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Title: Benjamin's state of exception : an analysis of the 'Critique of Violence' with reference to Carl Schmitt
Author: Van de Weg, Rachel M.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2005
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The aim of this dissertation is to explore the connection between Carl Schmitt, popularly recognized as 'Crown Jurist of the Third Reich', and Walter Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence'. The dissertation responds, in part, to a series of secondary commentaries that read one thinker as an influence on the other. In arguing for the necessarily implicit dialogue between these two thinkers, the dissertation brings into question the emphasis, in these secondary commentaries, on Benjamin's reference to Schmitt in The Origin of German Tragic Drama. The introduction establishes the obscure beginnings of Benjamin's 'Critique of Violence', staging the problem, and the method, for reading the essay in the context of Benjamin's understanding of the specifications of pure violence and the significance of Schmitt to these constructs. Part one (chapters one and two) examines Benjamin's interest in the moment of Schmitt's conversion from Catholic conservative principles to Nazism. Chapter one sets the framework for reading Benjamin's refusal to engage with the terms of Schmitt's discourse, and offers detailed expositions of Schmitt's principle of sovereignty. Chapter two seeks to establish the difficulty in asserting and substantiating a conceptual difference between Schmitt's concept of sovereignty, and Benjamin's critique of that concept. Part two (chapters three and four) extends the incommensurability of Benjamin's position with respect to Schmitt. Its starting point is a conceptualisation of pure violence as that which exists from within the legal order, and refuses conscious willing. This analysis works, firstly, against the interpretative direction set by Derrida in his essay on the 'Force of Law', which reads pure violence as open to a 'reversal' and appropriation by the anti-revolutionary cause. Against Derrida's claim that Benjamin separates pure violence from the legal order, I argue that Benjamin's account of pure means brings to light a series of contradictions within critique as a method of legal analysis. Secondly, this analysis seeks to articulate the general underestimation in the secondary commentaries informed by Derrida of the strategic irony Benjamin deploys in his determination of the conditions of reading pure violence. Chapter three clarifies how, for Benjamin, the problem of the destruction and liberation of any given form of representation, dramatic or otherwise, is a political problem. The radical potential of Benjamin's work is argued in terms of his situation of his account of the deficiencies of the legal order within the same sphere of legal ends against which he seeks to deploy the revolutionary violence of a pure means; and in his location of pure means within the sphere of legal violence, so that it is at once the force that binds the authority of the law and the singular entity that unbinds that authority. This potential is exemplified through Benjamin's analysis of divine and sovereign violence, in which I argue that guilt is neither determined exclusively by, nor belongs exclusively to, Schmitt's concept of the juridical. Chapter four considers the emergence of 'pure language' and the proletarian general strike as states of exception. Here, an analysis of Sorel's attempt to map the 'creative consciousness' of the general strike serves two purposes: it lends context to a shared refusal on the part of both Benjamin and Schmitt to posit catharsis as the driving force of general strike, and it marks the point at which Benjamin takes his departure from Schmitt. Through the detailed analyses of the points of common reference between Benjamin and Schmitt, I develop and substantiate a stronger and richer account of the 'Critique of Violence' as a space of future potential within which an explicit dialogue between disparate schools of thought might be able to unfold.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available