (as poiesis or moment of emergence and creation) potential of the image might allow us to search mechanisms, strategies and devices to re-read images, to unsettle the politics of representation and open up the possibility of the political. It is important to keep looking for ways to open the invisible, the hidden and the concealed by some given regime of visibility in order to create a fissure.

These are just some problems in which I am engaged, and knowing that there are no final solutions but only stutters, I want to share with you my own way to deal with the possibility of the political in some art practices, as I believe that arts works in between territories, what creates a space and time in which we can re elaborate the relationship between the aesthetical and the political.

Instead of the global south I will invoke the Red Specter as a possibility for what is to come, and I hope he bring us back together…

¡Nos vemos en el 2010!

Helena Châvez MacGregor

Click here for my article “Enter the ghost, exit the ghost, re-enter the ghost: The Red Specter”


[1] Ibid., p. 13.

Heynes on Geschiere

Gamadoela's restaurant

Thursday morning the JWTC welcomed Peter Gescheire, whose earlier work on The Modernity of Witchcraft, is familiar to many of those gathered for the workshop. More recently, Gescheire has turned his attention to issues of migration and “belonging.” His presentation, which drew on his recent book, Perils of Belonging, which is focused on the ethnographic problems of community membership and autochthony. The neoliberal world, he argues, has seen an increased number of claims to cultural and ethnic membership, often cast in the language of autochthony. Drawing on Anna Tsing’s transnational ethnography of global “frictions,” Geschiere argued for an increased focus on localized experiences of globalization, rather than other analytic approaches that might take this phenomenon for granted. Globalization is not a uniform process, and therefore must be actively engaged at the various points in which it is experienced in order to understand it properly. Geschiere was particularly critical of what he sees as an overemphasis on introspection in much current ethnography due to the reflexive turn in Anthropology, which he linked to the influence of Cultural Studies on the discipline, especially in the United States. This, he said, negates the context in which ethnography is carried out and therefore turns the anthropological project from one of dialogue into one of ventriloquism.

While I very much appreciated Geschiere’s discussion of autochthony, and I found his criticisms engaging, I would like to qualify them a bit at one point. Specifically, with regard to the importance of particularly in the study of globalization, I heartily agree that anthropologists and other scholars cannot afford to treat globalization as a uniform process. James Ferguson, in his book, Global Shadows, has noted that one can hardly speak of transnational “flows” – whether of information, wealth, or culture. Rather, it is more accurate to describe the dissemination of such things as a series of “hops,” which systematically skip certain parts of the globe while simultaneously connecting others. However, while we will all certainly do well to avoid treating globalization as a monolithic process, it is equally important, at least as far as anthropology is concerned, to hold on to the idea of globalization as a framework for comparative study. Anthropology, while clearly concerned with the kinds of particular description and analysis to which ethnography is best suited, is also importantly a comparative discipline. Axes of commonality, whether human reproduction, economic exchange, or experiences of the supernatural, are the necessary flashpoints along with the study of human experience develops – hence the rich ethnographic literature on kinship, reciprocity, and religion. I would therefore temper Geschiere’s critique by sounding an equal and opposite warning: just as anthropologists gain nothing from treating things like globalization as uniform social phenomena, they will be equally hindered in their efforts by a retreat from comparative arguments in favor of the too-particular.