The following is the second part of a transcript of one of our ongoing “Critical Conversations” with distinguished British political philosopher Arthur Bradley. The conversation took place on March 10, 2022. The first part can be found here. The discussion centers around his recent book Unbearable Life: A Genealogy of Political Erasure.
Roger Green: Kieryn, you had Stefan on when I was talking but you had a question before that, so I’m just going to turn it to you, if you don’t mind.
Kieryn Wurts: Okay, what I wrote in the chat is I’m a bit torn, fully related to this conversation about Christianity and kind of imperial and colonial strategies, but it’s fascinating. I think I told myself I wasn’t going to make a comment on that, but now I’m going to, I think. I think there are, I would agree with Carl, that there’s more than one strategy of Christianity and there are multiple Christianities, right? And I think it’s fascinating, even a comparison between kind of Roman Catholic, this colonial universalism as opposed to the Orthodox third Rome. I think Protestant missionaries are colonizing approaches, which are much more, they have a different anthropology kind of it’s an entrepreneurial or even a popular or populist kind of colonization, so I think that’s a fruitful discussion, and that was just speculative what I said right there.
I wanted to ask, actually, thank you for your presentation, first of all, Mr. Bradley, and I guess, for this question of unbearable life, I wrote a little bit in the chat about this particularly Russian strategy of these breakaway or semi-autonomous regions, and some of the examples I’ve looked at in my own work, include the Nagorno-Karabakh, that is, the region contested between Azerbaijan and Armenia, there’s Transnistria, and that is in Moldova.
The Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics play a really important role in this Ukraine conflict, as well annexed Crimea, and I think this is a really interesting it’s not individual persons who are made into this form of unbearable life as I think I’ve understood your argument, but it’s more it’s persons and territories, the way that they’re excluded from the international system, and kind of in a backwards way brought under Russian imperial control Russian centralized control.
But it’s also the effect this in many cases by playing on a local ethnic conflict—that’s very present in Nagorno-Karabakh—and I think that’s a really important part of the Russian story, and I think, maybe has some interesting resonances with your work, your work is new to me ,so maybe you wrote about this and can just talk from your book, but I would love to hear your thoughts on that.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, I wish I could reply. I think you know an awful lot more about this than I do.
One of the things I try and do in the book is talk about the history of this thing called “unbearable life”, I begin with damnatio memori in in ancient Rome, where, if you committed some particularly heinous crime like treason, or something like that, you wouldn’t simply be killed, your memory would be damned. Okay, that’s the literal translation of damnatio memori. And this was something that, as I said, you would be divested of all your properties, anything that you had willed would be taken, it would be expropriated, statues of you would be defaced, coins and so on, but this was applied to a specific person/ to specific individuals.
But obviously what happens over history is, as you say, is that this concept of damnatio memori becomes, it metastasizes, it just gets bigger and it applies, it becomes racialized. It becomes regionalized, it becomes nationalized. So these are some of the examples that we could talk about here.
How and when this happens is a difficult one. I talked about the French Revolution, as you know, obviously, is one kind of a key moment in this when you get someone like the ACS writing is what is the third state, where he’s effectively says one of theirs is our third state. There’s only the third state. There’s only the people. The other states simply don’t exist. And he even speaks about the aristocracy and so on, or just like a disease, part of the body, like a tumor that you simply remove. So, this is still being applied domestically. We’re not in the territory of international relations here. But it’s a key moment, and obviously CS did not invent the trope, the medical trope of medicalizing politics but nonetheless it’s a key moment in the becoming, the statifying of this process of unbearable life.
Okay that’s about as much as I can say in response to you. There’s something else I could say about political Judaism as well, one of the interesting things in this book actually, is in the case of figures like Hobbes, is the return to the Hebrew Bible and for figures like Hobbes, Locke, and so on, way more interested in the Hebrew Bible, and the Hebrew Bible models their politics than they ever are in The New Testament. Abraham and Moses are cited way more than Jesus, for example, so I could say more about that at some point, if people are interested, but I don’t want to. It’s still a Christian appropriation of Judaism, it’s Christians using Judaism for political purposes, but I just wanted to throw that in there as well, but thank you very much for your comment.
