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Societies 2013, 3(1), 1-15; doi:10.3390/soc3010001
Sovereignty without Mastery
Received: 20 September 2012; in revised form: 13 December 2012 / Accepted: 13 December 2012 / Published: 27 December 2012
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Of Beasts, Sovereigns and Societies)
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Abstract: In The Beast and the Sovereign v.1, Derrida argues that classical sovereignty is linked to the performative act of declaring oneself master. Thus, each sovereign asserts a distinction between the masterful self and the mastered other. Derrida contends that the sovereign distinction between self and other maps onto a distinction between sovereign autonomy and a mechanical determination said to characterize others of all kinds. This gives rise to a differentiated binary between responsibility, capacity and restraint on the one side against reaction, instinct and danger on the other, which, Derrida suggests, operates across traditional separations, such as man/animal, man/machine, mind/body and, of course, sovereign and beast. This paper argues that Derrida’s reading of Paul Celan and Georges Bataille may be understood as a pursuit of an alternative sovereignty. This alternative sovereignty would be without mastery and its binaries. I suggest that Derrida finds such an alternative sovereignty in the “majesty” of poetry, which, in his own poetic gesture, allows him to upset traditional distinctions.
Keywords: sovereignty; poetry; testimony; ‘The Animal’; Derrida; Bataille; Celan