Tuesday, December 29, 2009


'We are accustomed to hearing that democracy is the worst of governments with the exception of all the others.' (Ranciére, 2006, 4)

Democracy has been hated since ancient times as a perversion of the good government due to the excess of license which with intensive participation ruins the state; this has been re-directed to the search of material prosperity and private pleasures which results on citizen’s indifference towards the common good and the weakening of public authority. So if not by the illness death comes by the cure.

The diagnosis is identical today, people are disengaged from politics, and if politics is, as in ancient times, the search for the common good, and today’s citizen is the individual consumer pursuing his private affairs we can see how democracy was reduced to a mere form of society emptied from politics, and seen as a corruption of it’s people and not of its government.

Who is entitled to govern has always been the question in search of the good government and it is where democracy, states Rancière, reveals the trouble. Plato lists seven titles to govern; four related to birth: being older, or the father, highborn, free; and two associated to relations in nature: stronger over the weaker, wiser over the ignorant. The first four, base government of kinship; the latter two on excellence, and according to Rancière it is where politics commences, when the title to govern is separated from kinship, and also when the seventh title appears – the drawing of lots – the title of chance, the democratic title which is no title. And that is what is so outrageous for some people: that age, birth or even wisdom has to ‘bow before the law of chance.’

Then, if politics begins when the power of birth is undermined and its true nature disclosed – property-owning power – democracy creates a rupture relegating to different places the principle of government and the principle of society, and this dissociation is its ultimate meaning: ‘the primary limitation of the power of forms of authority that govern the social body.’ (45) And for Rancière ‘if politics means anything it means something that is added to the possible governments’, that naturally are oligarchic, ‘and put themselves forward as models for the construction of larger an more complex human communities.’ (45) This something is democracy, the government of chance. So in his view democracy is neither a type of constitution nor a form of society, ‘but is this ungovernable on which every government must ultimately find out it is based.’ (49) The condition to have a political government, thus, is to be founded on the absence of title to govern, and politics exists only if there is a supplementary title, and again the scandal of democracy, is that this title is the absence of title; the power of anyone at all. So at the bottom of every government is equality, for inequality cannot exist without a ‘multitude of egalitarian relations’.

Democracy has been confused with representative democracy, but lets not be fooled says Rancière, ‘representation was never a system invented to compensate for the growth of population’ it represents the property owning minorities ‘who are entitled to take charge of public affairs.’ But again democracy is not a type of constitution; it can never be identified with a juridico-political form. It is the power of the people – not of the majority but of anyone and everyone – and this power works beneath the state, because of its egalitarian foundation; and beyond the state, because its public activity frustrate the ‘State’s tendency to monopolize and depoliticize the public sphere’. The State’s tendency is to shrink this public sphere , by relegating the interventions of the citizen’s to the private domain; democracy fights this tendency in the endless effort to enlarge this sphere. This struggle is then about distribution, a key concept in Rancière’s thought, the ‘distribution of the public and the private that shores up the twofold domination of the oligarchy in the State and in society’. This re-distribution is a struggle to: defend the ‘public character of spaces, relations and institutions regarded as private’ (56); recognize ‘the public character of types of spaces and relations that were left to the discretion of the power of wealth;’ (55) by doing so it enlarges the ‘recognition, as equals and as political subjects those who have been relegated by the State law to the private life of inferior beings.’

The idea of becoming a political subject is also paramount to Rancière’s thought; are man and citizen the same subject? Rancière unpacks this question through Hannah Arendt and Karl Marx notion of Human Rights. To the first these are the rights of bare life, of those who do not belong to any constitutional national community, therefore without rights, so the Human Rights are an illusion; to the latter these are the rights of citizens, property owners who belong to a national community, therefore the rights of those who have rights. But to Rancière they both miss that the one of politics exists only through that supplement which is democracy. Neither bare life, nor citizenship of constitutional texts are political subjects, these are always defined by an interval between identities, when the distribution of terms and places are overturned.

