Art, work and politics in disciplinary societies and societies of security

Art, work and politics in disciplinary societies and societies of security

Maurizio Lazzarato

According to Michel Foucault, for some time we have been leaving disciplinary societies in order to enter into societies of security that, unlike the former, ‘tolerate a whole host of behaviours that are different, varied, or even deviant and antagonistic toward one another’. [1] These societies lead us beyond disciplines, because they put in place policies regarding the government of conducts that are exercised through the management of heterogeneities and the ‘optimization of systems of differences’ – that is, through the differential administration of inequalities (disparities in situation, income, status, knowledge, and so on).

Again according to Foucault, in societies of security the function of liberal policies regarding the government of conducts is ‘to produce, instigate and enhance freedoms’, ‘to introduce a surplus of freedom’, but to do so ‘through a surplus of control and intervention’. The government of conducts, Foucault says, ‘produces freedom, but, in the same gesture, implies that limitations, controls, and coercions are set in place’.

Following Félix Guattari, we can make these statements more precise. While contemporary capitalism produces a ‘generalized control, it is nevertheless forced to preserve a minimum of degrees of freedom, creativity, and inventiveness in the domain of the sciences, technologies and the arts, without which the system would collapse in a kind of entropic inertia’. [2] Just like the production of disparities or inequalities, the production of freedom is differential. Depending on the situations, activities, social groups and balance of forces at stake, there will be what Guattari defines as absolutely heterogeneous ‘coefficients of freedom’. The government of conducts will then be exercised through a modulation of coefficients of heterogeneity and coefficients of freedom.

In order to grasp these modalities of the government of contemporary capitalism, it is perhaps useful to analyse what modernity regarded as the very paradigm of freedom, heterogeneity, difference and deviance:

art and the artist. To the passage from disciplinary societies to societies of security there corresponds a transformation in artistic practices and techniques, in the conception and function of art, artists and publics, in the relationship that the latter entertain with society, the economy and politics. In order to analyse this passage we will make use of Jacques Rancière’s ‘aesthetic regime of the arts’ – which in my view makes perfectly explicit what we no longer are – alongside the work of Marcel Duchamp, and freely interpret a novella by Kafka, which will allow us to grasp what we are in the process of becoming.

The practice and anti-dialectical thought of an anartist

In Rancière’s ‘aesthetic regime of the arts’, art is a specific activity that suspends the customary connections and spatio-temporal coordinates of sensory experience, which is marked by the dualisms of activity and passivity, form and matter, sensibility and understanding. These dualisms, which Rancière defines as a ‘partition of the sensible’, are political in the sense that they separate and hierarchize society according to relations of domination that organize the power of men of ‘refined culture’ (activity) over men of ‘simple nature’ (passivity), the power of men of leisure (freedom) over men of work (necessity), the power of the class of intellectual labour (autonomy) over the class of manual labour (subordination).

This conception of art as a heterogeneous and ‘specific sensorium’, opposed to the sensorium of work qua domination, harbours the promise of the abolition of the separation between ‘play’ and ‘work’, between activity and passivity, between autonomy and subordination, in accordance with two different modalities which are in effect two politics of aesthetics. According to Rancière, these two modalities inform the politics of art to this very day. The first (the becoming life of art) does politics by suppressing the separation between art and life, and therefore by suppressing itself qua separate activity. The second (resistant art) does politics by jealously safeguarding this very separation, as a guarantee of autonomy from the world of commodities, markets and capitalist valorization. [3]

This partition of the sensible that distributes places and functions in society, the economy and politics, as well as in art, is one we have been in the process of leaving behind ever since the end of World War II. Under the conditions of contemporary capitalism, all these dialectical oppositions no longer represent alternatives. They have become mere options for capital.