Roger Green: Thank you. Patrick Soch has question/comment.
Patrick Soch: Hey, thank you! I guess I have two questions. Well, brief- both of them, hopefully. One is just, do you explore the sort of in this concept of unbearable life that may be the most resilient and life affirming reaction, and I’m thinking, especially in the indigenous context is self-erasure, is sometimes the most life affirming reaction that some communities have had, which is to refuse to play the sort of dialectical game of recognition, right, the politics of recognition that’s required And so, some communities have simply stopped pushing against that, and have kind of quietly done some really amazing things. And then 30 years down the road the larger American Community kind of hears about them, so I never knew anybody who’s doing these things and Then you can shake your head and there’s a reason you didn’t right so, I’m just wondering.
And then the second piece is in the German context where you talked about the self-negating sort of component of The Holocaust, in a sense, of the fact that has to be itself erased and I wonder if you dealt with Eric Voegelin’s 1964 lectures Hitler and the Germans, in which he basically says, with it, we can’t talk about Hitler, we have to talk about Hitler and the Germans and without a morally bankrupt German middle class, there would never have been a Hitler. And he said, and in fact I can show you the list of all of the civil servants and magistrates who were serving before the Holocaust and are still serving today in 1964, and I’m happy to give you their names and he himself was a German political philosopher. So anyway, it’s very, very interesting so in some ways that whole systemic earthworks that supported the Holocaust was itself kind of erased.
Arthur Bradley: You’re sure yeah, one of the words that, unfortunately, has made a recurrence in the last few years, or the last few days is denazification. Which is a process which has a very complex history. What on earth is going on there with this appeal to the process of denazification, that we now have Putin using it as a justification to invade Ukraine.
To go back to your first point on self-erasure. I think that’s an absolutely brilliant point, and I think actually that’s one of the arguments that I’m really interested in. To go back to that question of how one resists this gesture of political erasure. It is not simply the obvious forms of resistance, which is the reassertion of one’s right to exist one’s existence and so on. But actually, that exactly what you’re talking about here, is that gesture of a kind of almost preemptive self-erasure. A rhetorical political act of self-regime which has a really long and interesting history.
I’d love to hear more about what you’re talking about, but in the book what I’m talking about, again in the chapter on the French Revolution, I do a reading of Maximilien Robespierre’s political speeches in which one of the most dominant tropes through Robespierre’s political work is this figure of being already dead. “That nothing can be done to me, I cannot be killed, I cannot be destroyed because everything has already happened. I’ve already given my life to the revolution, I’m already dead.” Obviously it has got residences that go back to Socrates, goes back to Jesus. There is martyrological references there as well. It becomes a means of wielding political revolutionary violence.
There’s a kind of absurd surrealist exchange in the French National Assembly when Robespierre is being attacked by a member who’s just returned from one of the sieges and is criticizing the national government and Robespierre gives this really bizarre speech. Which is that, “I’m not going to listen to you because if I’d been at that speech, if I’d been at that stage, I’d be dead no I wouldn’t have come back here in order to criticize,” you so the very fact that you are alive disproves your argument. You know the fight, it shows that you have this selfish commitment to your own particular existence rather than la fete.
The trope of the already dead, we can trace it through all sorts of movements. There’s the Zapatista would be a great one, Subcomandante Marcos, you know the writings of Subcomandante Marcos, you know mobilize this trope of “yes we know, we are the already dead,” and so takes self-erasure as a sort of sight of political productivity and of revolutionary productivity.
Patrick Soch: Thanks for that response, appreciate it.
Arthur Bradley: Thank you.
Roger Green: Thank you, Suhayb Yunus has a question.
Suhayb Yunus: Yeah, I’m going to zoom out from maybe some of the other questions and ask something that’s more methodological, or maybe even epistemological, depending on how you understand it. Unlike a lot of works that deal with these kinds of topics you’re bringing a lot of literary examples.
