Intelligence : Oded Zipory

V. Intelligent work as a poetic act

Jacotot clearly indicates the main need for intelligence, which is the need to communicate through translation. He assumes that thought precedes language, and that the latter is rather arbitrary. He also believes that truth, even though it is hard to define or deliver, can definitely be felt. This means that there is no hierarchy between languages and that there is no language that is more correct or more standard than an other. It also means that the rules of language hold no “inner truth.”

Naturally, then, it takes a highly creative effort, to deliver one’s desires and messages to the other and to penetrate into what the other person is saying. Since we cannot simply tell the truth, even when we feel it, our intelligence must extemporize and improvise—remember words, trump up images, metaphors and other words, create phrases, and so on. In other words, intelligence should combine signs poetically, hoping that the attentive listener will interpret them correctly. So if a student says that he does not “understand art,” what he chiefly means is that he cannot “hear” the words spoken by the creator and he does not recognize the signs of the language he is using. By repeatedly speaking about works of art, the student would be able to discover feelings and ideas in these works of art. Even if these are not what the artist intended, the student would still learn how to read art and he now “understands” it.

In order to properly express oneself, one should practice extensively; “genius” artists show us how it should be done. They presuppose the “equality of intelligences,” and believe they have no advantage over their audience in understanding human emotions. Precisely because they are not distinctively superior to their recipients, they must spend all their energy in using their intelligence, so that their feelings, ideas, and words would be understood. First, they have to translate their thoughts into words, drawings or melodies, and then they must make sure that their “translation” is correct enough, so in the following translation done by the recipient, there would as little mistakes as possible.

In art, unlike other types of expression, both the artist and the addressee recognize that not everything can be transmitted in a simple verbal way, so that it is not only the artist who has the opportunity to become a “genius,” but also the reader, viewer or listener. Once the recipient wishes to understand the work of genius and uses his intelligence in the effort to do so, he can feel the equality of intelligences between him and the artist. And that is why “good” art can emancipate.29

The presupposition of equality of intelligences perhaps allows us to dream of a society in which humans are emancipated and equal and in which intelligence is applied for understanding and not for classification. In such a society there would not be any need for laws, institutions, and courts, but such a dream, interesting and exciting as it may be, still leaves us with the need to account for present inequality.

According to Jacotot, when different intelligences are tied together for exchanging information they become “material,” and they are diverted from their independent courses of searching for the truth. By “materialization” of thought, Jacotot and Rancière do not regard it as a simple product of the brain, but rather as a process in which it undergoes a kind of fixation that is caused by language and communication. The free search for truth is not stopped completely, but there is another force at work pulling intelligence towards the “center of the material world.”

In my understanding, this center can be the norm, the law, the consensus or any alleged self-evident truths. In order for an individual to describe to another individual his personal search for the truth, he must also refer to the “center,” that is, the set of norms, rules and premises that enable his words to have any meaning. Because this center is created by inequality in terms of power relations, the fact of being drawn into it marks the manifestations of intelligence with the sign of inequality. Jacotot analyzes the determinism implied by this metaphor in another of his explanations of inequality:

In any given moment there is always reason, distraction, passion, calm, attention, wakefulness, sleep, relaxation, progress—in all directions. Therefore, in a given moment, a corporation, a nation, a species, a type, is at once reasonable and irrational, and the result does not depend at all on the will of the group. Therefore, it is precisely because each man is free that a union of men is not . . . It’s precisely because we are all equal by nature that we must all be unequal by circumstances. Equality remains the only reason for inequality. Society exists only through distinctions, and nature presents only equalities. It is in fact impossible to last for a long time; but even when it is destroyed; it remains the only reasonable explanation for conventional distinctions.30

In other words, a social group or society as a whole does not have and cannot have intelligence in the meaning that Jacotot and Rancière give it. Equality requires a multiplicity of states of consciousness and different paths for seeking truth; but a political decision, a law, or any lesson in school, for that matter, cannot contain this plurality. The origin of the inequality of intelligences is the social need to regulate this multiplicity by discipline and classification; in a word, its origin lies in the fact that society cannot operate except on the basis of inequality. Equality as a normative value or as an imaginary ideal future one must strive for is a futile political idea, exactly because it assumes that society is where equality is realized, when actually it is society that endlessly produces and reproduces the very opposite. An egalitarian political position that aspires to reduce social gaps between individuals despite hierarchic differences in their intellectual abilities is weak, both in practical terms and in explanatory terms, because it regards this difference as a natural given and not as an outcome of the incorporation of individuals.

Since this perception of society as unequal is so deterministic, we must ask ourselves what the value is of the concept that Jacotot and Rancière offer, and how the philosophical question of intellectual capacities is expressed as political. Rancière describes the importance of the concept for him:

It seemed to me that every form of egalitarian politics was confronted by this challenge: to affirm equality as an axiom, as an assumption, and not as a goal. But also to refuse a partition between intellectual equality and social inequality; to believe that even if egalitarian assumptions are alien to social logic and aggregation, they can be affirmed there transgressively, and that politics consists of this very confrontation.31

So what can be done with “equality of intelligences”?

29. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 68-69. See also Jacques Rancière, The Emancipated Spectator (London: Verso, 2009).

30. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 78 and 88.

31. Jacques Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, 3-4.

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