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am grateful to my colleagues for taking the time to respond to Space, Politics, and Aesthetics. Their supportive comments are encouraging, and criticisms testing. Their more critical comments suggest that there are a few issues that I should have explained more clearly in the book. I will, therefore, take this opportunity to clarify better what I tried to do in the book, focusing on the following themes: focus and scope of the book, its engagement with Kant, its worldly inspirations, and its arguments concerning space and politics. So first the focus and scope of the book. Unlike Badlands of the Republic, my first book, this one was conceived with a specific book series, Edinburgh University Press’s “Taking on the Political.” This series publishes books that are “concise and polemical” with an inter-disciplinary approach. Writing at the intersection of human geography, urban studies, and political theory, I found this series particular appealing, and was lucky enough to get my proposal accepted. It was never my intention to write a survey of aesthetic theory, which would not fit within this series, and this is clearly stated in the book. The book is not only not a survey of different aesthetic theories, it is not even a book about aesthetic theory as such. It is an extension of my attempt to think about the relationship between space and politics by focusing on three political thinkers whom I felt made extensive use of spatial concepts in their theorizations. This eventually led me to engage with Kant, not because I am espousing a Kantian worldview, but because Kant’s aesthetic theory was a major source of inspiration for all three. Without first understanding what Kant had to say about aesthetics, I felt it would not be possible to understand these thinkers’ take on the political.
This brings me to my engagement with Kant. The book is not written to endorse a Kantian perspective or to shake the Kantian legacy. As I noted, my aim is to understand the Kantian legacies that inform the political conceptualization of these thinkers. Claiming that the book is Kantian in its orientation is a gross misrepresentation. I clearly distinguish my approach from a strictly Kantian one in the opening pages of the book. In the conclusion, with help from Shapiro, I point to the limits, indeed perils, of Kant’s thinking, namely, the impossibility of a coherent and universal locus from which the world of phenomena is organized. What we have, rather, is multiple ways or perceiving, relating to, and making sense of the world, something that unsettles attempts to organize it in particular ways, which is the politically promising element.
My departure from a strictly Kantian interpretation is also evident in the final chapter on the sublime element in politics. I evoke here the image of the sublime not in order to espouse the kind of experience that Kant wrote about. Rather, I focus on its aesthetic aspects, on how the sublime element disrupts established orders of representation, and thus argue for the non-exhaustiveness of political subjects, one of the central arguments of the book as some of the reviewers noted.
The worldly inspirations that moved me in writing this book were the illegalization of immigrants and urban uprisings, both of which I interpreted as denials of equality and political capacity. Dogs and plants are mentioned by one of the reviewers—not all animals, but dogs specifically; not a specific plant, but plants in general. I find this curious. Are we all supposed to evoke dogs when we depart from our worldly experiences to think about equality and politics? Wouldn’t this look like something out of Stuff White People Like? Even the eleven-year old Marley Dias was able to understand that dogs are not the quintessential reference for the worldly experience of all people. Is this where we end up when we start with ontology? Spooky.
Not just spooky, but also quite limited in imagination. This reminds me of a cartoon from the 1980s. A fish approaches a sponge, and asks what it would choose if it could be anything in the world. The sponge’s surprise is such that it first checks if it really could choose anything. Having received confirmation, it thinks for a while and says “I guess I’d have to go with a barnacle.” So here is a sponge in the sea, all the possibilities of worldly existence open to it to choose from, and in its wildest imagination it chooses to become an arthropod. If we are to raise the issue of non-human politics, why start and stop at dogs? The book is clear in this aspect. Nancy’s non-anthropocentric approach and its potential for thinking non-human politics for all beings—not just dogs—is clearly recognized, something that Arendt and Rancière’s theories of politics do not allow.
Space is the central theme in the book, and this is why I decided to focus on these three thinkers, who make extensive use of spatial terms in their conceptualization. The reason I engage with them is not that they develop exciting theories of space (they certainly don’t), but because space and some form of spatialization is central to their conceptualization of politics. What do we learn about the relationship between space and politics through the writings of thinkers who are not writing about the political significance of space as such, but who make space central to their political thinking? Why does space have such a strong appeal for their theorizations? These were the questions that oriented me to these thinkers, not their spatial theorizations.
Arendt, Ranciere, and Nancy are not at all writing about “the political significance of space,” as one reviewer put it, and I clearly state this early on in the book. But some form of generative spatial rupture in the established order of things, creating new relations and meanings, is central to their politics. And it is through space that they account for the specificity of politics. Their emphasis on politics as some form of spatialization establishes politics as different and distinct from already consolidated orders, while recognizing that politics is neither unrelated to nor immune from them. This distinction is important because the consolidated spaces and routinized practices of established institutions do not—and cannot—exhaust all political possibilities, which connects to my premise about the non-exhaustiveness of political subjects. Politics is more than what the established institutions choose to privilege or recognize, or can accommodate. It exceeds established spaces, routinized practices, and procedures, but it does not occur ex nihilo, and it needs, as Arendt in particular recognized, the security and stability granted by them.
I am not sure what "functionalist" space means, as mentioned in one of the responses, but I don’t think that these thinkers work with a static understanding of space. As noted above, resisting to given spatial orders and the opening up of new spaces is central to their political conceptualization. Among the three, I find Rancière’s more appealing, as noted by the reviewers, but not because he offers a deliberate spatial theorization. He does, however, problematize the form space takes by defining established spatial (and temporal) orders as sources of political wrong, which I found to be lacking from Arendt and Nancy’s conceptualizations.
The tensions and conflicts in the consolidation and disruption of orders is explicitly recognised in the book: ‘The distribution of the sensible is a contingent ordering of forms that structure common experience, marked by tension and conflict. “A distribution of the sensible,” writes Rancière, “is always a state of forces [état des forces]”’ (page 35). Power is not a central notion in this conceptualisation of politics, but it is not neglected either, and the reasons for this are clearly articulated (pages 100-101). As noted by some of the reviewers, there is a generative tension between space as a “manifestation of conflictual differences” and a foregrounding political capacity to open up new spaces.
Although some reviewers readily put forward distinctions between metaphor/reality, spatial/temporal, I deliberately resisted making such neat distinctions and establishing hierarchies between them. If spatialization is one way for us to make sense of the world and enter into relation with it, then a neat distinction between metaphor and reality is rendered problematic. Asserting that event and rupture are temporal concepts seems to me one-sided and not altogether useful (which was why I was critical of Kristin Ross’ take on Rancière). As the account here suggests, they are as much spatial and as they are temporal, and unnecessarily polarizing them does not, it seems to me, enrich thinking about why and how established orders—both spatial and temporal—can be sources of political wrongs and political subjectifications.
The book’s central argument about politics is that “politics is about forms of perceiving the world and modes of relating to it. How this world is constructed, disclosed and disrupted are matters of politics” (page 1). This is not a prescription to distinguish what is “properly” political, a futile and unhelpful attempt, in my view. Rather, this argument draws attention to the making and unmaking of worlds, the processes and dynamics at work in the consolidation, apprehension, and disruption of spatial and temporal orders. As the reviewers observed, disruption here is not for its own sake, but to address political wrongs and denials of equality generated by the workings of established orders.
I agree with the reviewers that following from this central argument, there are several paths that could have been explored. The book points to some of those, offering tools and approaches, but without necessarily developing them through detailed empirical examples. The reviewers propose wonderful ways to take these further, for example by exploring visualities, histories of solidarity, political trajectories, and by considering more durable forms of social organization in the wake of disruption. These tools and approaches now help me in shaping my current project on urban rage, and I hope others will find them inspiring for their work as well.