Friday, March 20, 2009

Constituent Moments

Tom Dumm (what a great name for a philosopher) in conversation with Jill Stauffer in The Believer; got me extrapolatin' on their conversation from one of democracy in America to one of photography as society-builder. A stretch perhaps, but personally, that's what keeps me going with this dang craft...preventing a personal inverted totalitarianism.

Dumm: I worry that we don’t currently have a democracy in the United States. Instead we have what [political philosopher] Sheldon Wolin has recently labeled a sort of inverted totalitarianism.

BLVR: So, rather than being isolated because we have no public realm, as in totalitarianism, we have public space in which politics is replaced by consumerism—which doesn’t build social relationships—or in which political speech is discouraged or censured, as it has been post-9/11.

Dumm: Right. To my way of thinking, if we are to have a democracy, we must have the spirit of what Whitman was driving at when he spoke of a literature of many and one. The continued existence of such a literature might encourage the pursuit of what the French thinker Rancière has called “constituent moments,” that is, moments of public articulation which illustrate who we as a people are and can be, and that aren’t managed by corporate power or state force, but which bubble from unbidden spaces of our culture.

BLVR: By tapping into the power that results from people coming together, we avoid the social isolation that pushes us toward what has the feel of totalitarianism.

Dumm: Yes. Such moments were last seen in this country, imperfectly, I think, in the 1960s and early 1970s. At another level, however, these events may only be symptoms of a deeper problem in the devolution of our democracy. Worldwide, the twentieth century has seen the rise of extraordinary concentrations of economic and political power—evoking the people as the source of power while simultaneously privatizing its most meaningful exercise. Democracy always seems to be at least slightly elusive under such conditions.

Full Interview