What do you think the utility of resourcing works of Western literature in these types of discussion is? And how would you see future scholarship that’s bridging these two areas? It’s bringing in something like Shakespeare into the discussion both in terms of concept, like what’s within Shakespeare? What’s within, you know, fill in the blank? Also, in terms of the literary, the fact of the literary itself being something of a type of immortality. Just the fact that it exists.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, it’s a great question. You know, obviously there’s personal biographical reasons for why I am the scholar that I am. I’ve always worked somewhere in between literature, politics, and philosophy. So, I wish I could tell you that it was all part of some grand master plan on my part and a entirely finely tuned methodology but that wouldn’t be true.
Nevertheless, I take heart and I align myself self with quite a lot of really interesting figures who are exploring that middle ground between literature, political theory, philosophy. I admire people like Eric Santner, Belanger. You know, and I think there are strong methodological reasons for doing this because you know Shakespeare is a political thinker right. Shakespeare both inherits and creates political concepts. Concepts which will then go on to have so called “real world implications.” You will get future English monarchs saying “I am Richard the second,” Meaning, I am Shakespeare’s Richard the second.
And then on another level political theory is really nothing but a question of fiction and a question of thought experiments, a question of heuristic fictions. What is the Hobbesian state of nature? He’s making it very clear; this is not a real place. He’s not saying it ever existed, it’s a kind of subtractive thought experiment. He’s saying, “here we are sitting in our Commonwealth, here we are sitting in our sort of civil post-civil war society. What would it be like if we subtracted everything? What would be left?”
So, it’s a work of eliminative thought experiment. And I quote in the book as well that wonderful thought experiment that Hobbes gives, where he talks about who decides when a malformed baby is born, when this kind of prodigy or something is born, who decides whether it’s a man or a human being, or not? Is it Aristotle, is it the philosopher’s, no it’s only the sovereign who will decide whether that child is a human being or not.
It’s something I’m kind of exploring a little bit more. I’m writing a project about political theory and theatre. Which is about the relationship between not simply theater in the sense of dramatic works, but in the sense that theory and theater are two both opposed but interwoven forms of phenomenology, forms of political thinking, that go all the way back to the ancient Greeks.
Theoria in the Greek is, at least in its inheritance, and the idea that we have of it today is supposedly the pure disinterested contemplation of the forms. You know, the bedazzlement or wonder. Theatron in the Greek, they both come from the same length Theoreo and Theatron they both come from Thea “to see.” Theatron is a more interested, situated form of phenomenology, a form of seeing. It’s someone who is placed in a specific position in order to see, and these two forms of, as I said, both political vision and political phenomenology are interwoven in really interesting ways.
Right from the beginning of the western political tradition in Plato himself. To put it really crudely I don’t want to draw a distinction between literature over here and political theory or philosophy over here. I think the distinction between them is far, far more blurred and nuanced than that.
Suhayb Yunus: Thank you.
Roger Green: I have a lot of thoughts on that, and thank you Suhayb for asking that question because this is a particular concern of mine, as well the how the literary gets used as a rhetorical gesture in discourse in general. Are there any other questions? Or, I can carry on. But I want to make sure other people with questions have a chance to ask.
Kevin Hujing: I do have one on the power of political erasure in the global context. So, Foucault has this concept of the regime of truth that uses knowledge-power in order to establish its ideas of true and false, which is an external act of attempts to erase and control madness, delinquency, and sexuality.
Is political eraser an external exercise of this sort of attempts of a regime of truth to establish its knowledge-power, and the validity and lawful existence of another? That’s the first question, then, in the global context, is this even possible? For a true erasure to take place in the global context seeing as how we’re sharing an active development of a cooperative history. That although an erasure can be attempted through the demolition of a state. If that is at all possible would it be the fault of the whole global community as a whole for allowing that erasure to take place, since we are all in a global context as a witness, and whether or not we participate in attempts of erasure.
Arthur Bradley: Okay yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll take the second one in particular. I think you’re absolutely right and that there is a sort of irony that accompanies every act of political erasure that we’re talking about today, which is that if they worked we wouldn’t be talking about them. We wouldn’t have known they happened. So, these are all failed acts of political erasure. Acts that for whatever reason did not work.