Play – which Rancière, following Schiller, treats as the prerogative of humanity, since it consists in a gratuitous and non-finalized activity, grounding both ‘the autonomy of a proper domain of art and the construction of the forms of a new collective life’ [4] – no longer constitutes an alternative to work as domination. The dialectical opposition between play and work has been transformed into a continuum, of which play and work are only the two extremes. Between the two, it is possible to arrange in a thousand different ways the coefficients of work and play, autonomy and subordination, activity and passivity, intellectual and manual labour, which nourish capitalist valorization.

Marcel Duchamp invites us to insert into the intervals of dialectical oppositions a third term which acts neither as a mediation nor as an agent of overcoming, but as an operator of disjunction that dispels the oppositions which structure not only our aesthetic principles and tastes but, more generally, our ways of saying and doing. The spread of this artistic practice and thought, which in the main came together at the beginning of our century, is strictly tied to the growing power and consolidation of that government of conducts which was deployed starting at the end of World War II and which experienced a strong acceleration from the 1960s onwards. In the interval between the artwork and the industrial object, Duchamp inserts his best-known invention, the readymade. The readymade instigates the flight of the use-value both of the industrial object (its utility and functionality) and of the artwork (a nonutility which has its function, a non-finality which has its place in capitalist society and valorization).

The readymade short-circuits and problematizes the worker’s manufacture, but also the talent and virtuosity of the artist. It comes after Rimbaud’s ‘century of hands’ – the hands of the artist’s craftwork as well as of the worker’s manual labour. The readymade does not involve any virtuosity, technique or particular know-how, so it ‘desacralizes’ and deprofessionalizes the artist’s function, making it possible ‘to lower his social status’. Anyone can become an artist, anything can become a work, all that is needed is for each to find its public (and the institution’s visibility and statements).

In the interval between play and work, we can introduce choice. The readymade is not fabricated, but chosen. ‘The difficulty for me was to choose.’ But for Duchamp this choice is neither intentional nor conscious; it expresses neither the interiority nor the taste of the artist. He chooses to choose, instead of fabricating something with his own hands. Duchamp will even say that ‘one doesn’t choose a readymade, one is chosen by it’, so that the choice dispels the opposition between determinism and free will. In the interval between activity and passivity, we can insert the ‘doing nothing’, which is the refusal to accomplish what is asked of you, whether it be the passivity of the worker or the activity of the artist (or the immaterial labourer). ‘Acting at the minimum’, rather than allowing oneself to be trapped by the alternative between artistic creation and waged labour. For Duchamp both are functions, occupations to which one is assigned. On the one hand, ‘now artists are integrated, commercialized, too commercialized’. Ever since there has been a market for painting, painters ‘no longer make painting, but cheques’. On the other, ‘to be forced to work in order to exist is a kind of infamy’. ‘Doing nothing’, ‘acting at the minimum’, means subtracting oneself from the distribution of competencies in contemporary capitalism.

We could continue having fun exploding dialectical oppositions. For reasons of time, I will just mention another one, without developing it further: in the interval of the opposition between the sensible and the intelligible we can, following Duchamp, introduce ‘belief’. Duchamp explains himself very clearly concerning the false heterogeneity represented by dialectical oppositional couples. In fact, if two things are opposed to one another, it is in favour of their very homogeneity.

If I am against the word ‘anti’, it’s because it’s a little like ‘atheist’ as compared to ‘believer’. An atheist is almost as religious as a believer, and an anti-artist is almost as artistic as an artist.… ‘Anartist’ would be a lot better, if I could change the term, than ‘anti-artist’. [5]

With his customary humour, Duchamp uses a readymade to undermine the dialectical logic of exclusive disjunction of the type ‘either/or’, and to allow the logic of inclusive disjunctions of the ‘and’ to function.

I lived in Paris in a tiny apartment. In order to use this meagre space to the utmost, I decided to use a single door panel which shut alternately on two frames. I showed it to some friends, telling them that the proverb according to which ‘A door must be either shut or open’ was thereby caught in a flagrant crime of inexactitude.

