Thesis 4. On Aspectuality

An aspect is a no-part: it is a durational intensity that bodies forth contours of proximity that potentiate processes of intonation between advening appearances. The partaking of aspectuality is juxtapositive, where distinct entities bestow mutual inflection one on the other. An aspectual interface is thus something we grasp, not something we know.

WHAT ARE THE FORCES of relations between things? How do objects relate to be/holding and to one another? An aesthetics of politics makes available the fact that all adveniences are partialities whose relational mode is neither causal nor comparative, but aspectual. Thus, an aspectual affinity informed, as it is, by emergent incipiences of advenience, commends neither lineal nor arboreal causality, neither contrast nor resemblance, but juxtaposition. More to the point, what we discover when we explore an aspectual mood of engagement with the world is the extent to which juxtaposition imbues all relations such that we begin to conceive relations in terms of “this and that” rather than “this or that.”

The temporality of immediacy and the ontology of discontinuity that arise in an aesthetics of politics emphasize the partiality of things. Phenomenologists have always insisted on the limits of our perception by suggesting that we ever only approach objects partially, and that their wholeness is unavailable to us.[1] This is a point that, as we have seen, had also been raised by David Hume when he advanced the idea that to experience something with our senses is necessarily to experience that thing as a partiality, or what he calls a “broken appearance.”[2]

This is distinctly different from saying that one always has a partial perspective of the world. In other words, we are not here defending a version of perspectivilism that always assumes: (1) that objects are complete and unitary despite our partial perceptions; (2) that our mode of attention is cognitive to the extent that we can always surmise the difference between a part and a whole; and (3) that our perceptions distort our realities. To say that an advenience is a perspicuous no-part is to affirm the partiality of all things and thus resist the urge to completion or fulfillment of what is lacking: all that we have—all that we are—is parts.

It is Jacques Rancière who more than any other contemporary thinker has advanced a vertiginous defense of the participatory nature of partialities. His thesis, that all politics involves first and foremost a “partition of the sensible,” emphasizes the relational dimensions of things: a partition is simultaneously an interruption and a sharing, it is at once an attachment and a detachment, a cutting up and distribution of lots. But a “partition” also shares an etymology with the Latin parere, meaning to appear: an appearance is in this sense a part, an aspect. A partition of the sensible thus refers to the armatures of artifice that render appearances sensate. The political dimension of aesthetics is precisely not to uncover the apparent partiality of things, or to expose the falsity of partial truths, but to ascertain and render palpable how structures of feeling make appearances count. The part of those who have no-part, we might conclude, is Rancière’s political ontology of the punctum that finds relevance in the practices of partaking of and in appearances. For Rancière, to appear and to partake are synonyms of one another and of democratic politics in general.

To the extent that an aspect is a no-part, it is the improper element that strikes in an entirely unpredictable manner and that interrupts circulation through its advenience (see “Thesis 9: On Impropriety”). It is an event of resistance. This is the reason why we affirmed the fact of be/holding in the face of an advenience, and the intoning of inflection as an aspect’s partition of the sensible. The friction of an advenience’s interface resists the expectation of signification or meaning, it resists tropological understanding. Aspects are impressions that emerge in the immediacy of an advenience. As impressions, they are necessarily partial and discontinuous in exactly the manner in which Hume recommends. We cannot know an aspect; the best that we can do is grasp it’s juxtapositive impropriety.[3]

Ludwig Wittgenstein’s considerations on acts of naming and other related practices in his Philosophical Investigations are as relevant to our thesis as are Rancière’s disquisitions on partitions of the sensible: one might say that Rancière and Wittgenstein intone aspects of one another. Consider section 38 of the Philosophical Investigations: “Naming appears as a queer connexion of a word with an object.—And you really get such a queer connexion when the philosopher tries to bring out the relation between name and thing by staring at an object in front of him and repeating a name or even the word ‘this’ innumerable times. For philosophical problems arise when language goes on holiday. And here we may indeed fancy naming to be some remarkable act of mind, as it were a baptism of an object.”[4] Philosophers like Saul Kripke and cultural theorists like Slavoj Žižek have characterized this famous passage in Wittgenstein’s writings as expressing a commitment to something like branding—that is, the fixing of a name to a thing through time. Juxtaposing ourselves to this explanation, we might add a rejoinder and say that this passage projects the complexities of naming that it displays. Here—and throughout the Philosophical Investigations more generally—Wittgenstein is not involved in exposing an argument about naming; he is, rather, bearing a picture of the ways in which we be/hold the advenience of appearances and the handlings we develop (i.e., naming) to tend to our be/holdings. And this is what Wittgenstein means when he says that “naming appears as a queer connexion of a word with an object.” It appears as a queer connexion because what naming does is generate intermediary aspects that intone modes of proximity between objects—like the lines of a drawing of a duck/rabbit that at once suggest superimposition and juxtaposition. The practice of naming is a queer way of laying witness to our absorption with an apparent world.

Wittgenstein expands on this insight in another passage from the Philosophical Investigations:

A main source of our failure to understand is that we do not command a clear view of the use of our words.—Our grammar is lacking in this sort of perspicuity. A perspicuous representation produces just that understanding which consists in “seeing connexions.” Hence the importance of finding and inventing intermediate cases.

The concept of a perspicuous representation is of fundamental significance for us. It earmarks the form of account we give, the way we look at things. (Is this a “Weltanschauung”?)[5]

Once again, the problem of “seeing connexions” is central to our experiences of an apparent world. Our ways of handling adveniences, including our pictures of a language, compel us to develop affinities between ourselves and a world that appears, and these affinities are what give perspicuity to the world. That is, the capacity to artifice “queer connexions” represents a curatorial mood for attending to the world, a practice by which we admit the ingression of things and through which we express our own absorption with the appearances that circulate about us. Finally, the perspicuous representations that arise from our practices of queering connections are projections that we give to the appearance of things; it is our mode of touching and handling without ever penetrating or exposing. Such connexions are thus queer precisely because a willingness to connect with what appears is stifled by an advenience’s resistance to acts of definition or designation.

In short, Wittgenstein’s appeal to queerness allows us to query the account of comprehension through communication in theories of consensus-oriented political deliberation. There is no comprehension between groups, identities, or works; at best, there may be a queer connexion between them, or an aspectual affinity that intones proximities. But such intonations are the generative emergence of a be/holding. For a pluralist politics to demand comprehension or understanding is thus to deny the partiality of things, and to impose a substance ontology on partialities. It is to insist that coherence, communication, and consensus are the only possible political goals, that antagonism is always dialectic, and that the movement of history is teleological. To make a fetish of agreement in this way is to turn a blind eye to a politics of resistance.

Rather than consensus, resemblance, and comprehension, an aesthetics of politics proposes an aspectual interface of emergent adveniences. The grasping of an aspect thus regards an absorptive partaking of and with the intonations of proximity that emerge from the juxtaposition of adveniences. Aspectuality is the mode of relating for an aesthetics of politics.