Which is not to say that there haven’t been some that did work. That’s an unknown unknown for us, that there may be many out there that that did operate. And one of the things I am really interested in is why do they fail? Where does this failure come from? Some of them are a strange combination of exhibitionism and secrecy at the same time, because one of the features of Domnatio Memoriae. If you go back to Ancient Rome this would be both an eraser, but it would be a kind of publicly proclaimed visible act of erasure. You would deface the statue of a disgraced person but you wouldn’t remove the statue. You would want everyone to know that this person was no longer to be spoken of, or to be known or remembered.
So is this interesting kind of gesture here and this plays into lots of different places and context as well. But I guess, is there more of a structural reason why this act of eraser fails or has to be continually reasserted? Judith Butler makes the point in one of her books Precarious Life that the very tautological nature of political erasure where you are erasing something which you say does not exist. You know, I’m going to say this thing does not exist. The statement this thing does not exist is kind of self-contradictory. It becomes self-defeating because it has to be continually reasserted. But, at the same time every reassertion renders it in some sense redundant and emboldens, or empowers the thing that you’re saying does not exist.
And one of the things, to go back to the point of self-erasure which is the point that the previous speaker raised. I think one of the powers of self-erasure even as a rhetorical or political strategy, or one of the opportunities it offers is that, if you say “you’re right, I don’t exist, I’m not here, I do not occupy a space and time, I’m already dead,” all those things, and this is a gesture that you we can find from revolutionary France up to a movement like Anonymous and so on.
Today, you know you cannot fight, “I’m everywhere, I’m legion, I’m nowhere,” all this kind of stuff. Well then, how can you erase it? How can you erase that which is already preemptively negated itself? It has done that act for you. So, o it’s both already dead, but perversely kind of unkillable, unerasable. I don’t know if that if that answers your questions at all.
Kevin Hujing: Yeah, that helps a lot, thank you.
Roger Green: There was one other question but the person had to leave and so the floor is open, or I will ask one. There is something you mentioned Arthur, that you have a new project in the works. Going back to this question of the literary and the erasure question makes me think of Samuel Beckett, and I thought of Endgame, maybe more than Godot, but also the character of Ubu Roi, the pataphysics and these very 20th century gestures about the eraser of sovereignty itself. But I’m kind of hearing it in a new register with this concept of unbearable life. I don’t know if you have thoughts of where you’re going to dig?
Arthur Bradley: Yeah sure, we should obviously talk more about this because the book that I’m currently writing is called, provisionally, “In the Theater of Sovereignty” and as I said, it’s about the relationship between theory and theater. In both the literal sense and I examine quite a lot of political. I look at Shakespeare, I look at Schiller and I look at Genet, Ionesco, you know figures like. I’m interested in actual theater and representations of sovereignty and theater. But I’m also interested in theater in the more expanded sense of the particular form of political phenomenology that theater represents and whether and how that interacts with theory.
I think there is some you know, maybe I don’t want to say too much here about it because it would be going down another tangent but there’s been some really interesting figures like Genet. If you go back and you read Le Balcon, or something like Ionesco. If you read Les Chaises and so on, I mean, these are absolutely saturated and political theology. For those of you who don’t know the play, in the case of Le Balcon in Genet, the balcony is it’s a brothel. And it’s a place where people go and they’re given the opportunity to dress up as people, so it’s a kind of role-playing brothel and it has numerous studios in it, but the studios are all like an archive of political theology. You can dress up as Saint Sabastian, and you can dress up as a nun, or you can dress up as a pope. You can even dress up as Jesus so it’s all like a strange sort craft. A kind of political theological sexualis that is the secret inventory of Political theology.
And the really interesting thing about it, it’s all about the clothes, it’s all about the ornamental, the appearance, the theater of political theology. They don’t actually want to be a real Bishop. They don’t want to wield any real power; they just want to look like one. And the interesting thing is this, this play appears the 1950s. At the same time there’s a bunch of really fascinating work, political scholarly work on precisely this dimension of the symbolics of sovereignty.
Not only Kantorowicz but also people like Percy Ernst Schramm, you know his work, he calls them the symbols of power. He does these wonderful analyses of crowns and robes and scepters, and all this kind of stuff. So, what I’m interested in is the theatrical of power, but the theatrical power is not simply the veneer or the external surface or skin that would conceal some kind of realpolitik beneath. But it’s something essential to the operation of sovereignty itself.