The door at rue Larrey, simultaneously open and shut, is an example of the ‘co-intelligence of contraries’ whose closest counterpart in the domain of philosophy seems to me to be the disjunctive synthesis.

The readymade does not testify to the dialectical passage from the prosaic world of commodities to the proper world of art, nor to the blurred boundary between art and non-art; nor indeed does it constitute a simple amalgam (or clash) between heterogeneous elements. In Rancière’s dialectical logic, modern and contemporary art is this very passage, this blurring, this clash. With the readymade, the manufactured or fabricated industrial object does not move into the aesthetic domain but, on the contrary, introduces us to a ‘completely empty domain, if you will, empty of everything to the point that I have spoken of complete anaesthesia’. This empty region ‘where neither time nor space reigns’ is the place from which simultaneously to problematize the modes of constitution of the artwork and of the commodity, interrogating the forces, principles and dispositifs that institute them and consolidate them into values.

Art does not represent a promise of the overcoming of domination, as in Rancière’s aesthetic regime of the arts, because Duchamp’s gesture not only suspends the preconditions for the exercise of this regime, but also suspends aesthetic values and tastes as such. What interests Duchamp in the ‘creative act’ is not so much the artwork as such, but ‘the subjective mechanism that produces an artwork’; that is, the process of social production that institutes art, the artist, the work and the public. Duchamp’s techniques are not exclusively artistic techniques, but rather ‘mental techniques’ (Jean Philippe Antoine) or ‘techniques of subjectivation’ (Félix Guattari). Duchamp’s techniques amount to a method for extricating oneself from all established values, not just aesthetic ones. Given a thing, a word and the relation between the two, how can we be rid of the social clichés borne by this relation?

We are confounded by an accumulation of principles and anti-principles which generally cloud our minds with their terminology.

The void, the ‘freedom of indifference’, and complete anaesthesia are not the bearers of some kind of postmodern nihilism, but rather techniques to suspend the prefabricated sensations, habits, judgements (or prejudices) which are crystallized in tastes as well as in words.

Taste confers a sensual feeling, not an aesthetic emotion. Taste presupposes an authoritarian spectator who imposes what he loves or does not love, and translates into ‘beautiful’ and ‘ugly’ what he finds pleasant or unpleasant [a translation of the unknown into the known, the already-there – ML].

In a completely different way, the ‘victim’ of the aesthetic echo [who is forced to think and feel despite himself – ML] is in a comparable position to that of a man in love, or a believer, who spontaneously rejects the demands of his ego and who, now deprived of supports, subjects himself to a pleasing and mysterious constraint. By exercising his taste, he adopts an attitude of authority, whilst when he’s touched by aesthetic revelation, the same man, in a quasi-ecstatic mode, becomes receptive and humble.

The dissociation of art and taste leads to the openness of the ‘idiot’ who falls in love, to the innocence of the idiot who believes in God, of which the Dadaist idiot is but one embodiment. By rejecting prejudices, conventions and established values – among which we must include the self – the idiot returns to this ‘point of emergence of the production of subjectivity’, which for Guattari constitutes the specific task of the artist. ‘Shock has been one of the principal themes of modern art, its material.’ But in Duchamp shock does not simply have the ‘critical’ function of uncovering the world of commodities, and it does not represent the occasion for a possible gain in awareness. The suspension of established values which shock is capable of producing is the precondition for mobilizing, in the ‘creative act’, not the consciousness of the author and the public, but their affects (as might be done by a medium or shaman), non-verbal semiotics (the inert materials which become expressive), and non-sense (the a-signifying, non-discursive and asocial ‘existential function’ which sets in motion a process that will produce sense, discourse, significations, sociality). Shock is the precondition for openness to a process of transformation of subjectivity.

