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Dissent! Refracted

Histories, Aesthetics and Cultures of Dissent


Ben Dorfman

This collection of essays addresses the ongoing problem of dissent from a broad range of disciplinary perspectives: political philosophy, intellectual history, literary studies, aesthetics, architectural history and conceptualizations of the political past. Taking a global perspective, the volume examines the history of dissent both inside and outside the West, through events in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries both nearer to our own times as well as more distant, and through a range of styles reflecting how contested and pressing the problem of dissent in fact is. Drawing on a range of authors and international problematics, the contributions discuss the multiple ways in which we refract memories of dissent in cultural, historical and aesthetic context. It also discusses the diverse ideas, images and phenomena we use to do so.
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Ben Dorfman - Refractions: Dissent and Memory


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Ben Dorfman

Refractions: Dissent and Memory

By Way of Introduction…

Ours hasn’t been the only good time to write about dissent. The concept has broken like waves across Western history—1215, 1517, 1642, 1776, 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1968, 1989 are all dates incomprehensible without the “no.” In his well-known “Ten Theses on Politics,” e.g., Jacques Rancière (2010, 42) notes dissensus—a related yet distinct concept—as “the manifestation of a distance of the sensible from itself.” Stephen Corcoran (2010, 2), interpreting Rancière’s work, suggests dissensus as not the “institutional overturning” we’d usually expect, but “an activity [cutting] across forms of cultural and identity belonging and hierarchies between discourses and genres.” It’s a mouthful. Still, Corcoran might be right: dissensus brings new identities and ideas into historical space. Dissensus elucidates “new subjects and heterogeneous objects” and their function on the “field of perception” (Corcoran 2010, 2). Whether it’s politically limited monarchs, Protestantism qua religious movement, democracy as the basis for the state, the beginnings or ends of socialism or the development of counter-cultural movements, it’s clear that meaningful social phenomena and groundbreaking ideas have been products of dissent. As Rancière argues, processes of negotiating difference over time bring irruptions into the historical fabric; things take different directions than they otherwise would. I—we— keep the “t” in “dissent,” however, to remove senses of temporality (“dissensus” as opposed to “consensus,” somehow—elongated processes of negotiation). Dissent is a...

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