You know Jay, and I think James the first says in his book, that to be a sovereign is to be on stage. It’s that you’re always on stage, even when you’re alone you’re still on stage. There you are a political actor and of course Hobbes and Machiavelli and lots of people will speak about the relationship between political action and dramatic action too. So that’s kind of what I’m interested in, it’s not tangential to unbearable life, but there are some parallels there.
Roger Green: Thank you, Kieryn you have a question?
Kieryn Wurts: Just a very short question on this “Theater of Sovereignty” project. Do you engage with Jean Baudrillard work on the spectacle of war? I think there’s also a really an interesting conversation for this moment. Of course it’s a different kind of he doesn’t want with them, it is a lot with the image and the stage but not more technological metaphors than this class is more classical ones. But do you work with that and these kinds of ideas like, the Iraq war never happened, and what we do with the spectacle of conflict and violence.
Arthur Bradley: I don’t actually, not for any grand theoretical reason. I mean, I remember when I was a PhD students a long time ago. I remember when that book came out and close to a great deal of fuss and was itself, although it’s a book about erasure was itself kind of systematically erased and that its argument was actually introduced in the media, and it was just used as at the time. This is way before your time but people who are my age will remember this and it was kind of ridiculed in the same way that people like Agamben have been ridiculed recently over covid-19 as an example of, “here’s another crazy French philosopher just saying something crazy or contrarian.” It’s obviously a very important engagement in the media, the media theater of war. Yeah, I don’t engage with it, maybe I should have, thanks.
Jared Lacy: I have a question.
Roger Green: Go ahead sure.
Jared Lacy: I was wondering if you could talk about invisibility as a liberatory avenue in the sense that that which is invisible is so from the perspective of being engulfed in sovereignty and the real that it builds for itself that you talk about at the end of your book. It seems that there’s some kind of ecological resonance there. Where one could make that invisible visible by trying to move past the life/non-life distinction to get past the power of sovereignty to decide what exists and what doesn’t.
Arthur Bradley: Could you say a little bit more about the ecological.
Jared Lacy: yeah, I was thinking about this in terms of Patrick’s question of indigenous issues about not having a concept of inanimate objects and once that’s the case then you can decide what exists and what doesn’t from a sovereign perspective because life isn’t the basis of existence
Arthur Bradley: That’s great, there’s been a lot of interesting work recently on animism and debates around animism. Descola and people like that which I find really interesting. It’s not something I know an awful lot about. I also still want to hold on to invisibility, I quite like the trope of invisibility as a form of a political position and, obviously, in in recent years invisibility has taken on a certain kind of currency in in political theory with the invisible Committee, and the Luther Blessed Movement in Italy, and also the movements like Anonymous and so on.
There’s a wonderful German artist called Hito Steyerl who’s done a great installation, which you can watch on YouTube called “How Not to be Seen” and it’s a series of kind of both comic and half serious explorations of how to become invisible. Some of which are wonderful and fantastic, in the sense of “be a superhero,” “have an invisibility cloak.” And some of which are utterly mundane in which she says, “be a woman over 50.” You know, congratulations, you are now invisible, and this kind of thing. It’s a really wonderful playful exploration of the different ways in which we can be politically invisible both for better or worse. So yeah, I really liked her work.
Roger Green: I think that the visible and invisible discussion amplifies this project on theatrics that you’re thinking about. One of the reasons why I think it’s important to keep that gesture alive in this conversation is because other you know famous philosophers Alan Badiou and Simon Critchley do is, not maybe operating so much in political theology, but they have both written books about the poets of the modern age and they focus it focused on people like Stevenson who is a very, very quiet and silent poet, and that moment in the 1950s, the post war moment where Heidegger is very much returning to poetry and cantorial. It’s of course in the States by this time but there is this sort of exhaustive moment war torn annihilation, this return to aesthetics that I’m very fascinated with, especially the theatricality.
