Thinking with economimesis and dissensus

In my previous post I discussed Rancière’s essay “Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?” and I wondered if a dissensual relationship is an economic relationship in that it seems to describe the relationship shared between the employer and employee, a yoking together of mutual dependence and inherent conflict.

From this I launched into an awkward etymological investigation and teasing-out of the term oikonomia.

But now I’ve been reading some more and come across two more interesting citations for thinking through dissensus and relational aesthetics:

  1. Derrida’s essay “Economimesis
  2. J.R. Lucas’ brief investigation of the term ισονομια (which eventually comes into English in circa 16th century, via Bolognese legal scholars as “isonomy.”

I continue to think that it is important to do this investigation on νόμος with relational aesthetics because as a guiding idea for trying to understand artworks from a particular group in a particular time period is too limiting for the obligations that living in the world has us all be complicit with.

So what kind of νόμος (nomos) are we dealing with in the economics relationship of dissensus? It is clearly not one of equals in so far as being equally represented. Rancière’s dissensual actions are those that make visible what has been occluded. Rather than Althusser’s police man that interpellates us with his call, “Hey you!” Rancière argues that the police are telling us to “Move along, nothing to see here…” (a distinction I came across in Davide Panagia’s “The Improper Event: On Jacque Rancière’s Mannerism”).

Lucas puts forward an economic hypothesis for ισονομία (isonomia) suggesting that during the colonial phase of Ancient Greece it would have been necessary to codify how lands were going to be divvied-up. Prior to the colonial phase, local customs would have been observed in local areas (this distinction is made by Heraclitus in B114:

“ξὺν νόῳ λέγοντας ἰσχυρὶζεσθαι χρὴ τῷ πὰντων, ὂκωσπερ νόμῳ πόλις, καὶ πολὺ ἰσχυροτέρως. τρέφονται γὰρ πάντες οἰ ἁνθρώπειοι νόμοι ὑπὸ ἑνὸς τοῦ θεἱον. κρατεῖ γὰρ τοσοῦτον ὁκόσον ἑθέλει καὶ ἑξαρκεῖ καὶ περιγίνεται.

Men must speak with noos and base their strength on what is common to all just as does a city in its laws and much more firmly. For all human laws are nurtured under the one divine law; for it rules as far as it wishes and suffices.”

During the Greek colonization these mores could not be reliably enacted among a heterogeneous group of colonials as they would, potentially, be from different villages and cities.

We should note that Heraclitus in the above referenced is also setting up the equation that it is through a man’s ability to speak reasonably that he is able to establish a common good (see “Daimon as a Force Shaping Ethos in Heraclitus” Shirley Darcus 1974). I mention this because John Dewey is perhaps drawing on Heraclitus when he states that, “There is more than a verbal tie between the words common, community, and communication. Men live in a community in virtue of the things they have in common; and communication is the way in which they come to possess things in common.”

From Thucydides we read Athenagoras of Syracuse debating with Hermocrates that the decision to prepare for war with Athens is trickery and not to be trusted by the oligarchy or the hubris of the young. It’s an interesting passage as we think about isonomia because it is employed in a manner that suggests that those who have land should also have the voice to speak.

ἀλλὰ δὴ μὴ μετὰ πολλῶν ἰσονομεῖσθαι; καὶ πῶς δίκαιον τοὺς αὐτοὺς μὴ τῶν αὐτῶν ἀξιοῦσθαι;
But how can it be right that citizens of the same state should be held unworthy of the same privileges? (6.38.5)
βουλεῦσαι δ᾽ ἂν βέλτιστα τοὺς ξυνετούς, κρῖναι δ᾽ ἂν ἀκούσαντας ἄριστα τοὺς πολλούς, καὶ ταῦτα ὁμοίως καὶ κατὰ μέρη καὶ ξύμπαντα ἐν δημοκρατίᾳ ἰσομοιρεῖν
none can hear and decide so well as the many; and that all these talents, severally and collectively, have their just place in a democracy. (6.39.1)

Isonomia as equal rights hinges on the understanding that νόμος (mores, customs) cannot do the heavy lifting that can be done with φύσει (laws). The equality possible with isonomia is always contextualized at the local and so does not satisfy the requirements of φύσει since isonomy would always be context specific. If it’s true, as Hannah Arendt posits in “On Revolution” that the Ancient Greeks understood freedom as only possible when in the company of one’s peers, then should we understand isonomia as line drawing? Although we might hear in the term isonomia something like equal rights, what we instead have here is the distinction being made between whose voices are equally allowed to be heard (isegoria) in the agora and those who will have to endure the decisions of these superiors.


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