by JACQUES RANCIÈRE
You refer to the idea of fiction as essentially belonging to the domain of empirical reality. How exactly is this to be understood? What are the connections between the History we are ‘involved’ in and the stories told (or deconstructed) by the narrative arts? And how are we to make sense of the fact that poetic or literary locutions ‘take shape\ have real effects, rather than being reflections of the real? Are the concepts of 'political bodies’ or a ‘communal body more than metaphors? Does this reflection involve a redefinition of utopia?
There are two problems here that certain people confuse in order to construct the phantom of a historical reality that would solely be made up of ‘fictions’. The first problem concerns the relationship between history and historicity, that is to say the relationship of the historical agent to the speaking being. The second problem concerns the idea of fiction and the relationship between fictional rationality and the modes of explanation used for historical and social reality, the relationship between the logic of fiction and the logic of facts.
It is preferable to begin with the second problem, the ‘actuality’ of fiction analysed by the text you refer to.15 This actuality itself raises a twofold question: the general question of fiction’s rationality, i.e. the distinction between fiction and falsity, and the question of the distinction - or the indistinction - between the modes of intelligibility specific to the construction of stories and the modes of intelligibility used for understanding historical phenomena. Let’s start from the beginning. The specificity of the representative regime of the arts is characterized by the separation between the idea of fiction and that of lies. It is this regime that confers autonomy on the arts’ various forms in relationship to the economy of communal occupations and the countereconomy of simulacra specific to the ethical regime of images. This is what is essentially at stake in Aristotle’s Poetics, which safeguards the forms of poetic mimesis from the Platonic suspicion concerning what images consist of and their end or purpose. The Poetics declares that the images consist of and their end or purpose. The Poetics declares that the arrangement of a poem’s actions is not equivalent to the fabrication of a simulacrum. It is a play of knowledge that is carried out in a determined space-time. To pretend is not to put forth illusions but, to elaborate intelligible structures. Poetry owes no explanation for the ‘truth’ of what it says because, in its very principle, it is not made up of images or statements, but fictions, that is to say arrangements between actions. The other consequence that Aristotle derives from this is the superiority of poetry, which confers a causal logic on the arrangement of events, over history, condemned to presenting events according to their empirical disorder. In other words - and this is obviously something that historians do not like to examine too closely - the clear division between reality and fiction makes a rational logic of history impossible as well as a science of history.
The aesthetic revolution rearranges the rules of the game by making two things interdependent: the blurring of the borders between the logic of facts and the logic of fictions and the new mode of rationality that characterizes the science of history. By declaring that the principle of poetry is not to be found in fiction but in a certain arrangement of the signs of language, the Romantic Age blurred the dividing line that isolated art from the jurisdiction of statements or images, as well as the dividing line that separated the  logic of facts from the logic of stories. It is not the case, as is sometimes said, that it consecrated the ‘autotelism’ of language, separated from reality. It is the exact opposite. The Romantic Age actually plunged language into the materiality of the traits by which the historical and social world becomes visible to itself, be it in the form of the silent language of things or the coded language of images. Circulation within this landscape of signs defines, moreover, the new fictionality, the new way of telling stories, which is first of all a way of assigning meaning to the ‘empirical’ world of lowly actions and commonplace objects. Fictional arrangement is no longer identified with the Aristotelian causal sequence of actions ‘according to necessity and plausibility’. It is an arrangement of signs. However, this literary arrangement of signs is by no means the solitary self-referentiality of language. It is the identification of modes of fictional construction with means of deciphering the signs inscribed in the general aspect of a place, a group, a wall, an article of clothing, a face. It is the association between, on the one hand, accelerations or decelerations of language, its shuffling of images or sudden changes of tone, all its differences of potential between the insignificant and the overly significant or overly meaningful, and on the other hand, the modalities of a trip through the landscape of significant traits deposited in the topography of spaces, the physiology of social circles, the silent expression of bodies. The ‘fictionality’ specific to the aesthetic age is consequently distributed between two poles: the potential of meaning inherent in everything silent and the proliferation of modes of speech and levels of meaning.