The plays on words that accompany all of Duchamp’s works and dispositifs express the modalities of rupture of discursive formations. In order to express oneself artistically and in general within societies of security it is necessary to interrupt communication, to neutralize the signifying power of language. Words are wielded as weapons to open breaches in consensus and in the semiotic pollution that besets us. By shortcircuiting dialectical oppositions, Duchamp opens up an ‘undecidable’ process. Duchamp’s practical artistic propositions are undecidable because – to translate this concept from Deleuze and Guattari into Rancière’s dialectical categories – autonomy and heteronomy, activity and passivity, freedom and domination are not already assigned to specific and different sensoria (those of art and of work as domination), but are distributed across a continuum in which the coefficients of freedom and domination, activity and passivity, traverse art as well as work.

Shock in Duchamp, like conflict for us today, issues into undecidable propositions, since neither the philosophy of history nor the dialectic of class struggle can serve as a standard and guide for action, or serve as guarantor for its evolution. These propositions are undecidable because their fate depends entirely on their immanent becoming. This is a situation of absolute immanence, for there is no model – either positive (‘play’ in art) or negative (domination in work) – to which we can refer in order to combat it or realize it.

The aim of these practices and techniques which it would be difficult to define as exclusively aesthetic, of these undecidable propositions, is the production of subjectivity, the production of a modus vivendi. They are ethico-politico-aesthetic techniques, as in Félix Guattari’s aesthetic paradigm or Foucault’s production of subjectivity. Art does not entirely pass into life, nor does it hold itself in splendid autonomy, as the avantgardes dreamed, because between art and life there is always a gap that cannot be filled. But it is on the basis of this gap, by installing oneself in its interval, that a production of subjectivity may take place.

I wanted to make use of painting, make use of art as a tool to establish a modus vivendi, some way of understanding life, that is probably to try and make my life itself into an artwork, instead of spending my life making artworks in the forms of paintings. … The important thing is to live and have a conduct. This conduct governs my painting, my plays on words and everything I’ve made, from the public point of view, at least.

To reduce these techniques of subjectivation to the individualism of Stirner, whom Duchamp read assiduously, would be as reductive as equating Foucault’s practical and theoretical ethos with dandyism. It is more interesting to see in these modi vivendi a political problem which the failure of the relationship between the political and aesthetic avant-gardes has bequeathed to us: the impossibility of separating political revolution from the revolution of the sensible, macro-political revolution from micro-political revolution, the question of politics from that of ethics.

Kafka, art, the work, the artist and the public 

During the 1990s and since in the struggles of the intermittents du spectacle (precarious media and entertainment workers in France) an out-and-out contest was unleashed among the forces of the Left (political parties, unions, intellectuals, artists) to find out who best conformed to the disciplinary attribution which defines the functions and the roles of art, the artist and the work – whose pitiless dissection at Duchamp’s hands we have just examined. A ‘holy alliance’ was formed to defend the neo-archaism of art as exception (a French cultural exception) and of the artist as the professional of the profession (in terms of a defence of full-time artistic employment).

To interpret the deep transformations in artistic and cultural practices under the sign of ‘great art’, in order to condemn it for anti-proletarian elitism, like Boltanski & Chiapello or Bourdieu, or to celebrate its ‘revolutionary’ force as Badiou (another defender of dialectical thought) envisages, is a testament to the impotence of critical thought. Badiou’s advocacy of a ‘great art’ for the workers and the people is just as reactionary as the separations between ‘artistic critique’ and ‘social critique’ made by the sociologists who authored The New Spirit of Capitalism.

In order to grasp our current predicament it is better to turn to Kafka, who in his very last story, from 1924, engages in a dialogue at a distance with Duchamp. In ‘Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk’ [6] we encounter two poles of art-production. If, with Duchamp, we had witnessed the point of view of the artist confronted with the impact of industrialization, the birth of the art market and the transformations of the public, with Josephine and the mouse people it is the latter that is at stake: a public that coincides with the people.

