Introduction: The Toporovski Affair
1. Apparently, the Toporovskis are planning to turn the castle into a museum to exhibit their extensive art collection. See Colin Gleadell, “Experts Say Russian Modernism Show at Ghent Museum is ‘Highly Questionable,’” Artnet News, January 15, 2018, https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/experts-say-russian-modernism-show-ghent-museum-highly-questionable-1198757.
2. Sarah Cascone, “Belgian Museum Removes Show of Disputed Russian Avant-Garde Works after Damning Exposé,” Artnet News, January 30, 2018, https://news.artnet.com/exhibitions/russian-avant-garde-exhibition-closes-expose-1210742. For a more extensive account in English, see Simon Hewitt, “The Art Newspaper Exposé Helps Close Dubious Avant-Garde Art Display in Belgian Museum,” The Art Newspaper, January 29, 2018, https://www.theartnewspaper.com/news/the-story-behind-the-dubious-russian-avant-garde-art-show-in-ghent-museum.
3. “Arts Professionals Accuse Ghent Museum of Exhibiting Unauthenticated Works,” Artforum, January 16, 2018, https://www.artforum.com/news/arts-professionals-accuse-ghent-museum-of-exhibiting-unauthenticated-works-73539.
7. Sarah Cascone, “Luc Tuymans, Giuseppe Penone, and Other Art-World Figures Defend Museum Director after Russian Forgery Scandal,” Artnet News, October 11, 2018, https://news.artnet.com/art-world/artists-art-professionals-defend-ghent-museum-director-russian-forgery-scandal-1369207
9. Catherine de Zegher, “Fake Art or Fake News?” https://www.scribd.com/document/391046833/Tekst-De-Zegher#from_embed.
10. I am not the first to use this term in print, but as far as I know, the content I give to it is original. Jon Robson already used this book’s title as the title for a chapter he contributed to the book Art and Belief (ed. Ema Sullivan-Bissett, Helen Bradley, and Paul Noordhof [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017]). Robson’s work is in aesthetic epistemology, however, and pursues a related but different angle into the issue of aesthetic exceptionalism through its focus on “belief pessimism” in relation to aesthetic judgment.
11. Let me note that while I focus on visual art here, I consider this situation to apply across the visual, performing, and literary arts. Aesthetic exceptionalism explains, for example, the difference in honoraria paid to creative writers and scholars when they are invited to speak about their work. If the creative writer is paid vastly more, and often to read from work that has already been published, this is not because they generally do not have a fixed income, as some maintain. It is because, unlike scholars, they are considered exceptional. The question-and-answer sessions after their talks often make this explicit. If the scholar is usually asked about the content of the (generally new) material they have presented, the creative writer is asked about their writing discipline. No one ever asks the scholar how they write. People want to be the creative writer; they want to know their secret. The scholar has no such cachet. The creative writer has the touch of the theological that the scholar lacks. The exception here would be the star scholar, often a theorist, who shares the exceptionalist allure of the creative writer. In the latter case, one may want to speak of “academic exceptionalism” instead. Much abusive behavior in the university is enabled by such academic exceptionalism.
12. In its relation to the term it qualifies, the prefix “un” is similar to the prefix “post,” which, in Wendy Brown’s useful understanding, “signifies a formation that is temporally after but not over that to which it is affixed” (Wendy Brown, Waning Sovereignty, Walled Democracy [New York: Zone Books, 2010], 21). Indeed, Post-Exceptionalism—a term that has been used in policy studies—may have been another possible title for this book.
1. Aesthetic and Political Exceptionalism
1. Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity, 2007), 160.
2. Steven Corcoran, “Editor’s Introduction,” in Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, ed. and trans. Steven Corcoran (London: Continuum, 2010), 1.
3. Corcoran, 1.
4. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Jacques Rancière, Jean-François Lyotard, and Alain Badiou, “Liminaire sur l’ouvrage d’Alain Badiou ‘L’être et l’événement,’” Le Cahier (Collège Internationale de Philosophie) 8 (1989): 201–25, 227–45, 247–68.
5. Some of the discussion of Schmitt that follows is taken from my review of Santiago Zabala’s book Why Only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), published as “Art and Exceptionalism: A Critique,” boundary 2 45, no. 4: 161–81.
6. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, trans. George Schwab (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), 5.
7. Carl Schmitt, Politische Theologie: Vier Kapitel Zur Lehre Von der Souveränität (Leipzig: Duncker & Humblot, 1922), 9.
8. Schmitt, Political Theology, 10. Further page citations to this work will appear in the text.
9. This has lead commentators to distinguish a bio-normativism in Schmitt’s work. See Kirk Wetters, “The Rule of the Norm and the Political Theology of ‘Real Life’ in Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben,” diacritics 36, no. 1 (2006): 31–46; here in particular 35 and further.
10. The translator notes the importance of this distinction in Schmitt’s book Dictatorship, which distinguishes between the presidential power to decide on the state of exception (commissarial dictatorship) and the power to abrogate the constitution (sovereign dictatorship). Schmitt, Political Theology, 7.
11. Peter Hallward, “Badiou Absolutiste?” in Badiou: A Subject to Truth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 284–91.
12. Nina Power, “Towards an Anthropology of Infinitude,” in The Praxis of Alain Badiou, ed. Paul Ashton, A. J. Bartlett, and Justin Clemens, 309–38 (Melbourne: Re-Press, 2006), 321.
13. Colin Wright, “Event or Exception? Disentangling Badiou from Schmitt, or, Towards a Politics of the Void,” Theory & Event 11, no. 2 (2008): 1–18 at 3.
14. See Panu Minkkinen, “Rancière and Schmitt: Sons of Ares?” in Rancière and Law, ed. Lerma López Mónica and Julen Etxabe, 129–48 (New York: Routledge, 2018).
15. Paul Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 128.
16. Schmitt, Political Theology, 36.
17. While Schmitt is my main reference in this consideration of the connections between the sovereign and the artist, Santiago Zabala has shown that Martin Heidegger’s thought must also be considered in this context. See Zabala, Why Only Art Can Save Us. Indeed, Heidegger’s work from the mid-thirties—which engages Schmitt’s thinking and proposes an exceptionalist theory of art—considers precisely the connections I lay out here. I would like to thank Martin Woessner for this observation. See also my review of Zabala: “Art and Exception: A Critique.”
18. See, for example, Andreas Kalyvas, “Carl Schmitt and the Three Moments of Democracy,” Cardozo Law Review 21, no. 5 (1999–2000): 1525–65. For his reading, Kalyvas focuses on chapter 18 of Schmitt’s book Constitutional Theory, trans. Ellen Kennedy (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2008).
19. Neil Levi, “Carl Schmitt and the Question of the Aesthetic,” New German Critique 101 (2007): 27–43.
20. Levi, 35.
21. Victoria Kahn, “Hamlet or Hecuba: Carl Schmitt’s Decision,” Representations 83 (2003): 67–96 at 68–69. This is, in my view, a reading of the Kantian aesthetic that focuses on the sublime rather than on the beautiful; in addition, it proposes a sovereign understanding of autonomy, which leads to an identification of two terms that should be kept apart. I will return to this in the next chapter. However, I don’t think there can be any doubt about the exceptionality of Kant’s philosophy on this count and its transcendental attachment to a priori principles.
22. Levi, “Carl Schmitt,” 32.
23. Levi, 41.
24. This tie of autonomy to sovereignty is not straightforward, and I intend to return to it in the next chapter. In his book The Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida (trans. Neil Solomon [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998]), Christoph Menke points out that, for Adorno, autonomy and sovereignty make up the “antinomy of the aesthetic” (vii). But how, exactly, are the two connected? This is, Menke suggests, “the central task facing philosophical aesthetics” (viii). Certainly the problem is not that of philosophical aesthetics alone; political theory, too, has trouble articulating this difference. In his book Genocide as Social Practice (Newark, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 2014), Daniel Feierstein provides a very limited account of sovereignty—he limits himself to a Schmittian/Agambenian take on the notion, defining sovereignty as a “camp”—but does give a useful account of autonomy as different from sovereignty (58–60 and 64–65). I have also found useful Roberto Russell and Juan Gabriel Tokatlian’s articulation of autonomy in distinction to sovereignty in “From Antagonistic Autonomy to Relational Autonomy: A Theoretical Reflection from the Southern Cone,” Latin American Politics and Society 45, no. 1 (2003): 1–24.
