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Ranciere and Wikileaks: Destabilizing the Distribution of the Sensible

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Ranciere and Wikileaks: Destabilizing the Distribution of the Sensible

“The notion of “heterology” refers to the ways in which the meaningful fabric of the sensible is disturbed: a spectacle does not fit within the sensible framework defined by a network of meanings, an expression does not find its place in the system of the visible coordinates where it appears. The dream of a suitable political work of art is in fact the dream of disrupting the relationship between the visible, the sayable and the thinkable without having to use the terms of a message or a vehicle. It is the dream of an art that would transmit meanings in the form of a rupture with the very logic of meaningful situations . As a matter of fact, political art cannot work in the simple form of a meaningful spectacle that would lead to an “awareness” of the state of the world. Suitable political art would have a double effect: the readability of a political signification and a sensible or perceptual shock caused, conversely, by the uncanny, that which resists signification.”

              -Ranciere, The Politics of Aesthetics/The Distribution of the Sensible

Julian Assange describes a "corrosive servility” that has come to infuse present day life and our resignation towards the established political order. As we, as bourgeois bohemians, buy organic at Trader Joe’s, dutifully download Democracy Now episodes and make sure to buy the next Arundhati Roy bestseller as glib gestures of a boutique liberalism in between lining up our recommendations for our MFA applications, a tacit acceptance of our impotence in the face of a repugnant sociopolitical order, verging on involuntary complicity, is so hackneyed so as to not even need to be stated.

Wikileaks fills a gaping chasm where civil society has failed: academia, media, constitutional law, representative democracy, the “intelligentsia,” theory, protest culture. In Ranciere’s terms, it has ruptured or “reconfigured the territory of the visible, the thinkable, and the sayable” in an arena in which the stakes could not be more fraught: the rhetoric, practice, and implementation of American global hegemony. It has whittled away the edifice upon which power takes for granted that it can operate; with comparatively minuscule resources it has found the chink in the armor that can destabilize a whole superstructure of acting, speaking and governing; it has imbued kum bah yah empty clichés and platitudes like “social justice” or a Mr. Smith Goes to Washington-like fantasy of  populist democracy with an exhilaratingly unexpected palpable reality; it has changed  the calculus or "scorecard," destabilized a cynical, ossified well-trodden status quo of how power operates and all the advantages power takes for granted as impregnable.

How can we theorize Wikileaks, transparency activism, and leaking itself as speech? Austin’s notion of the “speech act” is based on the notion of the “illocutionary act” in which language is not merely descriptive, but performs an action within a social context. Given this, is the “action” Wikileaks’ speech  performs a form of civil disobedience? Anarchic guerilla resistance? An art intervention? The Institute of Applied Autonomy describes, “Interventions change the behavior of a system in a way that the system is not prepared to deal with.” Alex Villar says, “An art intervention is a diagonal force that bursts through a power field. It can cause a disruption, shaking up, a rearrangement of plateaus.”

Seeking 3 to 6 collaborators (thinkers, artists, activists, writers, theorists) for a team-conceived series of lectures and classes addressing Wikileaks at the Public School. Please send 200-500 word proposal, thoughts or responses on a Wikileaks class consisting of 10-25 minute presentations, papers, performances, debate arguments, interventions, art, etc.  with a bio (max 200 words) by February 7 to For more information on Naxal Belt see Content of class is still protean. There is a skeleton framework, but can evolve organically according to interest, quality of proposals and guest speakers.

Wikileaks Issues:

Class 1:  The Sham of the CIA-Fuelled 2009 "Iranian Revolution" and the fetishization of Neda:
While 28 civilians were killed in Pakistan by American drones on the same day, instead the American media mourned the airbrushed fluff-concoction “Neda” Agha-Soltan, the eroticized picturesquely bloodied poster pin-up martyr of (the CIA fueled) Iranian “protests”.

Class 2:  1917 Espionage Act: As in Foucault’s “I Pierre Riviere, Having Murdered my Mother, Sister and Brother” competing discourses between law, medicine, and religion vied for the power to define the discourse of criminality in the wake of the social disequilibrium incited by the French Revolution, the 2010 revisiting of the Espionage Act puts the State’s prosecutorial reach, the parameters of the press’s First Amendment rights, and the limits of what is “sayable” and “thinkable” during the War on Terror in an intricate dance for power.

Class 3: The Heterosexual Regime and Wikileaks: as John Walker Lindh, the Northern Californian American teenager who joined Al Quaeda in 2001 was pilloried in the American press for his “sexual confusion” and implied homosexuality, once again the American press is insinuating that Bradley Manning’s putative homosexuality is somehow related to his act of rebellion against US foreign policy,  again imparting the subtext of homosexuality=[as proof of] aberrant=[as proof of] mental instability =[as cause of] unpatriotic=[as cause of] treason.                                          

Class 4: Hacktivism: Lunch Counters, sit-ins, freedom rides, bus boycotts, 1968 seem so distant as to be irretrievable, forever encrusted in the hallowed annals of a hagiography that has left behind no palpable reality other than a relentlessly opportunistic nostalgia to fuel the ambitions of current day mediocrity. Little did we know, for the past 5 years a sleeping giant was in the works, as Hacktivism now takes the world by storm, leaving in the dust and making a mockery of all the fruitless failures of the Left , by comparison showing the traditional Left’s ineffectuality to alter gross assymetries of power.

Class 5: Wiki-Revolution in Iceland: Iceland as haven and safehouse for press freedom; this relatively unencumbered, sparsely populated country serves as an experiment in drastically overhauling legislation to make possible maximum press freedom.

Wikileaks Articles:,8599,2034040,00.html

Congressional Hearings on Espionage Act/Wikileaks:                                                                                               

Wikileaks at “New Models for Investigate Reporting” Panel at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism (pre-Wikileaks fame):

Documentary on Wikileaks:                                                                                                                                


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