by JACQUES RANCIÈRE
The link between artistic practice and its apparent outside, i.e. work, « essential to the hypothesis o f a ‘factory o f the sensible. How do you yourself conceive o f such a link (exclusion, distinction, indifference...)? Is it possible to speak of ‘human activity’ in general and include artistic practices within it y or are these exceptions when com pared to other practices?
The first possible meaning of the notion of a ‘factory of the sensible’ is the formation of a shared sensible world, a common habitat, by the weaving together of a plurality of human activities. However, the idea of a ‘distribution of the sensible’ implies something more. A ‘common’ world is never simply an ethos, a shared abode, that results from the sedimentation of a certain number of intertwined acts. It is always a polemical distribution of modes of being and ‘occupations’ in a space of possibilities. It is from this perspective that it is possible to raise the question of the relationship between the ‘ordinariness’ of work and artistic ‘exceptionality’. Here again referencing Plato can help lay down the terms of the problem. In the third book of the Republic, the mimetician is no longer condemned simply for the falsity and the pernicious nature of the images he presents, but he is condemned in accordance with a principle of division of labour that was already used to exclude artisans from any shared political space: the mimetician is, by definition, a double being. He does two things at once, whereas the principle of a well-organized community is that each person only does the one thing that they were destined to do by their ‘nature’. In one sense, this statement says everything: the idea of work is not initially the idea of a determined activity, a process of material transformation. It is the idea of a distribution of the sensible: an impossibility of doing ‘something else’ based on an ‘absence of time’. This ‘impossibility’ is part of the incorporated conception of the community. It establishes work as the necessary relegation of the worker to the private space-time of his occupation, his exclusion from participation in what is common to the community. The mimetician brings confusion to  this distribution: he is a man of duplication, a worker who does two things at once. Perhaps the correlate to this principle is the most important thing: the mimetician provides a public stage for the ‘private’ principle of work. He sets up a stage for what is common to the community with what should determine the confinement of each person to his or her place. It is this redistribution of the sensible that constitutes his noxiousness, even more than the danger of simulacra weakening souls. Hence, artistic practice is not the outside of work but its displaced form of visibility. The democratic distribution of the sensible makes the worker into a double being. It removes the artisan from ‘his’ place, the domestic space of work, and gives him ‘time’ to occupy the space of public discussions and take on the identity of a deliberative citizen. The mimetic act of splitting in two, which is at work in theatrical space, consecrates this duality and makes it visible. The exclusion of the mimetician, from the Platonic point of view, goes hand in hand with the formation of a community where work is in ‘its’ place.
The principle of fiction that governs the representative regime of art is a way of stabilizing the artistic exception, of assigning it to a techne, which means two things: the art of imitations is a technique and not a lie. It ceases to be  a simulacrum, but at the same time it ceases to be the displaced visibility of work, as a distribution of the sensible. The imitator is no longer the double being against whom it is necessary to posit the city where each person only does a single thing. The art of imitations is able to inscribe its specific hierarchies and exclusions in the major distribution of the liberal arts and the mechanical arts.
The aesthetic regime of the arts disrupts this apportionment of spaces. It does not simply call into question mimetic division - i.e. the mimetic act of splitting in two - in favour of an immanence of thought in sensible matter. It also calls into question the neutralized status of technë, the idea of technique as the imposition of a form of thought on inert matter. That is to say that it brings to light, once again, the distribution of occupations that upholds the apportionment of domains of activity. This theoretical and political operation is at the heart of Schiller’s On the Aesthetic Education of Man. Behind the Kantian definition of aesthetic judgement as a judgement without concepts - without the submission of the intuitive given to conceptual determination -, Schiller indicates the political distribution that is the matter at stake: the division between those who act and those who are acted upon, between the cultivated classes  that have access to a totalization of lived experience and the uncivilized classes immersed in the parcelling out of work and of sensory experience. Schillers ‘aesthetic’ state, by suspending the opposition between active understanding and passive sensibility, aims at breaking down - with an idea of art - an idea of society based on the opposition between those who think and decide and those who are doomed to material tasks.
In the nineteenth century, this suspension of work’s negative value became the assertion of its positive value as the very form of the shared effectivity of thought and community. This mutation occurred via the transformation of the suspension inherent in the aesthetic state’ into the positive assertion of the aesthetic will. Romanticism declared that the becoming-sensible of all thought and the becoming-thought of all sensible materiality was the very goal of the activity of thought in general. In this way, art once again became a symbol of work. It anticipates the end - the elimination of oppositions - that work is not yet in a position to attain by and for itself. However, it does this insofar as it is a production, the identification of a process of material execution with a community’s self-presentation of its meaning. Production asserts itself  as the principle behind a new distribution of the sensible insofar as it unites, in one and the same concept, terms that are traditionally opposed: the activity of manufacturing and visibility. Manufacturing meant inhabiting the private and lowly space-time of labour for sustenance. Producing unites the act of manufacturing with the act of bringing to light, the act of defining a new relationship between making and seeing. Art anticipates work because it carries out its principle: the transformation of sensible matter into the community’s self-presentation. The texts written by the young Marx that confer upon work the status of the generic essence of mankind were only possible on the basis of German Idealism’s aesthetic programme, i.e. art as the transformation of thought into the sensory experience of the community. It is this initial programme, moreover, that laid the foundation for the thought and practice of the avant-gardes’ in the 1920s: abolish art as a separate activity, put it back to work, that is to say, give it back to life and its activity of working out its own proper meaning.
I do not mean by this that the modern valorization of work is only the result of the new way for thinking about art. On the one hand, the aesthetic mode of thought is much more than a way of thinking about art. It is an idea of thought, linked to an idea of the distribution  of the sensible. On the other hand, it is also necessary to think about the way in which artists’ art found itself defined on the basis of a twofold promotion of work: the economic promotion of work as the name for the fundamental human activity, but also the struggles of the proletariat to bring labour out of the night surrounding it, out of its exclusion from shared visibility and speech. It is necessary to abandon the lazy and absurd schema that contrasts the aesthetic cult of art for art’s sake with the rising power of industrial labour. Art can show signs of being an exclusive activity insofar as it is work. Better informed than the demystifiers of the twentieth century, the critics in Flaubert’s time indicated what links the cult of the sentence to the valorization of work, said to be wordless: the Flaubertian aesthete is a pebble breaker. At the time of the Russian Revolution, art and production would be identified because they came under one and the same principle concerning the redistribution of the sensible, they came under one and the same virtue of action that opens up a form of visibility at the same time as it manufactures objects. The cult of art presupposes a revalorization of the abilities attached to the very idea of work. However, this idea is less the discovery of the essence of human activity than a recomposition of the landscape of the visible, a recomposition of the  relationship between doing, making, being, seeing, and saying. Whatever might be the specific type of economic circuits they lie within, artistic practices are not exceptions’ to other practices. They represent and reconfigure the distribution of these activities.
excerpt from the book: The Politics of Aesthetics(The Distribution of the Sensible), by JACQUES RANCIÈRE