25. Levi, “Carl Schmitt,” 41.
2. Democratic Exceptionalisms (On Sam Durant’s Scaffold)
1. Bonnie Honig, “Three Models of Emergency Politics,” boundary 2 41, no. 2 (2014): 48.
2. Honig, 48.
3. Honig, 49.
4. Honig, 50.
5. Honig, 55.
6. Honig, 57.
7. Honig, 57.
8. Bonnie Honig, Emergency Politics: Paradox, Law, Democracy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2011).
9. Honig, “Three Models,” 65.
10. In chapter 1, I have uncovered this particular issue in Schmitt’s thinking about the state of exception. The state of exception, as I have discussed, is the mechanism through which Schmitt writes sovereignty into the law, but as the power to suspend it. The question for Schmitt, then, is not so much about whether it is the law or the sovereign that comes first, but the norm or the exception. He unambiguously states that the exception has priority, at least when it comes to thinking sovereignty: one must look at the exception rather than the norm to understand sovereignty.
11. Bonnie Honig, Democracy and the Foreigner (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2001).
12. Honig, “Three Models,” 65.
13. Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (New York: Verso, 2009), 101.
14. Mouffe, 101.
15. Mouffe, 101.
16. Mouffe, 101.
17. In Chantal Mouffe, Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (New York: Verso, 2013), 92.
18. Mouffe, Democratic, 101.
19. Mouffe, 102.
20. Mouffe, 103.
21. Mouffe, 107.
22. Chantal Mouffe, “Introduction,” in The Challenge of Carl Schmitt, ed. Chantal Mouffe (New York: Verso, 1999), 2.
23. In fact, given Honig’s own issues with the ethical as she lays them out at length, for example, in Antigone, Interrupted, Mouffe’s charge seems rather outrageous in retrospect. See Bonnie Honig, Antigone, Interrupted (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).
24. Mouffe, Agonistics, 86.
25. Mouffe, 87.
26. Mouffe, 87.
27. Mouffe, 87.
28. Mouffe, 88.
29. Mouffe, 91.
30. Mouffe, 91.
31. Mouffe, 91.
32. Mouffe, 100.
33. Mouffe, 100.
34. Mouffe, 101.
35. Chantal Mouffe, “Institutions as Sites of Agonistic Intervention,” in Institutional Attitudes: Instituting Art in a Flat World, ed. Pascal Gielen (Amsterdam: Valiz, 2013), 65.
36. Mouffe, 65–66.
37. Mouffe, 66.
38. Mouffe, 66.
39. Mouffe, 66.
40. Mouffe, 68.
41. Mouffe, 68.
42. Mouffe, 72.
43. Mouffe, 71.
44. Anna Kornbluh, Realizing Capital: Financial and Psychic Economies in Victorian Form (New York: Fordham University Press, 2014).
45. Mouffe, “Institutions,” 71.
46. Mouffe, 71.
47. Honig, Antigone, 2, 10, and elsewhere. Honig is not the only one to use this notion. See also Circe Sturm, “Reflections on the Anthropology of Sovereignty and Settler Colonialism: Lessons from Native North America,” Cultural Anthropology 32, no. 3 (2017): 340–48 at 344. Sturm mentions “counterhegemony” (345) in this context as well, though without tracing the term back to Mouffe.
48. Honig, Antigone, 2.
49. Honig, 22.
50. The specific focus of that engagement is the issue of vulnerability, and more generally the relation between the ethical and the political, which is part of Mouffe’s debate with Honig as well. I intend to come back to this at length in another context.
51. Judith Butler, Notes Toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2015).
52. Butler, 155.
53. Butler, 156.
54. Butler, 160.
55. In an interview with Diego Rossello, Honig has associated this other exceptionalism with “second wave feminism,” which, she notes, “was particularly critical of the register of the extraordinary for being masculinist and heroic” (Diego Rossello, “Ordinary Emergences in Democratic Theory: An Interview with Bonnie Honig,” Philosophy Today 59, no. 4 : 701).
56. Butler, Notes, 160.
57. Butler, 160.
58. Butler, 162.
59. Butler, 162.
60. Giorgio Agamben, Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm (Homo Sacer II), trans. Nicholas Heron (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).
