What is global? What is political? These are two questions the curators of Documenta X thought we should ask, and thought should be asked in relation to one another. Enlisted as part of this endeavor (both in an interview in Documenta X: The Book and as a speaker in the “100 Guests, 100 Days” events) was Etienne Balibar, distinguished professor of philosophy at Paris-X University, who first became known in the mid ’60s through his collaborative efforts with Louis Althusser.
In his consideration of these questions occasioned by the works on view at Documenta, Balibar makes several observations. First there is a notion of temps mort, or “dead time,” a historical moment of the sort in which new, imperceptible, unpredictable things may happen (rather like the time that Benjamin Buchloh, in his contribution to Documenta X: The Book, sees in James Coleman’s work but finds lacking in Jeff Wall’s photographic return to “the painting of modern life”). For Balibar this temps mort is a time of “translation” that cuts across the unities of culture and asks us to complicate the notion of “fictive ethnicity” through which the very idea of a culture has been tied to the nation-state. Through this rethinking comes a first connection to the global: we need to rethink the universal-particular opposition, and in place of cultural differences look at the violence of irreconcilable ways of “civilizing.” Such are the issues Balibar thinks are presented, for example, by the “new ethnicities” that have grown up in our “global cities.”
But there is also another sense of “global,” another kind of globalization discourse. It is not an anthropological discourse about identity and culture, but one of corporations, governments, and journalists. It concerns not only circulation (e.g., “glocal” marketing strategies) but also production—work and work space and the sorts of skills required to “compete” (e.g., Silicon Alley). In this discourse “globalization” has come to refer to a model of development or modernization, which one must adopt on pain of losing out, and which, politically speaking, translates as a (new) crisis in the management of the welfare state—or in what Balibar prefers to call the “national social state.” For a basic concern in his work has been to rethink politics after the notion of the national social state. He thinks we need to reconceive “citizenship” (which has traditionally been defined in terms of the nation-state) and “the cosmopolitan” (which, e.g., in its Kantian mode stays within the national horizon), as well as the geopolitical borders that the nation-state has drawn at once within and without us, overdetermined first by colonialism and then by cold war. Thus, one might speak today of an “omnipolitan” condition that cuts across the old European world of “the great nations,” a condition that, along with new patterns of immigration and human-rights politics, calls for new styles of thinking and intervention.
Between the anthropological and corporativist senses of “the global,” there are no doubt many connections, some of which have begun to surface in art and art talk. For example, there is the biotechnopia often promoted by enthusiasts of the new technologies and typified by Wired which combines with-it theories of complexity and free-market corporativism in a “digital revolution.” Balibar takes another tack. In both the culturalist and economist debates, his problem is to conceive the political in new ways. He thinks we need to invent a new kind of politics, different from (though linked to) the politics of “enlightenment” and of “social transformation”; the questions of “civility” and “civilization” that he sees in the violence and the translation in the work at Documenta X form part of his attempt to articulate this politics. The global and the political thus come to be connected in a particular way. It is a matter of a reinvention of politics—one might say, of the time of that reinvention.
—John Rajchman


A GOAL OF THIS YEAR’S installment of Documenta, alongside the attempt to cast a “retrospective” glance over twenty years of contemporary art, was to outline some reflections on art’s relationship with the processes referred to today as “globalization”: not just the impulses and constraints of the market, but also the more or less conflictual encounters between cultures and symbolic systems of communication. When I was interviewed by Catherine David and Jean-François Chevrier before the exhibition opened, I tried to pose the question of a “civilization of globalization,” conceived as a process and possibility rather than as a statement of our current condition. Only such a problematic, it seems to me, allows one to lay the groundwork for the “new universalism” summoned by the breakdown of and crisis in traditional identities.

I will not rely exclusively on theoretical arguments

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