BOOK REVIEW: The Royal Remains | Eric L. Santner | ArtReview

Eric L. Santner, The Royal Remains: The People’s Tow Bodies and the Endgame of Sovereignty
The University of Chicago Press, 2011

’Sovereignty studies’ has been on the rise over the last decade. The translation of Giorgio Agamben’s Homo Sacer in 1998 and the publication of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt’s Empire in 2000 did much to bring theories of personal and political sovereignty to the center of debates over the ‘biopolitical,’ Michel Foucault’s term since the ’70s for the type of ‘governmentality’ to which we are all subject at present. At least since his magisterial study of the German jurist Daniel Paul Schreber’s ‘nervous illness’ (My Own Private Germany, 1996), Eric Santner, currently Professor of Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago, has been at work considering the ways that this sovereign power, understood particularly as a ‘space of representation’ – that is, as the ‘offices, roles, symbolic mandates and titles’ that we assume in our daily lives – can affect, to put it plainly, our ‘nerves.’

Drawing upon Ernst Kantorowicz’s landmark The King’s Two Bodies (1957), Santner here, in The Royal Remains, argues that the (traumatic) investiture of sovereign power in The People at the moment of the French Revolution logically transfers the split corporeality of The King, at once the body politic (immutable, devine, transcendent) and the body natural (mortal, contingent, precarious), onto us. This power transfer is not a clean one, however. We never quite ‘fit’ our new symbolic authority. The King never did either, for that matter. The ‘political theology’ of sovereignty itself is always productive of a kind of excess, what Santner calls a ‘surplus of immanence,’ a  ‘strange materiality,’ in short, the ‘flesh’, that organises the symbolic networks of authority in the first place….

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