61. See Butler, Notes, 135.
62. Minkkinen, “Rancière and Schmitt,” 136.
63. Butler, Notes, 163.
64. In view of the controversy about Scaffold, there will be no reproductions of Sam Durant’s work in this chapter.
65. I am relying here on statements made by Durant during various public appearances at the California Institute of the Arts during Fall 2017 to discuss his work, and the controversy it created, with CalArts students. I attended these discussions.
66. It is worth pointing out that Durant does this through the deceivingly unexceptionalizing gesture of the copy. I will return to this at length in the next chapter.
67. Joanne Barker, ed., Critically Sovereign: Indigenous Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2017).
68. See, for example, Bonnie Honig, Public Things: Democracy in Disrepair (New York: Fordham University Press, 2017).
69. Seth Anziska has emphasized the importance of this distinction in the related context of the Israel–Palestine conflict. See Seth Anziska, “Autonomy as State Prevention: The Palestinian Question after Camp David, 1979–1982,” Humanity 8, no. 2 (2017): 287–310.
70. Elizabeth Povinelli, The Cunning of Recognition: Indigenous Alterities and the Making of Australian Multiculturalism (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002).
71. See, for example, Joanne Barker, “For Whom Sovereignty Matters,” in Sovereignty Matters: Locations of Contestation and Possibility in Indigenous Struggles for Self-Determination, ed. Joanne Barker, 1–31 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 18.
3. Against Monarchical Art: Alex Robbins’s “Complements”
1. I would like to thank Stathis Gourgouris for allowing me to quote from his manuscript, The Perils of the One: Lessons in Secular Criticism II.
2. Byung-Chul Han, Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese, trans. Philippa Hurd (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017). Further page citations appear in the text.
3. Han’s phrasing “deconstructivist from the outset” might appear odd given that it projects back into the outset a term, “deconstruction,” that was only developed later. However, given Derrida’s claim that one does not deconstruct but merely teases out a process of deconstruction that is always already at work, such a retro-projection might be admissible. If anything, it does reveal Han’s audience, as he appears to be using the term to make Chinese thought accessible to the Western philosophical reader, who has come closest to it through deconstruction.
4. Perhaps Han is a bit naïve here. It is more likely that Chinese artists and art dealers would figure out how to turn this difference into a financial advantage and that the global art market would become Westernized in that sense.
5. See Han, 83n3. With this well-known metaphor of the ship being rebuilt while at sea, the risk of conservatism opens up: the metaphor can indeed easily be used to counter proposals of radical change, and indeed change tout court. While it will be clear that I am not arguing against change here—the previous chapter was precisely about saving change from discourses of exceptionalism—it is true that through my criticism of exceptionalism I am countering “radicality” in the sense of a total rupture.
6. See Han, 84n11.
7. The notion of “use,” and how “use” unexceptionalizes whatever it uses, seems relevant in this context. If “unusability” is a key category of art for Kant (as for example Davide Panagia has discussed: Ten Theses for an Aesthetics of Politics [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016]), it should be reread as a trait of aesthetic exceptionalism that “use” seeks to undo. Giorgio Agamben, to whom I will turn in the next two chapters of this book, has pursued such a project throughout his oeuvre, but perhaps in particular in his text “In Praise of Profanation.” Another name for unexceptional art could very well be profane art. See Giorgio Agamben, “In Praise of Profanation,” in Profanations, trans. Jeff Fort, 73–92 (New York: Zone Books, 2007).
8. François Jullien, The Silent Transformations, trans. Krzysztof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (London: Seagull Books, 2011), 116–35. Page citations will appear in the text.
9. Bernard Stiegler, “The Proletarianization of Sensibility,” trans. Arne De Boever, boundary 2 44, no. 1 (2017): 5–18 at 6.
10. Stiegler, 6.
11. Duchamp of course has to be a lodestar in any thinking about unexceptional art, and I will return to his work on multiple counts below.
12. Stiegler, 5.
13. I would like to thank Alex Robbins for these points about drawing.
14. The quoted text is lifted from the exhibition’s webpage: https://whitney.org/Exhibitions/ExperimentsInElectrostatics. I would like to thank Martin Woessner for bringing this exhibition to my attention, and for underlining the importance of Warhol in this context.
