Heidegger and Ranciere

At one level, Heidegger and Ranciere are opposed on the relationship between art and aesthetics. Heidegger criticises aesthetics as a form of enframing, privileging instead a notion of art as a sphere of ontological truth. Ranciere, on the other hand, argues that art and aesthetics are closely intertwined, emerging together historically and in a mutually reinforcing manner.

Heidegger conceives art in terms of a capacity to summon the interplay of appearance and disappearance that shapes the ontological field of human experience. To employ his terms, art signals towards the irreducible multiplicity of ‘earth’ within the context of manifesting a particular, brightly appearing ‘world’. Art mediates between being and non-being, revealing and concealing in a way that imperceptibly provides a ground for life. This is in the sense that a Greek temple (Heidegger’s example) provided for the ancient Greeks a lived framework for their particular mode of existence and worldview, without every becoming simply, in the modern manner, an object for aesthetic delectation motivating a subjective ‘aesthetic’ response. Within this context, Heidegger’s notion of art may be regarded either as an ontological conception of art (in which philosophical aesthetics is banished) or as an ontologically conceived philosophical aesthetics (in which art is regarded as a form of truth). Heidegger argues for the former view, suggesting that philosophical aesthetics is aligned with the contemporary problem of an art reduced through aesthetics to a role of reinforcing the subject/object dichotomy and the culture of enframing. In his view aesthetics renders art so that the ‘earthly’ character of being loses all sense of intrinsic value and becomes simply a resource for exploitation and nihilistic optimisation. However, as Hammermeister argues, Heidegger ignores that his non-aesthetic conception of art is not altogether alien to the tradition of philosophical aesthetics. Within German Romantic aesthetics, chiefly in the work of Schelling, there is a strong conception of art as form of ontological truth, as a means of manifesting the Absolute as radical alterity, as an unconsciousness more basic and fundamental than the machinations of logical reason. In this sense, the tradition of aesthetics informs the apparently post-aesthetic identity of art.

I have described Ranciere’s conception of aesthetics elsewhere. Here I simply want to note some points of surprising alignment between Heidegger and Ranciere’s apparently very different conceptions. At first glance only differences are evident. Heidegger devalues aesthetics, while Ranciere values it. Heidegger emphasises an ontological conception of art, whereas Ranciere stresses its political character. Yet, there are also some vital points of agreement. Key here is their shared sense of art’s capacity to shape experiential affordances, to provide the conditions of a particular historical world and mode of being. Heidegger describes the world establishing power of the Ancient Greek temple. Ranciere speaks of ‘the distribution of the sensible’, which shapes the possibility for particular forms of being and political existence. Linked to this is also their shared sense of the importance of art for enabling fields of potential action. Heidegger stresses an ontological vision – art working to negotiate a relation between ‘earth’ and ‘world’. Ranciere stresses the disruptive character of art, its capacity to renew the experiential landscape and thus project, at a slight distance, new modes of political being. But even here there is a sense of deep agreement. Art appears in both as a commingled space of renewal and continuity, disruption and manifestation, un-concealing and concealing, redistribution and distribution. There is an intimate play of flux and stasis in each conception. And both conceptions lend art a privileged place as a means of vital carnivalesque cultural being.

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