The aesthetic sovereignty of literature does not therefore amount to the reign of fiction. On the contrary, it is a regime in which the logic of descriptive and narrative arrangements in fiction becomes fundamentally indistinct from the arrangements used in the description and interpretation of the phenomena of the social and historical world. When Balzac places his reader before the entwined hieroglyphics on the tottering and heteroclite façade of the house in At the Sign of the Cat and Racket, or has his reader enter an antique dealers shop, with the hero of The Magic Skin, where jumbled up together are objects both profane and sacred, uncivilized and cultured, antique and modern, that each sum up a world, when he makes Cuvier the true poet reconstructing a world from a fossil, he establishes a regime of equivalence between the signs of the new novel and those of the description or  interpretation of the phenomena of a civilization. He forges this new rationality of the obvious and the obscure that goes against the grand Aristotelian arrangements and that would become the new rationality for the history of material life (which stands in opposition to the histories of great names and events).
The Aristotelian dividing line between two ‘stories’ or ‘histories’ - poets’ stories and the history of historians - is thereby revoked, the dividing line that not only separated reality and fiction but also empirical succession and constructed necessity. Aristotle established the superiority of poetry, recounting ‘what could happen’ according to the necessity or plausibility of the poetic arrangement of actions, over history, conceived of as the empirical succession of events, of ‘what happened’. The aesthetic revolution drastically disrupts things: testimony and fiction come under the same regime of meaning. On the one hand, the ‘empirical’ bears the marks of the true in the form of traces and imprints. ‘What happened’ thus comes directly under a regime of truth, a regime that demonstrates the necessity behind what happened. On the other hand, ‘what could happen’ no longer has the autonomous and linear form of the arrangement of actions. The poetic ‘story’ or ‘history’ henceforth links the realism that shows us the poetic traces inscribed directly in reality with the artificialism that assembles complex machines of understanding.
This connection was transferred from literature to the new art of narrative, film, which brought to its highest potential the double resource of the silent imprint that speaks and the montage that calculates the values of truth and the potential for producing meaning. Documentary film, film devoted to the ‘real’, is in this sense capable of greater fictional invention than ‘fiction’ film, readily devoted to a certain stereotype of actions and characters. Chris Marker’s Le Tombeau d A’ lexandre (The Last Bolshevik), the object of the article you refer to, fictionalizes the history of Russia from the time of the czars to the postcommunist period through the destiny of a film-maker, Alexander Medvedkin. Marker does not make him into a fictional character; he does not tell fabricated stories about the USSR. He plays off of the combination of different types of traces (interviews, significant faces, archival documents, extracts from documentary and fictional films, etc.) in order to suggest possibilities for thinking  this story or history. The real must be fictionalized in order to be thought. This proposition should be distinguished from any discourse - positive or negative - according to which everything is ‘narrative’, with alternations between ‘grand’ narratives and ‘minor’ narratives. The notion of ‘narrative’ locks us into oppositions between the real and artifice where both the positivists and the deconstructionists are lost. It is not a matter of claiming that everything is fiction. It is a matter of stating that the fiction of the aesthetic age defined models for connecting the presentation of facts and forms of intelligibility that blurred the border between the logic of facts and the logic of fiction. Moreover, these models were taken up by historians and analysts of social reality. Writing history and writing stories come under the same regime of truth. This has nothing whatsoever to do with a thesis on the reality or unreality of things. On the contrary, it is clear that a model for the fabrication of stories is linked to a certain idea of history as common destiny, with an idea of those who make history’, and that this interpenetration of the logic of facts and the logic of stories is specific to an age when anyone and everyone is considered to be participating in the task of ‘making’ history. Thus, it is not a matter of claiming that  ‘History’ is only made up of stories that we tell ourselves, but simply that the ‘logic of stories’ and the ability to act as historical agents go together. Politics and art, like forms of knowledge, construct ‘fictions’, that is to say material rearrangements of signs and images, relationships between what is seen and what is said, between what is done and what can be done.