15. Think here of Duchamp’s little-known work Pharmacie, which “consists of a mass-produced poster-sized print of a ‘winter landscape,’ available to painting novices as an example of a composition they might attempt.” Duchamp’s “readymade ‘intervention’” was to “sign the piece . . . but he also adds a tiny dab of red and green paint to the landscape’s far horizon” (Stephen Barker, “Unwork and the Duchampian Contemporary,” boundary 2 44, no. 1 : 53–78 at 63). Duchamp quite literally uses wet paint to interfere—but within the mass-produced print. The mass-produced print is supposed to be the original, which painting novices are supposed to copy—but of course the original is already a copy. Duchamp intervenes in this chain of copies by adding original elements to the original copy. This doesn’t quite render the original copy into an original, but it does intensify its exceptionalist element. Some confusion is produced by Duchamp’s project, similar to the confusion produced by the signature “R. Mutt” that marks Fountain: does it exceptionalize or unexceptionalize? I will return to this later.
16. Bernard Stiegler, “The Quarrel of the Amateurs,” trans. Robert Hughes, boundary 2 44, no. 1 (2017): 35–52 at 38.
17. The Sickert was the only painting rendered at the 1:1 scale. As the artist explains in private correspondence: “That is because he had a lot of exposed canvas and dry brushwork in which the weave of the canvas is evident. Replicating that weave, which is a central aspect of the feel of the painting, at a different scale or even at the same scale is very difficult, if not impossible to do. I mounted canvas on board at the same scale so I could have the same effect.”
18. Duchamp, qtd. Cabanne, qtd. Barker, “Unwork,” 58. Duchamp’s position needs to be inscribed in the broader history of French critiques of ocular-centrism as documented in Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993). I would like to thank Martin Woessner for this reference.
19. Barker, “Unwork,” 59.
20. Barker, 66.
21. Barker, 66.
22. Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 141–64.
23. Derrida, 145.
24. This is a theological reading of the signature, in the sense that, as such, the signature is the result of the secularization of God-the-creator into the artist. There are other theological approaches to the signature: artists might also erase their authorship, avoid any attempt at authentication, from a theological point of view, out of deference toward the Creator. Both of these positions are ultimately exceptionalist, even if they locate that exceptionalism differently. The supposedly secular figure of the artist is revealed then to be no more than a theological figure in disguise. The same is obviously true for many other supposedly secular concepts, as Schmitt (among others) enabled us to see.
25. In addition, Robbins also puts his initials and a date on the back of the works. In private correspondence, he acknowledges that he has always had trouble signing his own work and in fact signs the work only as he does his children’s clothing—so that in case the clothing gets lost, the finder will know where to return it. There is a trace of “origin” here, but it is very weak indeed, to gain force only in the exceptional case of a loss.
26. Barker, “Unwork,” 64. The tie to poverty would open up a pathway to the negotiation of various exceptionalisms in Hito Steyerl’s theorization of “The Poor Image.” I have offered such a discussion elsewhere: Arne De Boever, Plastic Sovereignties: Agamben and the Politics of Aesthetics (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 290–337.
27. Duchamp, qtd. in Barker, “Unwork,” 65.
28. In private correspondence, Robbins observed that there is an existential dimension to this issue as well, in the sense that the artist partly becomes who she or he is through exceptionalism—they need an exceptionalist trace to be someone in the world. One can easily see, of course, how an uncritical exceptionalism risks producing the egos for which the art world has become known. They too are product of an aesthetic exceptionalism that is theological. To develop the plea for unexceptional art, then, is also a psychoanalytic work that engages in the unexceptionalization of how to be an artist in the world.
29. Thierry de Duve, Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998).
30. It should be pointed out that such a hold is enabled by human exceptionalism, i.e., the criticism of mechanical reproducibility does not only support the exceptionality of the original but also reinforces human exceptionalism.
31. See Dave Beech, Art and Value: Art’s Economic Exceptionalism in Classical, Neoclassical, and Marxist Economics (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2016).
32. See Marina Vishmidt, “Speculation as a Mode of Production in Art and Capital,” https://qmro.qmul.ac.uk/xmlui/bitstream/handle/123456789/8707/Vishmidt_M_PhD_Final.pdf?sequence=1.