The mouse folk are a ‘people of workers’, endowed with a ‘certain practical cunning’, fearing neither adversities nor ‘work’. Josephine the singer, as the narrator informs us, belongs to this people; that is, she works to earn her living like every other ‘worker’ and sings to enchant the mouse folk. In other words, she exercises two professions. The race of mice does not love music and is not musically talented. The mice, busy with their everyday worries, cannot ‘rise to anything so high and remote from our usual routine as music’. Only Josephine knows how to elicit the love of music in the people. Where does this power of her singing to deeply affect its listeners come from? Where does the passion for this art originate? And, as the narrator asks himself, what kind of art are we dealing with, since the people do not love music?

Evidently, we are not dealing with the classical principles of aesthetics, since Josephine’s art is not ‘so great that even the most insensitive cannot be deaf to it; her singing does not ‘give one an immediate and lasting feeling of being something out of the ordinary’, and what the people hear is not ‘something that Josephine alone and no one else can enable us to hear’. ‘Among intimates we admit freely to one another that Josephine’s singing, as singing, is nothing out of the ordinary. Is it in fact singing at all?’, the narrator asks. Josephine’s singing ‘hardly rises above that of our usual piping – yet perhaps her strength is not even equal to our usual piping, whereas an ordinary farm hand can keep it up effortlessly all day long’.

Piping is the ‘real talent of the people’ of mice. ‘We all pipe, but of course no one dreams of making out that our piping is an art.’ So there’s nothing exceptional, no genius, no sublimity, no technique and no talent in Josephine’s art, since the capacity to pipe is shared by all, and requires no virtuosity. It is not just the ‘anyone’ (even the vulgar farm hand pipes whilst working) and the ‘anything’ (a piping so feeble that it is difficult to tell it apart from the silence surrounding it) which seem to define her art, but also the ‘anywhere’. Josephine’s ‘concerts’ are prey to the fortuitousness of circumstances, as well as her whim. ‘She can do this where she likes, it need not be a place visible a long way off, any secluded corner pitched on in a moment’s caprice will serve as well.’ Were this true it would certainly deny Josephine her claim to the status of artist. The fact that her status ‘has never been quite defined’ is indeed what makes her nervous and uneasy. To resolve the enigma of this ‘mediocre’ art the narrator multiplies the questions and suggest several avenues. All these questions will be left unanswered, which leaves the public of readers – as well as Duchamp’s ‘posterity, that pretty bitch’ – with a total freedom of interpretation.

The first avenue we encounter in the story is given by the readymade. The effects of Josephine on the public are perhaps due to a new ‘form of singularity’, the fact that someone makes ‘a ceremonial performance out doing the usual thing’, ‘usual workaday piping’. Here the narrator provides an extraordinary definition of the readymade – whose existence Kafka himself almost certainly ignored – by inventing a form that Duchamp had not envisaged: readymade quotidian action, an action that, like that of piping, everyone is able to reproduce.

To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nutcracking than most of us. As in Duchamp, the readymade is a mental technique that forces one to think, that obliges one to interrogate the ‘real’, since, after having experienced this strange piping, the mice can affirm that ‘we admire in her what we do not at all admire in ourselves’.But there are numerous avenues available in order to try and grasp the sources of Josephine’s art. The mouse folk is a people of workers which, because of their practical spirit, basically have no childhood, since they become adults very rapidly, precisely in order to work. By suspending the space–time of everyday banality by means of techniques that are neither beautiful, nor extraordinary, nor sublime, Josephine’s art opens onto the innocence of childhood, onto its pre-linguistic and pre-cognitive world, before the latter is fixed into words, tastes, opinions and judgements.

Piping is our people’s daily speech, only many a one pipes his whole life long and does not know it, where here piping is set free from the fetters of daily life and it sets us free too for a little while.

We certainly should not want to do without these performances … [since, into the people’s dreams] Josephine’s piping drops note by note … [and] something of our poor brief childhood is in it.