It is here that we encounter the other question that you asked, which concerns the relationship between literarity and historicity. Political statements and literary locutions produce effects in reality. They define models of speech or action but also regimes of sensible intensity. They draft maps of the visible, trajectories between the visible and the sayable, relationships between modes of being, modes of saying, and modes of doing and making. They define variations of sensible intensities, perceptions, and the abilities of bodies.18 They thereby take hold of unspecified groups of people, they widen gaps, open up space for deviations, modify the speeds, the trajectories, and the ways in which groups of people adhere to a condition, react to situations, recognize their images. They reconfigure the map of the sensible by interfering with the functionality of gestures and rhythms adapted to the natural cycles of production, reproduction, and submission. Man is a political animal because he is a literary animal who lets himself be diverted from his ‘natural’ purpose by the power of words. This literarity is at once the condition and the effect of the circulation of‘actual’ literary locutions. However, these locutions take hold of bodies and divert them from their end or purpose insofar as they are not bodies in the sense of organisms, but quasi-bodies, blocks of speech circulating without a legitimate father to accompany them toward their authorized addressee. Therefore, they do not produce collective bodies. Instead, they introduce lines of fracture and disincorporation into imaginary collective bodies. This has always been, as is well known, the phobia of those in power and the theoreticians of good government, worried that the circulation of writing would produce ‘disorder in the established system of classification. It was also, in the nineteenth century, the phobia of‘actual5 writers who wrote in order to denounce the literarity that overflows the institution of literature and leads its products astray. It is true that the circulation of these quasi-bodies causes modifications in the sensory perception of what is common to the community, in the relationship  between what is common to language and the sensible distribution of spaces and occupations. They form, in this way, uncertain communities that contribute to the formation of enunciative collectives that call into question the distribution of roles, territories, and languages. In short, they contribute to the formation of political subjects that challenge the given distribution of the sensible. A political collective is not, in actual fact, an organism or a communal body. The channels for political subjectivization are not those of imaginary identification but those of ‘literary’ disincorporation.
I am not sure that the notion of utopia takes this into account. It is a word whose definitional capabilities have been completely devoured by its connotative properties. Sometimes it refers to the mad delusions that lead to totalitarian catastrophe; sometimes it refers, conversely, to the infinite expansion of the field of possibility that resists all forms of totalizing closure. From the point of view that concerns us here, i.e. the point of view of the reconfigurations of the shared sensible order, the word utopia harbours two contradictory meanings. Utopia is, in one respect, the unacceptable, a no-place, the extreme point of a polemical reconfiguration of the sensible, which breaks down the categories that define what is considered to be obvious. However, it is also the configuration of a proper place, a non-polemical distribution of the sensible universe where what one sees, what one says, and what one makes or does are rigorously adapted to one another. Utopias and forms of utopian socialism functioned based on this ambiguity. On the one hand, they dismissed the obvious sensible facts in which the normality of domination is rooted. On the other hand, they proposed a state of affairs where the idea of the community would have its adequate forms of incorporation, a state of affairs that would therefore abolish the dispute concerning the relations of words to things that makes up the heart of politics. In The Nights of Labor, I analysed from this perspective the complex encounter between workers and the engineers of utopia. What the Saint-Simonian engineers proposed was a new, real body for the community where the water and rail routes marked out on the ground would take the place of paper dreams and the illusions of speech. The workers, for their part, did not set practice in contrast with utopia; they conferred upon the latter the characteristic of being ‘unreal’, of being a montage of words and images appropriate for reconfiguring the territory of the visible, the thinkable, and the possible. The ‘fictions’ of art and politics are therefore heterotopias rather than utopias.
excerpt from the book: The Politics of Aesthetics(The Distribution of the Sensible), by JACQUES RANCIÈRE