33. I discuss this at some length in “Automatic Art, Automated Trading: Finance, Fiction, and Philosophy,” in The Edinburgh Companion to New Directions in Philosophy and Literature, ed. Ridvan Askin, Frida Beckman, and David Rudrum (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press [forthcoming]).
34. Gourgouris, Perils, 63.
4. The Democratic Anarchy of Unexceptional Art
1. I focus on the curator’s eye here because de Zegher herself has brought it up. See gse, “De Zegher: ‘Ik Had Geen Argwaan Over Collectie Toporovski,’” De Standaard, March 6, 2018, http://www.standaard.be/cnt/dmf20180306_03393143.
2. To be clear, I don’t doubt that de Zegher decided to include the works for exceptionalist reasons, because she thought they were originals by the Russian avant-garde artists that the exhibition sought to celebrate.
3. See de Zegher, “Fake Art.”
4. On this, see Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1998).
5. Giorgio Agamben, The Use of Bodies, trans. Adam Kotsko (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2016), 263.
6. Agamben, 219.
7. Agamben, 219.
8. For Agamben, such a contraction is a Platonic gesture, but to understand this one must delve into his idiosyncratic reading of Plato, which I will leave for another time.
9. Agamben comes closest to this analogy in his book The Man without Content, trans. Georgia Albert (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999). Following this analogy, one must risk rewriting Schmitt’s famous dictum about all significant modern concepts of the state as follows: all significant modern aesthetic concepts (concepts of the museum and the gallery, if you will) are secularized theological concepts. Doing so would then in turn lead one to consider the residue of sovereignty, and monarchical sovereignty in particular, in modern aesthetics.
10. I have already considered the complicities between Schmitt’s theory of the exception and Kantian aesthetics (specifically, Kant’s theory of the sublime and of the genius) in chapter 1. It is within Kant, however, that one finds the split between a Schmittian exceptionalism (of the sublime and of genius) and a democratic exceptionalism. The latter I would associate, following a certain tradition of political thought, with the aesthetic judgment of the beautiful. My proposal would be that aesthetic theory has tended toward the sublime of the Schmittian exception rather than the democratic exceptionalism of the beautiful. I will want to return to the beautiful and the trace of exceptionalism it maintains in the next chapter. The split in Kant between the sublime and the beautiful can be said to mirror, more generally, the split between argument and obedience in, for example, Kant’s classic text “What Is Enlightenment?” (see Boever, Plastic Sovereignties, chapter 5), or more generally the split between his moral theory and his theory of aesthetic judgment that Hannah Arendt in her reading of Kant has drawn out. Arendt’s difference on this count from other readers of Kant is enabled by precisely this split. On this second, Arendtian point, see Martín Plot, The Aesthetico-Political: The Question of Democracy in Merleau-Ponty, Arendt, and Rancière (New York: Bloomsbury, 2014), 71–74. On another occasion, I would like to consider Schmitt’s Political Romanticism (trans. Guy Oakes [Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1986]) in this context.
11. Boever, Plastic Sovereignties, 25.
12. Ben Lerner, 10:04 (New York: Faber & Faber, 2014), 129. The discussion of 10:04 that follows is taken from my book Finance Fictions: Realism and Psychosis in a Time of Economic Crisis (New York: Fordham University Press, 2018). I would like to thank my editor Tom Lay as well as Fordham University Press for permission to republish this discussion here in an adjusted form.
13. Nicholas Brown, “Art after Art after Art,” Nonsite.org, no. 18 (2016): http://nonsite.org/feature/art-after-art-after-art.
14. Lerner, 10:04, 130.
15. Lerner, 131. Stories about broken Jeff Koons sculptures have popped up occasionally, and one in fact appeared while I was preparing this book. See Golden Darroch, “From Gazing Ball to Crazy Paving: Koons Sculpture Goes to Pieces in Amsterdam Church,” Dutchnews.nl April 9, 2018: https://www.dutchnews.nl/news/2018/04/from-gazing-ball-to-crazy-paving-koons-sculpture-goes-to-pieces-in-amsterdam-church/.
