Friday, May 25, 2007

"[W]e need many different prostheses..."

"Instead of the radiant citizen standing up and speaking his mind by using his solid common sense, as in Rockwell's famous painting 'Freedom of Speech', should we not look for an eloquence much more indirect, distorted, inconclusive? In this show, we want to tackle the question of politics from the point of view of our own weaknesses instead of projecting them first onto the politicians themselves. We could say that the blind lead the blind, the deaf speak eloquently to the deaf, the crippled are leading marches of dwarfs, or rather, to avoid those biased words, let's say that we are all politically-challenged. How would it look if we were chanting this more radical and surely more realistic slogan: 'Handicapped persons of all nations, unite!'?


If we are all handicapped, or rather politically-challenged, we need many different prostheses. Each object exhibited in the show and commented in the catalogue is such a crutch. We promise nothing more grandiose than a store of aids for the invalids who have been repatriated from the political frontlines —and haven't we all been badly mauled in recent years? Politics might be better taken as a branch of disability studies."

- Bruno Latour, From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik (Introduction to Making Things Public)

(Late 16th century prosthetics by Ambroise Paré, via BibliOdyssey)

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This 'Political Disability', for me, mirrors Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron"


Anonymous anne said...

Ha. I can't believe I forgot about the Handicapper General! So then, does political disability reduce us to the lowest common denominator?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

To claim political-disability or disability at all is a matter of debate. The use of the term disability versus capability creates a distinction, not a grey. Either term would not truly be useful. Does political disability reduce us to the lowest common denominator? Only if we let it. Harrison could take his weight bags off, he got shot because of it, but that's a whole other story (well not really).


Anonymous anne said...

I wonder if the language issue is less relevant in France than it is in North America? I mean, I don't imagine many political activists around here being too pleased with Latour's choice of words ;) But isn't his point really that what we have now, or how we are now, is somehow inadequate for the task - and that one way out is to acknowledge our disabilities and start to turn them into capabilities, if only through prosthetics. I have to say that image seems much more pragmatic today than that nostalgic-even-when-it-was-made Norman Rockwell painting!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

But the questions should not solely be on the person's involved, the task should be taken into account aswell. Is it the person who cannot complete the task, or is it a task which cannot be completed? If the world were ruled by horses then everything would be operated by hoof, so my foggy recollection of some saying goes. Perhaps it is not the person who is 'disabled' but the task which they are charged with being 'too able'. I think I just wrote a koan.


Anonymous anne said...

Is it the person who cannot complete the task, or is it a task which cannot be completed?

Interesting question. In the 1920s Lippmann wrote that the 'problem' with the public was that the issues were too complex, too unruly, for then-current expectations of citizenship. And he argued that part of the reason was because members of the public lacked the equipment (in its broadest sense) for the tasks at hand.

So why maintain a division between person and task? Or subject and object?

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is often times that people do in fact 'become' their task, they become self-fulfilling prophecies, and those tasks which cannot be completed are not always incomplete because a lack, but rather because the task was misdirected in the first instance. At least that's what Douglas Adams has taught me.


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