This, of course, might my indigenous friends when we’re at a Four Directions March a few months ago here in Denver and it was very quiet and unseen and the city is all light lit up and we’ve marched a few miles to this little park where there’s a ceremony going on and my indigenous colleagues are insistent that this is not theater. This is not performance. Because so much of anthropology has cast their ideations about indigenous people in terms of the language of performance.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, you are right to mention Badiou. You know there’s a great line where in a piece he wrote about Foucault he says, I only ever used to run into Michelle at the theater because we both like this theater. That was that was what they had in common and, of course, as you will know, the there is quite a long tradition of Rancière, Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, like all these writers who have either been theatre practitioners like Lacoue-Labarthe was himself a practitioner, and also written about the politics of theatre and theatre as politics.
One of the things that interests me is years ago about 40 years ago there was a guy called Barish who wrote a book called The Anti-Theatrical Prejudice and it was the development of the critique of theater in politics and culture from the 17th century to today where the theater effectively, you know it’s under the Puritans it was banned but the theatrical became a byword for everything that politics wasn’t, or shouldn’t be, you know, political theory. One of the things I try and argue is that political theory defines itself very much against theory. You know theory, and this is the theory is partial theory is situated theory is sorry theater is partial theater is interested theater is situated political theory is allegedly at least none of these things. It’s the view from nowhere, It’s not a particular perspective upon these problems.
I’m going to try and challenge that I think political theory, political sciences itself, I don’t think it’s a particularly complicated or controversial thing to say. It’s not the view from nowhere, it’s very much the view from somewhere. I think the development of the discipline of international relations itself, you know you could go so far as to say that it is the discourse of imperialism colonialism.
It is, to go back to Foucault and knowledge and power it’s the knowledge form of that knowledge-power equation. In modernity the development of these disciplines and, of course, if you go back to Plato and even go back to Plato’s cave, it’s a kind of theater right. It’s like you were sitting there watching a bunch of people watching film occupied puppets on a on a screen. So it’s at the very beginning of this thing called political theory, you have a miniature sort of puppet theater, marionette theater, at the very beginning.
Roger Green: Tom Grimwood would have a question.
Tom Grimwood: Hi Arthur, good to see you. I’m trying not to dwell on the theatrical book, because in a way that’s the next one. But of course, what I always find interesting about the theater is the kind of treatment of it in the 18th and 19th century. When it was this damn of gossip and in equity and you know it was very much a lower class thing and it’s got me thinking about the issue of Asia and to what extent I’m trying to think how to choose my words here, to what extent that idea of erasing life is a fantasy of political sovereignty compared to use the certain because, why not, what is it? It’s a strategic fantasy but tactically you could see you can erase things tactically. You can erase things in that everyday gossip fueled everyday interaction or is that an impossible thing to note.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, that’s great, I really like that. The metaphor that Certeau uses as you know is la perruque, the wig, as a form of invisibility. That tactical in visibility is calling in sick when you’re not really sick to not go to work that day. Wearing a wig to cover up your bald and this why don’t you know, whatever it’s these and it’s very interesting. It’s these moments of tactical disguise or camouflage or something like that.
I mean, I think you know, to try and build a bridge between what I was doing in Unbearable Life and this stuff what we’re talking about in relation to theatre is that they’re two sides of the same project in a way, which is a sort of exercising political phenomenology which is Rancière famously talks about the distribution of a sensible, okay so politics is an aesthetic phenomena, not just in the sense of real theater and real novels but in the content sense of sensible experience itself and that politics is an exercise in arranging, distributing, and choreographing what is, counts as sensible experience and what doesn’t.
So what appears and what disappears, what is a raised on what is brought sharply into focus. So I guess unbearable life is very much about the shade. And the new project is more about the light, but the two things there’s like you know, an Italian if anyone knows their art history tiara school Oh, is this wonderful Italian word of the play of light and shade that go together. These are very much part of the same project and rendering something visible you are almost by definition rendering something else invisible. By making something appear you’re distancing or marginalizing, or are disappearing something else.
Tom Grimwood: Right.
Roger Green: I want to correct something I said earlier, I was Simon critically it’s Stevens wallace Stevens not Stephenson. host Robert Johnson is not necessarily quiet, but Stevens is. Just correcting myself on the record. Kieryn you have a look there’s.
