Politics As Rupture
“Death is the only reality we’ve got left in our nicey-nicey-clean-ice-cream-TV society so we’d better worship it. S & M sex. Punk rock. Don’t you know, you can step into the snow, the raging ocean and the freezing snow, you can step into danger . . . anytime you please . . . step into me . . .”(Ackers 1978: 94)
currently writes her master thesis on the notion of subjectivity in the thinking of Jacques Rancière at the department of political theory at the University of Vienna. She is part of the magazine politix.
With the current illusion of agency comes the death of politics.
In our mainstream conception of agency and emancipation, we have forgotten what it means to be political. We have forgotten that, unlike Merkel and Thatcher would have us believe, alternatives exist; that there is a need to imagine something ‘beyond’ the status quo. Subversive art, such as the writings of Kathy Acker, which are often based at the fringe of hegemonic culture, can bring us to reconnect with this moment of imagination. Thus, we go beyond what is comfortable and known and create spaces for formerly invisible/impossible modes of being.
When it comes to defining what politics means, we are stuck between two mainstream narratives. At one end, the discourse sees a world after politics, where everything already appears to be understood, quantified and archived, and all that’s left to do is maintenance. On the other end, there is a discourse defined by an inflationary use of the term; every form of expression, identity and art, everything from our Instagram accounts to our choice of plant milk is labelled as political. This not only blurs the term’s contours and robs it of its vigorousness. But it makes genuine politics impossible by anticipating its form and results – there is no going beyond. What remains in both cases is a sense of apathy. We are stuck in a fight against windmills; against a status quo of structures and ideas that seem all-encompassing.
But there is another way to think politics. Philosophers such as Jacques Rancière and Michel Pêcheux, and feminist theorists like Clare Hemmings and Sarah Ahmed, each of them within their own terminology, have come to see politics as a rupture with the status quo, rather than a simple reaction to it. Put simply, politics means breaking with consistency. It means breaking with what is known and considered sensical within the order of the world and its workings. Instead of creating an antithesis, politics is the act of going beyond and establishing new forms of subjectivity and thus agency.
“[Politics consists] in making what was unseen visible; in getting what was only audible as noise to be heard as speech; in demonstrating to be a feeling of shared 'good' or 'evil' what had appeared merely as an expression of pleasure or pain." (Ranciere 2001)
The process of politics is inextricably connected with dissonance. It depends on the subjective perception that something is ‘off’ between how one personally sees the world - and the place assigned to her/him within it. It springs from a rupture between an ontological ‘ought to’ and an epistemological ‘is’: When women realize their equal rights to vote while still being excluded from the ballots. When minorities realize their suppression is not based on natural differences but is (re-)produced through structural inequalities and identity politics. Those moments of dissonance, accompanied by affects like rage, anger or wonder and the desire for change are foundational for imagining a ‘beyond’ the current order of things. But how do we change perception? Rupture.
Feminist literature as form of confrontation: Kathy Ackers
One way of bringing the friction between ‘is’ and ‘ought’ to the surface is the work of Kathy Ackers, or better, what it ‘does’ to the reader; Acker dares to rewrite the concepts of female pain and suffering and ultimately reclaims power over meaning (agency) from the fringes of society.
Her 1978 novel Blood and Guts in High School, a masterpiece of “postmodern pastiche” , is a critique on absolutist notions of consistency. Besides not knowing what comes next (and what it will ‘do’ to you), the texts’ “feminist aesthetic of shock”  constantly borders on the taboo and potentially goes beyond what is comfortable for one to read/see/think. Ackers’ work is a collection of voids, silences and dead-ends: You get lost. You get angry. You become bored. Annoyed. ‘You’ becomes ‘I’, the ‘Reader’ becomes ‘Janey’. Fiction becomes biography, which becomes poetry. Meanings of pain, pleasure, violence and appropriation are in a constant state of flux. Acker ‘rapes’ the reader: Her/his experience is violent and ultimately dissonant. But exactly this does the job.
Through a constant demand for interpretation and confrontation, the reader as subject is put in a privileged position. Phrased differently, “the question of what’s in the work of art (a question about the object) is replaced by the question of what the reader sees (a question about the subject)” . Acker undermines common (heteronormative) notions of free will, agency and consent and potentially leads the subject-reader to question her/his own position within these often naturalized modes of being and to imagine a world beyond the known and comfortable.
This is rupture made sensible: In experiencing and individually feeling dissonance through art, there is a moment of suspense. Even in a world without alternatives, new forms of language and subjectivity become expressible. We might get to glimpse a world differently. To paraphrase Acker: It is a step into danger. And that, ultimately, is agency. Politics.
 Muth 2012:89 Ioanes 2016: 176 Muth 2012:98
- Acker, Kathy. 1978. Blood and Guts in High School. New York: Grove Press.- Ahmed, Sara. 2014. „Feminist Attachments.“ In The Cultural Politics of Emotion, 169-190. Edinburgh University Press.- Hemmings, Clare. 2012. „Affective Solidarity: Feminist reflexivity and political transformation.“ Feminist Theory, 147-161.- Ioanes, Anna. 2016. „Schock and Consent in a Feminist Avant-Garde: Kathleen Hanna Reads Kathy Acker.“ Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 175-197.- Pêcheux, Michel. 1984. zu rebellieren und zu denken wagen! ideologien, widerstände, klassenkampf; in: kultuRRevolution,. 5, 59-65 and 6, 63-66.- Rancière, Jaques. 2001. Ten Theses on Politics. Theory & Event, 5(3).