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“Nothing Exists Except an Earthenware Pot”: Resisting Sovereignty on Robinson’s Island

Author(s): James R. Martel

Journal: Societies
ISSN 2075-4698

Volume: 2;
Issue: 4;
Start page: 372;
Date: 2012;
Original page

Keywords: Derrida | Benjamin | Defoe | sovereignty | subversion | authority | fiction | subjectivity | idolatry | Woolf

In this essay I would like to focus on “The Beast and the Sovereign”—and especially the Second Volume—as being something of an exception to Derrida’s usual hesitations about sovereignty. In other works, such as “Rogues”, Derrida displays a deep ambivalence about sovereignty insofar as for all of his condemnation of sovereign authority, he fears that what might replace it could be even worse (and, to be fair, he also sees positive aspects of sovereignty as well). In “The Beast and the Sovereign,” we find evidence of this ambivalence as well but here, Derrida comes a bit closer to the kind of position advocated by Walter Benjamin wherein sovereignty is an idolatrous practice of politics one which must not be eliminated so much as subverted. In particular, I focus on Derrida’s reading in Volume II of “Robinson Crusoe” as a text that both founds the sovereign subject and subverts it (by revealing its vulnerability, its fictional nature). In looking at how the book disappoints as much as it answers sovereign phantasms of authority and unity, I argue that Derrida transfers his own ambivalence about sovereignty to sovereignty itself, subverting and rupturing its central tenets in the process.
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