Rancière uses the statement of Olympe Gouges to further this idea: 'Woman has the right to mount the scaffold; she must equally have the right to mount the rostrum', i.e., if she can be sentenced to death then she does not belong solely to the domestic life. ‘Women can therefore claim rights as women and as citizens, an identical right that, however, can only be asserted in the form of the supplement.’ (60) Gouges, maintains Rancière, proved wrong both Arendt’s and Marx’s views. She ‘inserted a third possibility: women's and citizen's rights are the rights of those who have not the rights that they have and have the rights that they have not.’ (61) They are deprived of the rights but at the same time they exercise them. Politics is that operation of splitting into two – which he illustrates with the example of the women that in 1955 refused to leave the white people’s seat in an Alabama bus. ‘That is what the democratic process implies: the action of subjects who, by working the interval between identities, reconfigure the distributions of the public and the private, the universal and the particular.’ Democracy must constantly bring into ‘play, inventions of forms of subjectivation and of cases of verification that counteract the perpetual privatization of public life, in a ‘political movement that blurs both the given distribution of the individuals and the collective, and the accepted boundary of the political and the social.’

Ranciére call us to renounce to the faith in the vision of democracy by the multitude, which is such a dreadful task; but if we understand democracy’s true meaning, that an ‘egalitarian society is only ever the set of egalitarian relations that are traced here and now through singular and precarious acts,’ (96) and that ‘it is only entrusted to the constancy of its specific acts,’ then, as he finishes ‘to those who know how to share with anybody and everybody the equal power of intelligence,’ democracy can ‘inspire courage, and hence joy.’ (97)

Participation in, and the construction of, democracy, according to Rancière, is then to act in the intervals of our own identity split and therefore fight the state’s privatization of our private life with single and precarious gestures of equality.

RANCIÉRE, J. 2006. Hatred of Democracy. Verso.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Which kind of participation is possible in Plato's aristocracy?

In his book Republic, Plato supposedly transcribes a conversation between Socrates and some young Athenians that starts by analysing what is justice leading to the creation of a just city. This ideal city follows – what was identified by Leon Battista Alberti during the Renaissance as – concinnitas universarum partium, or the harmony and concord in all the parts in relation to one another, where each and every organ mind its own performance and to remove one part compromises the whole. Being on one’s place is here proved to be the required participation in this city. Divided in four elements: wisdom, bravery, temperance and justice; Socrates will analyse the city’s first three elements believing that the remainder would be justice, the gathering’s inquire. As the appetite is the largest element in an individual, followed by courage and both governed by his reason, the smallest element; so is the city ruled by a few wise men and women or by a king with a true love for philosophy, helped by soldiers and a larger amount of auxiliaries. Each element does it occupation, that should be a single one if to be done with excellence, and respect the rule of the few and this harmony and respect to the wise element is what makes a man or a city just. To be sure, in such a city to be a just man means performing the assign task, be it to be a shoemaker or a philosopher, according to one’s gifts and training; and this is the required participation, to be just.

Why then, have I been dreaming about the reasons to escape Plato's perfect city and fall into the extravagant excesses of a democracy? For I truly have.

Until the city is ruled by philosophers there shall be no constitution worth being called a city, under this oath Socrates debates on the reasons why philosophers are considered useless by the multitude and nevertheless are the right ones for the job. The reason being that philosophers are the ones with access to the essential forms lighten by good and revealed by pure reason. To achieve this level of knowledge requires years of training in several subjects and to be considered as guardians requires a just city. Democracy for him is not a just constitution but the third level of decay from the desired one, aristocracy. An oligarch’s son, the democrat is blinded by license; all appetites are alike for him, good and evil; everyone has equal participation in civic right, liberty and equality is his motto. Jusque ici tout va bien. However it is not the fall but the landing that matters, and as is noticed in their conversation to do anything in excess seldom fails to provoke a violent reaction to the opposite extreme. Democracy destruction shall be by the metamorphosis of the object of its supreme good – freedom, into its worse shape: excessive slavery, and with this tiranny arises.

This hate of democracy is as old as its very origin, ancient Greece. And today’s hate formula is not against democracy itself, conversely to Plato’s idea, democracy is not a corrupt form of government, the problem is about the people, democratic civilization. What provokes the crisis of democracy is nothing other that the intensity of democratic life (Ranciére, 2006, 7).

