Abstract

By attending to art and writing that interrogates US citizenship and state violence, this essay foregrounds the structural antagonism between democracy as an instituted form of rule, which depends on inegalitarian hierarchies, and democracy’s egalitarian drive. It argues that the realization of democracy as a form of governance (consensus democracy) occurs by substituting the rule of a part for the whole, which violently forces democracy’s constitutive figures to conform to and negotiate its organizing logics. Nari Ward’s We the People (2011) allegorizes this inherent tension in democracy as one between synecdoche and metonymy. The article then theorizes a new form of democratic politics through an engagement with Jacques Rancière before turning to Ocean Vuong’s “Notebook Fragments” (2016) and “Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds” (2016) as articulations of a democratic aesthetics constituted by figures—including metonymy, irony, and catachresis—that interrupt the substitutions of synecdoche. Vuong’s poetry foregrounds the violence enacted by state fantasies and insists on the democratic equality disavowed by consensus democracy. Together, Ward and Vuong locate the political force of aesthetics not in reassuring visions of inclusion but in operations that disturb and resist any form of hierarchy.

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