But perhaps the effects produced by Josephine’s art are also due to the specific techniques she employs. Josephine’s singing, ‘a mere nothing in voice, a mere nothing in execution’, is not the product of any technique. Were she to use techniques of musical virtuosity, she would not exercise any fascination over the mouse folk: ‘A really trained singer, if ever such a one should be found among us, we could certainly not endure at such a time and we should unanimously turn away from the senselessness of any such performance.’ The effects that she produces are thus perhaps due to the fact that ‘her means are so inadequate’. Non-virtuosity and the weakness of materials are ‘democratic’ techniques to neutralize the authority of tradition, the author and the work over the public. But perhaps the force of her singing comes from something else. Josephine does not measure herself up to the history of art and its traditions, but she plugs into the outside, into what happens. She makes art as much with small events as with large ones.

Among the mouse folk, ‘a certain tradition of music is preserved, yet without making the slightest demand upon us’. On the contrary, ‘every trifle, every casual incident, every nuisance, a creaking in the parquet, a grinding of teeth, a failure in the lighting incites her to heighten the effectiveness of her song. … So all disturbance is welcome to her; whatever intervenes from outside to hinder the purity of her song’ contributes to ‘awaken the masses’. But Josephine ‘likes best to sing just when things are most upset’, in the midst of great contemporary events, and it is here that a different politics is opened up between Josephine’s art and the people.

The relationship between Josephine and the people (the community of mice is coextensive with the public) is a problematic one, since it involves the relation between individual and people, community and singularity, freedom and equality (one of the main themes that also preoccupy Duchamp’s oeuvre).

No single individual could do what in this respect the people as a whole are capable of doing. To be sure, the difference in strength between the people and the individual is so enormous that it is enough for the nursling to be drawn into the warmth of their nearness and he is sufficiently protected. To Josephine, certainly, one does not dare mention such ideas. ‘Your protection isn’t worth an old song’, she says then … she believes it is she who protects the people.

When she rebels against the people’s communal grip, when she tries to evade its ‘stable mass’, its collective ‘protection’, Josephine is equated with an infant and the people with a father. (For Foucault, patriarchy is the aspect of the regime of sovereignty which reproduces itself within the disciplinary regime, and without which the latter could not function.)It is true that ‘whenever we get bad news … she rises up at once’ and sings, but it is not she who saves the people, ‘who have always somehow managed to save themselves’. Boltanski and Chiapello might well share the narrator’s viewpoint, since ‘social critique’ does not need ‘artistic critique’ in order to save itself. The events of ’68, as they say, are an ‘exception’. The workers’ movement has always saved itself. It doesn’t need Josephine. Nevertheless, in emergencies we hearken better than at other times to Josephine’s voice. … It is not so much a performance of songs as an assembly of the people … yet to be only an incidental, unnoticed performer in a corner of the assembly of the people … she would certainly not make the sacrifice of her singing.

The singer nurses other differends with the peoplepublic, and the main one concerns the economic status of her activity. She exercises two professions (working and singing) and she wages a veritable fight for recognition – even of an economic kind – of her singing-piping.

Josephine has been fighting for exemption from all daily work on account of her singing; she should be relieved of all responsibility for earning her daily bread … which – apparently – should be transferred on her behalf to the people as a whole.

She lays claim to something like a guaranteed income, or at least she would like to be assured of some continuity of income since what she demands is not a direct wage, but an income drawn from the sum of the incomes of the mice. Josephine seems to be soliciting here what she refused earlier, namely the (social) ‘protection’ of the people, of the community. But perhaps we should not view this as a contradiction, but rather as the need to establish a new relationship between (social) ‘protection’ and ‘individual freedom’, community and singularity, freedom and equality.

