Spectacle has always played an important role in establishing power, authority, and sovereignty. In the unity of the dazzling body of the Transfiguration and the brutalized body of the crucifixion, the integrity of the spectacle and that which lies beneath is made known and our own polities’ lack of such integrity is challenged.
To behold is to stand somewhere between the passiveness of being a pawn in the trajectory of fate and the activity of making the world ourselves. Beginning with the act of beholding grants us necessary perspective upon our political acts and identities.
Hollywood and academia may not often be thought of in one breath, but they do share some things, not the least being a hyperventilating and parochial culture of celebrity. Having been in this business now for a few of these cycles, I’ve seen ‘em come and I’ve seen ‘em go. Which figures are selected to be smiled upon by the fame machine seems almost random, a matter of tuche, the semi-theological bad luck of those who are selected, by a blind fate, or an erratic Greek deity. The perduring and valuable work of genuine scholars mounts in height and depth gradually over decades, chiseled out of serious matter, and their import is often recognized only in retrospect, late in a career or after the author is dead. Others—the academic version of one hit wonders—flash up in an instant, are talked about—though not as often talked to, and still less often carefully read—for a frenzied spasm of a few years, then are dropped like an empty foil bag of chips, left to blow heedlessly among the trees in the groves of academe, or to wander the halls of academic conferences, for decades to come.
I’m afraid, but I’m quite sure, that the work of Agamben falls into the celebrity category. […]
Glory doesn’t work. Amen.
This condensed assertion and acclamation get at the heart of Giorgio Agamben’s The Kingdom and the Glory, the second part of the second part of his Homo Sacer project (whose volumes include Homo Sacer, State of Exception, and Remnants of Auschwitz). The Kingdom and the Glory’s subtitle, For a Theological Genealogy of Economy and Government, allusively explains the Foucaultian-feeling rhythms according to which this text pulses—rhythms that animate the Homo Sacer project from its inception but which come to archaeological fruition in The Kingdom and the Glory. In Foucaultian fashion, The Kingdom and the Glory’s initial six sections trace a meticulous, albeit particular, conceptual genealogy through early and medieval Christian theologies (a genealogy replete with long quotations that serve as evidential support) whose impetus comes, indirectly, from an intertextual conversation between Erich Peterson and Carl Schmitt, which recurs throughout Agamben’s text. More directly, the impetus comes from Agamben’s explicit aim of catching, via theology, “a glimpse of something like the ultimate structure of the governmental machine of the West in the relation between oikonomia and Glory” (xii)—a relation he casts in State of Exception in terms of auctoritas and potestas. […]