Kieryn Wurts: Another question, I guess, I hate to ask you to give spoilers for your next project. You don’t have to answer this, but in the theater of sovereignty what role does the audience play for you? Because I think in this play of light and dark, and who’s seen and who’s not seen, that’s really important. Like what is on stage for the audience and politics and theater is really important, this conversation reminded me of The Kingdom and the Glory Agamben’s discourse he talks about this politics of acclimation in that in these conversations between Carl Schmitt and the Christian theologian that name. But yeah, what is the audience? What is their relationship to sovereignty?
Arthur Bradley: Great question I wish I could give you a spoiler alert, but I haven’t quite got that far yet so I’d be spoiling it for myself as well. I mean the way in which the project is working at the moment is actually I’m telling this I’m trying to tell a story in six or seven different scenes and in each one I’m focusing. On I’m not focusing on a particular writer or particular text I’m actually focusing on the history of a particular prop or property, you know the word prop on stage comes from comes from property. And so I have a chapter on chairs, I have a chapter on clothes, I have a chapter on anointing oils. I have a chapter on puppet shows.
So, it’s quite it’s quite eclectic So if you thought you know if you thought on bearable life was if that was a little bit too playful for you, then the next one is you know, unfortunately. Even more so the question of the audience is an absolutely wonderful on the only way I can answer this is actually as. You know, one of the great gestures of modern theatre obviously and Brecht and Ionesco and so on is the alienation breaking the fourth wall all these where the audience is effectively put on stage yeah and there’s a wonderful moment right at the end of. Georgia and as play the bulk on the balcony which, as I said, it’s set in a brothel okay.
And a brothel in the midst of a revolution so revolution is happening outside and inside everyone is dressing up as political leaders, you know it’s an absolute you know masterpiece if you haven’t read it, you know, take a take a look at it. But the final scene of the balcony is when the Madame of the brothel the brothel keepers this woman called earmark.
And she breaks the fourth wall by turning to the audience and saying you know I’m terribly sorry, but the balcony is now closed for the evening. So go home but we’ll be back tomorrow night, you know at 730 if you want to cut if you want to come back so in a sense, everyone and the play becomes a. Paying customer right everyone, everyone is put on stage, there is no spectator, you know everyone is a participant, everyone is a fetishist. And the you know, so the metaphor of the balcony and of the role play becomes a generalized and extended to swallow up the audience as well.
Roger Green: Were you going to say something else Kieryn?
Kieryn Wurts: Thank you, that was brilliant Thank you.
Roger Green: Yeah, I’m thinking very much of our toad and to know or Artaud in this theater of cruelty here and also the fact that the last call declared and Artaud uncurable she’s in his madness and Foucault, of course, and delivers the 16th French post-structuralist Sir are consumed with this question of madness from which there is the discussion of sovereignty and bio-politics sort of more so, and I’m really intrigued at the intersections of have lots of late 20th century thought here.
Arthur Bradley: Sure, I mean it’s really interesting in the case of DNA, as well as the only person who really identifies the political theological dimension to Tuesday is very dark in La like where he actually says that you know June is obsessed with glory like the word glory in a play it appears constantly in the balcony and the play is about nothing other than the Kingdom and the Glory it’s about why does power need glory, you know why, why does the exercise of political sovereignty, political rule, need this additional supplement or dimension of glory and self-glorification and glorification vicarious glorification and so on, so yeah that’s kind of where I am at the moment.
Roger Green: Yeah, takes me back to last month’s critical conversation on the new polis which was on my book, but at the end, when we were kind of in the weeds of discussion. I had been trying to talk about the 1968 moment of the Levitation of the Pentagon protest, which is very theatrical and it’s influenced by the living theatre and loads of influence on the States and psychedelics but comparing that to January 6 of last year. There’s this impulse, where I want to say, like of course there’s something way less than chanted you know.
In last year’s performance at the Capitol if we’re going to call it a performance. That it’s not an attempt to levitate that I can’t see the people from last year doing that. And, so there might be something dialectic about that, but the crossover here is that the glorification part whether we’re talking about the queue and on shaman or other very theatrical figures nevertheless. Although the strategy or the agenda or something is quite different and I’m not sure how to parse all of this.