On the basis of the singer’s claim, it is the very status of work that becomes undecidable, since according to Josephine the strain produced by singing is greater than that of the work necessary to earn her daily bread:

Josephine argues, for instance, that the strain of working is bad for her voice, that the strain of working is of course nothing to the strain of singing, but it prevents her from being able to rest sufficiently after singing and to recuperate for more singing…We can understand, then, why Josephine’s status is never clarified. If art in disciplinary societies is defined in opposition work, when Josephine struggles, in various guises, for the ‘recognition’ of the strain of her singing, it is this very opposition that no longer makes sense. It is the status of both art and work that must be clarified. This would lead to the invention of a new system – at once economic, political and aesthetic – whose conditions cannot even be envisaged within the theoretical framework of the present-day Left.

It is striking that the questioning of the category of work comes – as it does in France today with the intermittents du spectacle – from artists.

The labouring mouse-folk are not ready, like the reformist and revolutionary Left, to ask what work has become today. The caricatural version of this attitude can be found in the self-styled ‘new radicalism’ of Alain Badiou, who wants to advocate both ‘great art’ and the ‘revalorization’ of the figure of the worker and the factory as a political place, while three-quarters of the workforce today (90 per cent in the USA) will never cross the threshold of the factory gates. We are still within the art–work opposition, great art and workers – that is, within a world that has been completely turned upside down both on the side of art and on that of work.

In Kafka’s story, Josephine’s stubborn struggle and the working people’s utter refusal of her claims will lead to her disappearance: ‘The people listen to her arguments and pay no attention. Our people, so easily moved, sometimes cannot be moved at all. Their refusal is sometimes so decided that even Josephine is taken aback.’ In an entirely arbitrary way, these pages of Kafka evoke for me the relationship between political and artistic avant-gardes in the Soviet Union. Josephine has come up against the ‘authoritatively sovereign’ people, just as the futurists and constructivists hit up against the ‘stable mass’ and ‘sovereignty’ of the working class-turned-state. This evocation in turn makes me think of a remark by Duchamp, according to which he does not believe in the universal and eternal ‘essential aspect’ of art. For Duchamp, ‘one could create a society that would refuse art, the Russians got close. It’s not funny, after all, but it’s something that can be considered.’ For the narrator ‘Josephine’s road … must go downhill’, she will be ‘forgotten’, while the ‘authoritatively sovereign’ people ‘continue on their way’.

Prolonging our interpretation, we could affirm that the refusal of the people/class to integrate these new aesthetic practices and their new economic and political conditions in turn leads at first to the decline and then to the disappearance of the people/class.

To conclude: there is no politics of art as such, just as, moreover, there is no politics of politics as such. The transformations of aesthetic, political and economic practices are the elements of a single assemblage traversed by a single problem, of which work, art and politics constitute the different facets or viewpoints. A politics capable of confronting the capitalist government and management of differences implies not only a strategy that articulates political revolution with the revolution of the sensible, the macro with the micro, but also a politics transversal to the separate orders of the economic, the political, the social and the cultural artistic – a politics whose outlines are sketched in Kafka’s story.

Translated by Alberto ToscanoNotes

1. ^ Michel Foucault, ‘La sécurité et l’état’, in Dits et écrits, vol. 2, Gallimard, Paris, 2001, p. 386.

2. ^ Félix Guattari, Chimère 28, p. 18.

3. ^ Jacques Rancière, Le partage du sensible: Esthétique et politique, Le Fabrique-Éditions, Paris, 2000; translated by Gabriel Rockhill as The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, Continuum, London and New York, 2004.

4. ^ Jacques Rancière, Malaise dans l’esthétique, Galilée,

Paris, 2004.

5. ^ All Duchamp quotations are from Bernard Marcadé, Marcel Duchamp, la vie à crédit, Flammarion, Paris, 2007.

6. ^ All quotations are taken from Franz Kafka, ‘Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse Folk’, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir, in The Complete Stories, Schocken Books, New York, 1971, pp. 360–76.