Sovereignty without Mastery
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.
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