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William E. Connolly “The Complexities of Sovereignty”

Connolly, William E. 2007. The Complexities of Sovereignty. In: Calarco, Matthew; DeCaroli, Steven (eds). Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 23–42.

Agamben’s attempt to fold a double sense into the logic of the sacred should be rejected in favor of the conventional rendering he seeks to overturn. The sacred is that which is to be approached with awe. There might well be ambivalence in people’s orientation to the sacred, one they do not themselves acknowledge because of the fear of divine or human retribution. Those most punitive toward others who criticize or “defile” what they consider to be sacred often enough harbor such ambivalence. (29)

Agamben contends that biopolitics has become intensified today. This intensification translates the paradox of sovereignty into a potential disaster. The analysis that he offers at this point seems not so much wrong to me as overly formal. It reflects a classical liberal and Arendtian assumption that there was once a time when politics was restricted to public life and biocultural life was kept in the private realm. What a joke. Every way of life involves the infusion of norms, judgments, and standards into the affective life of participants at both private and public levels. Every way of life is biocultural and biopolitical. (29)

Agamben rends to describe the state as the “nation-state.” He does not ask whether disturbing developments in the logic of sovereignty are bound, not merely to a conjunction between biopolitics and sovereignty, but to a conjunction between them and renewed attempts to consolidate the spirituality of the nation during a time when it is ever more difficult to do so. A the reactive drive to restore the fictive unity of a nation is relaxed, it becomes more possible to negotiate a generous ethos of pluralism that copes in more inclusive ways with the nexus between biology, politics, and sovereignty. More than anything else, the dubious drive to translate deep plurality into nationhood translates sovereignty into a punitive, corrective, exclusionary, and marginalizing practice. (30)

I doubt, however, that politics or culture possesses as tight a logic as Agamben delineates. If I am right, biocultural life displays neither the close coherence chat many theorists seek nor the tight paradox that Agamben and others discern. Biocultural life exceeds any textbook logic because of the nonlogical character of its materiality. It is more messy, layered, and complex than any logical analysis can capture. Te very illogicalness of its materiality ensures that it corresponds entirely to no design, no simple causal pattern, no simple set of paradoxes. Agamben displays the hubris of academic intellectualism when he encloses political culture within a tightly defined logic. (31)

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