The question of a power beyond sovereignty imposes itself amidst the ruins of the political catastrophes of the last century, where modern forms of politics reveal their most terrifying consequences. This dissertation brings together the work of Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben, two philosophers who seek to think sovereignty at its furthest limits, and the possibility of a power beyond its domain. I track the proximity and distance between Agamben and Derrida by pursuing their thought under the headings of abandonment and retreat, respectively, terms that denote how for both thinkers, the question of a power beyond sovereignty involves a confrontation with the thought of Martin Heidegger. Derrida and Agamben make their originality legible by departing from Heidegger's thinking of the abandonment of Being and ontological difference; yet, as I show, they must both contend with Heidegger's own attempt to think beyond sovereignty in his later notion of Ereignis, the event of appropriation.
This dissertation argues that the difference between Derrida and Agamben is underwritten by two irreducible but indissociable senses of abandonment. Is the abandonment of sovereignty the abandonment that sovereignty authorizes, an abandonment that remains sovereignty's most surreptitious and appropriative mode of operation? Or is it a fleeing or abdication from sovereignty, a retreat that is not simply decreed or commanded, but one that deposes sovereignty itself? I propose that Agamben's work is characterized by a desire to rigorously separate these two senses of abandonment, to mark a difference between a privation that is bound to sovereign power, and a destituent potential that has been released or freed from the sovereign ban; what the dissertation treats as the experience of the im-potential. Derrida, on the other hand, will never cease to identify an undecidable contamination between both senses of abandonment. For Derrida, as I demonstrate, a power beyond sovereignty is irreparably torn between a hyper-sovereign potency and a force that renders this potency vulnerable; the experience of the impossible. Tracking the margin of difference between these two experiences allows the dissertation to respond to the question that impels its investigation: is a different experience of power possible?
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About this Dissertation
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