Anti-Representationalism, John Dewey

Some Unfinished Thoughts on Dewey and Anti-Representation

One of the most interesting things to learn from John Dewey is his anti-representational sentiment. Common to all pragmatist thinking is the idea of association and consequence of actions; that is, for instance in aesthetics, the grasping of a piece of art is never an understanding, an attempt to mirror, but an experiencing, an experimentation.
Moreover, in his political philosophy, Dewey manifest a similar distrust in representation through politics. Publics, for him arising as the (negative) consequence of the acting of others – both humans and non-humans, in a sense – are not to be ‘taken up’ by politics, only to be given a voice later on. It is rather a question of experimenting with not yet known publics. Publics here are the counterpart of issues; new technologies, scientific insights taken outside of the laboratory etc. That is, the complexity of these issues and publics does always go beyond the political grasp and politics, therefore, will not succeed in mirroring, or representing what it grasps of it. Politics, then, will be a question of intervention, an experimental intervention at that. With this, it loses representation and gains performation (sic.) Pragmatism, in this sense, is itself not able to loose ideology; for to claim that there are, in essence, neutral interventions seems strange from a pragmatic stance. That is, a politics, a theory, an experiment always only exist in its consequence and if an intervention were neutral, its consequences would, consequently, be neutral too. Which is, indeed, strange. So the issue then becomes to re-invent politics after representationalism, and on the verge of a performative experimentation. The new sense of ideology, now in its consequences and not in its initial stance remains as an horizon when we want to think along with Dewey in this time. Which also means – and this seems at first rather anti-pragmatist –  to resist the ‘iron rule of practice’ when it comes down to contemporary politics, for practice is not only a beginning, but also a consequence of thought.


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