Political Theology has released the first issue of its twenty-fourth volume. Its contents include a special issue entitled “The Political Imaginarium,” which was guest edited by Arthur Bradley and Antonio Cerella. Contributors include Robert A. Yelle, Montserrat Herrero, Valentina Napolitano, Mitchell Dean & Daniel Zamora, as well as the guest editors.
This issue also includes a roundtable on Charles Hirshkind’s The Feeling of History: Islam, Romanticism, and Andalusia, curated by book review editor Jean-Michel Landry, which contains responses from Aaron Frederick Eldridge, Pınar Kemerli, and Political Theology editorial board member, Nadia Fadil.
Introduction: The Power of Representations: Towards a Semiotic Theory of the Imaginary – Antonio Cerella & Arthur Bradley
This article proposes a semiotic theory of social imaginaries. Drawing on the work of Umberto Eco, Reinhart Koselleck and Martin Heidegger, it shows the logic that governs the relationship between temporality and semiosis, sign and its constant reinterpretation. In this sense, this work can be read as a sort of epistemological program that also represents the background on which the various contributors to this Special Issue have developed their analyses and narratives.
The Political Imaginarium, which is the topic of this special issue, is not static. Older modes of representing the body politic, as illustrated by Ernst Kantorowicz’s account of the King’s Two Bodies, were focused on the figure of the monarch. With the transition to democratic republics based on popular sovereignty, was this older aesthetic of sovereignty abandoned, extended, or transformed? I argue that the shift to focus on the People represented only a partial break with older modes of representation, due to the difficulty of figuring the masses as such in their unformed condition. Case studies from England and France suggest that the problem of representation remains without a final solution.
The Remains of Power: Meaning and Function of Regalia in Madagascar – Antonio Cerella
It has become commonplace to define sovereignty as an almost divine and transcendent power, a concept which has its roots in the ancient Roman world. Following Foucault’s lead, for example, Giorgio Agamben has argued that the political capture of life represents the original paradigm of the entire history of Western civilization. This ontological and Western-centric reading of sovereignty has had an enormous influence on the social and human sciences. Taking its cue from Ernst Kantorowicz’s insights into the ‘duality’ of power, this article problematizes Agamben’s reading by exploring an alternative paradigm, which conceives sovereignty as a ‘chronotopic apparatus’ and ordering ritual. Through an analysis of the meaning and function of royal remains (regalia), effigies and ritual practices in western Madagascar, the essay shows a different understanding of sovereignty and of its symbolism, which can be used to articulate an alternative genealogy of political power.
Charismatic Politics: From Relics to Portraits – Montserrat Herrero
In his book Le portrait du roi, Louis Marin seems to continue Ernst Kantorowicz’s work on the Middle Ages, extending it to Early Modernity. Marin’s book adds another body to the historical and juridical political bodies of Kantorowicz’s King described in The Two King’s Bodies, namely the portrait of the King. According to Marin, this body drives the interchange between the historical and juridical bodies; hence, the absolutist king has three bodies in one: the historical, the semiotic-sacramental, and the juridical. Following Kantorowicz and Marin’s argumentative line, this paper addresses the ways in which absent or dead bodies can act politically, in particular, the shift in political legitimation that goes hand in hand with the transition from a politics of relics to a politics of images.
Young Kings: Marcus Rashford and Theopolitical Charisma – Valentina Napolitano
In the aftermath of the UK loss in the 2020 Euro Football Cup, I analyze a theopolitical force of contemporary black football players, as a sovereignty from below epitomized by the figure of Marcus Rashford. Given his meteoric rise in British culture and his prominent social activism against child hunger, Rashford, among the other targets of racial abuse, is a particularly apt exemplar. By integrating anthropological ideas on theopolitics, totemism, charisma, and the sacrality of substance, this paper asks how the iconography, life histories, and social media interventions of young, kingly, Black (mainly Christian) athletes, effect a theopolitical force as an elastic movement of self-referentiality and sovereignty from below that is agonistic rather than antagonistic to the state. Specifically, it explores how these black footballers enliven an exemplar of theopolitical sovereignty that does not decide on letting live or making it die, but on doing a work of undoing injustice.
Politics as a Confession: Confronting the Enemy Within – Mitchell Dean & Daniel Zamora
In this article, we claim, firstly, that the turn to an “ethical” politics focused on subjectivity and its transformation, announced by post-structuralist theorists in the 1970s, can be found today in forms of progressive politics, illustrated by struggles against racism and their articulation by consultants and educators. Secondly, this turn entails targeting the “enemy within,” whether it be the inner fascist (Guattari, Foucault) or white privilege (Di Angelo, Kendi). Rather than an extension of Lasch’s therapeutic “culture of narcissism,” it is a turn to practices reminiscent of public rituals of expiation of guilt and acts of purification (exomologesis) characterizing what Weber referred to as “sects.” Pace Foucault, the “main danger” lies not in the “subjectifying” practices of the human sciences descended from auricular confession and the Christian pastorate, but rather the displacement of formal politics and attendant “civil religion” (Bellah) by conflicts between charismatic sects claiming exemplary subjectivity and virtuosity.
In this article, I offer an architectonic of what Carl Schmitt calls the “antechamber of power” from Friedrich Schiller, through Franz Kafka, to Walter Benjamin. To summarize my argument, I contend that the “antechamber of power” may always have been a supplementary space within the conceptual imaginary of sovereignty, but Schiller, Kafka, Benjamin, and Schmitt re-imagine it as the privileged space of an originary partage, sharing or division of power. If Jean Bodin defines sovereign power as “indivisible,” I instead trace the self-division of sovereignty into what Jacques Derrida famously calls “plus d’un” places of power. In a series of readings of philosophical, historical, and literary representations of the antechamber, I show how the allegedly private chamber of power occupied by the sovereign alone constitutively divides or itself into a series of new political antechambers occupied by a new class of political bodies: Schiller’s counsellor, Kafka’s bureaucrat, Benjamin’s clerk.
Roundtable on Charles Hirschkind’s The Feeling of History
Introduction – Jean-Michel Landry
A Cartographic Exercise – Aaron Frederick Eldridge