16. Lerner, 131.
17. Lerner, 132.
18. Lerner, 133.
19. Lerner, 133.
20. Lerner, 134.
21. Lerner, 134.
22. Lerner, 135.
23. See, for example, Hari Kunzru, “Impossible Mirrors,” review of Ben Lerner, 10:04, New York Times Sunday Book Review, September 7, 2014; Pieter Vermeulen, “How Should a Person Be (Transpersonal)? Ben Lerner, Roberto Esposito, and the Biopolitics of the Future,” Political Theory 1, no. 23 (2016): 1–23.
24. Agamben, Use, 266.
25. Agamben, 275.
26. Agamben, xiii.
27. Abraham Geil, “Writing, Repetition, Displacement: An Interview with Jacques Rancière,” Novel 47, no. 2 (2014): 301–10.
28. This paragraph as well as the following are taken from my “Art and Exceptionalism.”
29. Jacques Rancière, Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics, trans. Steven Corcoran (London: Continuum, 2010), 31.
30. Rancière, 30–31.
31. Rancière, 31.
32. Rancière, 31.
33. Rancière, 31.
34. Rancière, 31.
35. Rancière, 31.
36. Rancière, 31.
37. Rancière, 31.
38. Rancière, 30.
39. This understanding of anarchy is clear throughout Rancière’s work, from his book The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (trans. Kirstin Ross [Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990]) onwards. In the first chapter of that book, for example, Rancière develops a criticism of the “archè” of “explication.” This is clear from the fact that he distinguishes the following two dimensions of explication: “On the one hand, [the explicator] decrees the absolute beginning” (6)—“archè” in the sense of “beginning.” “On the other,” he continues, the explicator “appoints himself to the task of lifting” “the veil of ignorance [that s/he has cast] over everything that is to be learned]” (6–7). This is “archè” in the sense of “rule”—the master rules through appointing her-/himself this task. This is what Rancière later calls the “hierarchical” setup of explication. Of course, by making the case for an ignorant schoolmaster, Rancière seeks to intervene in this. But how exactly? He proposes a kind of an-archy, but not the loose sense of anarchy that gets rid of the master altogether—it’s an an-archy that is “not . . . without a master” (12), as he points out. This is the anarchy of an emancipatory teaching situation, of an equality and democracy of intelligences, freed from the hierarchy of archè—or rather, operative after a radical transformation in the logic of archè.
40. Giorgio Agamben, The Time That Remains: A Commentary on the “Letter to the Romans,” trans. Patricia Dailey (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2005), 57–58.
41. Apter, Unexceptional Politics.
42. Stathis Gourgouris, “The Question Is: Society Must Be Defended against Whom? Or What?” New Philosopher, May 25, 2013, http://www.newphilosopher.com/articles/the-question-is-society-defended-against-whom-or-what-in-the-name-of-what/.
43. Gourgouris, “The Question Is.”
44. In The Man without Content, Agamben points out that this was precisely the issue that Nietzsche had with Kant. Kant’s theory of aesthetics, Nietzsche argued, operated from the point of view of the spectator. It is of course in Kant’s time that many of the issues I have discussed here are born. Nietzsche responds to all of this—the institution of the exceptional realm of art in the eyes of the spectator—with an exceptionalism of the artist. But this did not solve the core of the problem he had identified. Nietzsche, too, is within the realm of aesthetic exceptionalism—but from the artist’s side.
45. Edward Said, The World, the Text, and The Critic (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).
5. Complement: Naked Painting (On the Work of Becky Kolsrud)
1. François Jullien, The Impossible Nude: Chinese Art and Western Aesthetics, trans. Maev de la Guardia (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007), vii.
2. Jullien, vii.
3. Jullien, 2.
4. Jullien, 3.
5. Jullien, 36.
6. Jullien, 4.
7. Jullien, 7.
9. François Jullien, In Praise of Blandness: Proceeding from Chinese Thought and Aesthetics, trans. Paula M. Varsano (New York: Zone Books, 2008).
10. Giorgio Agamben, “Nudity,” in Nudities, trans. David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella, 55–90 (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011). Further page citations are in the text.
11. Agamben had made this point previously in “In Praise of Profanation.” Even before then, this argument about the face can also be found in Giorgio Agamben, “The Face,” in Means without End: Notes on Politics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino, 91–100 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000).
12. Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, trans. Daniel W. Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002).
13. Deleuze, Bacon, 19.
14. Deleuze, 19.
15. Deleuze, 19.
16. Deleuze, 20.
17. Deleuze, 20.
18. Deleuze, 19.
19. Deleuze, 21–22.
20. Deleuze, 22.
21. François Jullien, Living Off Landscape or the Unthought-of in Reason, trans. Pedro Rodriguez (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 54. This point, which Jullien later articulates through reference to Walter Benjamin, leads into a (silent) opposition of Chinese thought to Kant: “China never carried the distinction between the sensible and its beyond into a metaphysical split, and was therefore at leisure to conceive of the spiritual’s deployment as a phenomenon, as occurring within the physical” (57).
22. See, for example, Caroline Levine, Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2015).
23. Byung-Chul Han, Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese, trans. Philippa Hurd (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2017), 11.
24. Jullien, Impossible Nude, 66–67.
25. Jullien, 67.
26. Jullien, 67.
27. Jullien, 67.
28. Jullien, 68.
29. Jullien, 77.
30. François Jullien, This Strange Idea of the Beautiful, trans. Krzystof Fijalkowski and Michael Richardson (London: Seagull, 2016), 85.
31. Jullien, Impossible Nude, 91.
32. I have commented on this in. Plastic Sovereignties. Indeed, I would now say that in that book I was struggling with the concept of sovereignty as a key concept in the Western philosophical tradition, and was trying to unexceptionalize it from what, through reading Jullien, I have come to understand as a “Chinese” point of view.
33. Agamben, Use.
34. Giorgio Agamben, Potentialities: Collected Essays in Philosophy, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999).
35. Jullien, Impossible Nude, 3.
36. Agamben, “Nudity,” 90.
37. Agamben, 88.
38. Jullien, Impossible Nude, 33.
39. The contrast is less marked in Jullien’s books on Christianity: De l’Intime: Loin du bruyant amour (Paris: Grasset, 2013) and Ressources du christianisme (Paris: L’Herne, 2018). Similarly, but for wholly different reasons, the contrast is less marked in some of Agamben’s other texts. There, the contraction of zoe and bios into an eidos tou biou is accomplished without a continued attachment to beauty. Eske Møllgaard has argued, for example, that in The Coming Community, Agamben defends an unorthodox kind of transcendence that needs to be opposed to the one of Plato’s ideal Forms. This would be the idiosyncratic transcendence of “the very ‘taking-place of the entities,’ their ‘being irreparably in the world,’ the very fact ‘[t]hat the world is, that something can appear’” (Agamben qtd. Eske Møllgaard, “Zhuangzi’s Notion of Transcendental Life,” Asian Philosophy 15, no. 1 : 1–18 at 5). Note that there is no mention of beauty here. Møllgaard furthermore argues that this sense of transcendence that can be found in Zhuangzi and in Jullien’s work on Zhuangzi also features in Møllgaard’s text. Elsewhere, Møllgaard has put Agamben’s sense of transcendence in dialogue with both Zhuangzi’s understanding of the Tao and Heidegger’s notion of “releasement” (Gelassenheit) (Eske Møllgaard, “Dialogue and Impromptu Words,” Social Identities 12, no. 1 : 43–58 at 54). The relation of Agamben to Jullien warrants a much longer discussion that would need to consider Jullien’s book on Plato (L’Invention de l’idéal et le destin de l’Europe [2009; Paris: Gallimard, 2017]) and what Mathieu Potte-Bonneville has called Jullien’s “anti-platonisme fécond” (Mathieu Potte-Bonneville, “Versions du platonisme: Deleuze, Foucault, Jullien,” in François Jullien, ed. Daniel Bougnoux and François L’Yvonnet [Paris: L’Herne, 2018], 51–58 at 52). The relation of eidos to telos would need to be considered here as well, especially in view of the emphasis Agamben has placed on a philosophy of “means without end.”
40. By this phrase, “the unexceptional Far East,” I am partly trying to draw out the peculiar fact that the name “Far East” itself carries connotations of “exceptionality” in French: l’Extrême Orient, the “extreme” Orient. All of Jullien’s work arguably targets this peculiarity.