Saturday, November 24, 2012

(interpretive) authority & democracy

Last week, I struggled with political anonymity's upholding of the universal at the foreclosure of the particular/individual (what sort of ellisions are involved in this grouping? etc). Obviously this is one of the central themes of the course, and, accordingly, this week's readings picked up this thread in a way that spoke directly to my question, in the form of the relation/oscillation between the individual subject and the collective in a revolutionary context. In "The People Want," Elliott Colla points to how Egyptians' repetition of "the people want" as a "discursive scaffolding" in various contexts and to express various demands "might seem incoherent and at times contradictory," getting at the way that the multitude of subjects included under the name of "the people" can spill over. Colla's analytical lens, of the performative nature of these actions and slogans, is useful; he posits that the collective exists only in this performance as such—"it was the collective act of stating that the people wanted something that created the sense there was a social actor by that name." Thus consistency across people/situations might be considered irrelevant; these are "embodied actions taking place in particular situations."  Ranciére also speaks to this in "Does Democracy Mean Something?": democracy "creating cases of universality by playing on the double relation between the universal and the particular" (57). His analysis, where it focuses on such a division in terms of the private and the public, includes questions about the process of defining these areas and who is able to address either. To put it cursorily, this distinction is the same that defines the double binds of democracy--a "displacement" of the "boundary" between "those are regarded as capable of taking care of common problems and the future, and those who are regarded as being unable to think beyond the private and immediate" (58). The thing is, of course, that through democracy's logic, such a distinction is arbitrary.

Ranciére's thinking-through of the differences that can legitimate authority reminded me of Professor Muhanna's lecture, particularly his point about transparency and broader access to technology producing the possibility (and reality) of competing narratives. This is also perhaps a solid example of the problem of democracy as Ranciére frames it—if everyone can produce a narrative, it becomes impossible to pinpoint the "truth," and therefore authority is undermined. However, we also noted the strange ambiguity of the visual recorded "evidence" used to create these narratives—as discourse re: the "objective" investment in photographs and video goes, the image can only state the blunt fact of presence; images need captions (Benjamin) or interpretation in order to communicate meaning. This was particularly salient in the clip of Nasrallah using images to prove that Israel was behind Hariri's assassination. The images and diagrams shown where completely illegible to me, and thus I depended on the narration and analysis in order to make any sense of them (and this experience, I think, is common on regular TV news, anyway, where infographics, etc code objectivity where there really isn't any). These "objective" images need a subjective interpretation, and, as evidenced by the fact that in this particular case the diagrams were actually not what they were claimed to be, narratives still rely completely on whoever has the authority/ability to narrate them. 

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