PLATO. 1997. Republic. Wordsworth.
RANCIÉRE, J. 2006. Hatred of Democracy. Verso.

continued on note #13 with the reading of Ranciére's Hatred of Democracy

Sunday, December 27, 2009


A performance done in October 2009 at Avenida dos Aliados, Praça da Liberdade and Largo dos Lóios - Porto by the name Coreto. An ephemeral piece made out of cardboard that echos those structures of Porto's Romantic gardens, once filled with the music of local brass bands are nowadays quite abandoned. This intervention was made in the context of an educational project - Artistic Interventions in Public Spaces and Site Specific work - by André Silva, Cláudia Lopes, Dalila Gonçalves and Inês Gama.

you can see the original news in portuguese here

It seems that the bandstand had a programme with music and that interaction was the goal. Unfortunately I could not see if there was any, and of what kind. The truth is that this Avenue after being requalified three years ago have been the target of several artistic interventions that try a posteriori to inquire what has not been examined before the urban intervention: what was it used for and what can it be used for on an everyday basis.

you find in this blog my own investigation after the works were finished on how it was being used.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

After Party C213

Todos à festa!
Caldeira 213 no Senhorio
R. Duque de Loulé 239, 2º

Monday, December 07, 2009


Originally uploaded by litcha sparletta
money found on the streets of London since the 24th of September.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

I would Prefer To!

(5th attempt, and certaintly not the last, to clarify my research)

Art, as politics, pose questions of responsibility about our role in society (1) and a politicized art can be part of the toolkit of the radical and plural democratic project (Mouffe, 2009). Democracy should be under constant revision, and the role of one and each citizen is paramount to the maintenance of its project, or it is not. Notions of participation and resistance are then an important aspect for this maintenance. My affiliation would be to art that call to arms and inspire people to take action but the contemporary discourse seems to be much more directed towards passive resistance. This led me to think of the political gesture of Michael Angelo’s David and Agamben notion of passive resistance seen through Melville’s character Bartleby who “would prefer not to” (2) , as different examples of resistance. On the one hand a call for an active participation on the other a call for inaction as strategies of defeating hegemonic systems. Being the first utopian, ideological and outdated and the latter conforming to the Zeitgeist and offering potential effect. This poses a problem to my own position as a possible conservative one (in the sense of maintaining old left-wing pro active strategies), and how to understand this idea of participation through non-participation, which I visceral refuse. But why? is it because I want to hold on to outdated ideals? Or is there really something counter-productive leading to global inaction on theorising around refusal as a positivist resistance position?

So what is at stake is active/passive resistance, participative participation and non-participative participation. Is one excluding the other? Believing that the latter does really have a potential for change, and is the strategy to follow, what would happen if we would just ALL disengage? We should not forget that Melville’s Bartleby dies in the end. Does this mean that the opposite it true, that the participation of ALL is ultimately ineffective? If active participation might help the formation of collectives is refusal individualistic? Is this a matter of which has stronger agency? I was before holding on to the idea of the small gesture , as a dear one, but is the small gesture (3) actually a refusal of participating in grand visible projects?

Kris Cohen gave –in the lecture “atmospheres of participation”– the Tutti Bianchi squad as an example of refusal. The Tutti Bianchi operates on the G8 summits as a heavily padded group of people under white overalls that conduct a kind of Gandhi resistance. Staying in front of the mass of demonstrators they take the blows of the riot police without being hurt. I argue that this is not exactly a sit in protest, they prepare themselves in advance and do attempt to progress in the confront field to win territory and by doing so affirming the eligibility of demonstrating and how the local governments have been pushing this protests further and further from the actual location of the meetings (4). But if this extraordinary form of resistance is truly a Bartlebian one, what does this make of my argument of these being different types of participation? But is it really, or are theorists just pushing it a bit to far?

1 ( Bernadette Buckley lectures in art and politics helped to articulation this idea)
2 ( A month of lectures and reading led me to this feeling of a contemporary celebration of inaction, failure, non reciprocity, indifference, doing wrong as active modes of expressing dissactisfaction and therefore sites of resistance.)
3 (Hannula, M. (2006) the Politics of Small Gestures – Chances and Challenges for Contemporary Art, Art-ist)
4 ( I owe this notion to Oliver Ressler)

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