But sometimes I can come across as like, of course there was a difference, it was much more peaceful and 68 then it was that they didn’t break down the doors and break into people’s offices and all of that. Yes, I’m aware of the differences and the violent tendencies, but the resonance of glorification and patriotism crosses over that both groups would say that they’re raising American flags or they’re doing something Nationalist.
Arthur Bradley: You would know way more about this than me, I mean I watched the Netflix documentary or there was a you know the doc about January 6th and it was kind of astonishing in all sorts of ways. Particularly when they occupied the Senate floor where’s the senate, they didn’t quite know what to do. And they were there and they just sort of wandered around and sat in the chair. You know sadhana scooters care and things like, and I remember a guard.
One of the guards comes in and says, “this is the sacred space.” To which they all sort of say “yeah, you’re right, don’t worry we’re not going to mess it up.” Which is a really interesting moment. And then you think, well what on earth is going on there in terms of the language of glory as well, and at some level they are true believers in representative democracy. Even as the process of destroying it.
Roger Green: Please jump in if you have questions. I’m thinking of ways to wrap this up. Towards the end of your book you end up with Benjamin in the current book, and Benjamin has this famous dialogue with Schmitt, saying that he credits Schmitt with his conception of aesthetics that he builds Trauerspiel book or the origins of German chap tragic drama you credits Schmitt’s work I think in the dictator or political theology, but both of them sort of crossed over the early 1920s Schmitt with this aesthetic conception, but, of course, coming from a completely different political and Jewish, as well positionality even if it be so called secular Jewish. I don’t know how that term really works for me so and then it that book was about 17th century theater right the so it does seem very, very relevant even to the unbearable life book, but I wonder if you maybe had some thoughts about any mean and theatricality and how this is.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, I mean Benjamin plays quite a big role in the current book for exactly the reasons that you mentioned. I mean you don’t have to go along with Agamben’s suggestion that there’s some kind of esoteric dossier of where Schmitt and Benjamin are talking to each other and in these works literally to see that the relationship between them is incredibly rich. I mean, I guess you know I don’t, I wouldn’t disagree with anything that you say, but just one footnote to it would be that a text that I’ve been writing a chapter on, the figure of the ante-chamber in political theory and in undisciplined in drama. and so on.
So I look at Benjamin, I look at Kafka, and I look at Schiller’s don Carlos, but the inspiration for it really as opposed to your essay or post war newspaper article by Carl Schmitt, which was published in Der Spiegel in about 1955 and it’s called “In the Antechamber of Power” (“Im Vorraum der Macht”) and it’s incredibly Benjaminian without ever mentioning Benjamin. But you know everything that we normally attribute to the venue million critique of Schmitt creature Lee sovereignty to our spiel and all that kind of thing is suddenly massively present and Schmitt and it’s about Oh, this is perfect, of the sovereign who they can’t do everything.
They can take all the decisions and that’s why we have the figure of the courts here that’s why we have the figure of the servant, the mistress, and suddenly the Court. The sovereign is surrounded by a court and once you have a court, you have plots and intrigue and all that Benjaminian stuff and it’s a really a fascinating essay because it’s kind of on the median very Benjaminian version of Schmitt and to what extent it’s compatible with the early Schmitt because interestingly Schmitt, you know, the figure of the ante-chamber occurs several times and Schmitt in the big works it’s there and kind of remember which ones, so you know when the great work, so the 20s and it’s always negative it’s always just the ante-chamber is where they don’t take decisions, the ante-chamber is the place of the debating whole. It’s the talking shop, it’s the place where no one does anything. But then suddenly The ante-chamber emerges in this very different framework in the later Schmitt so you know, we should maybe we could talk more about this or.
Roger Green: This moment of Hamlet or Hecuba.
Arthur Bradley: Yeah, absolutely. But the argument is even suddenly different from Hamlet and Hecuba as well. Yeah, thank you.
Roger Green: Any carry on this conversation, but what else, anyone who hasn’t spoken who’s had a question and has been waiting to get in and I keep trying to look at the if you raise your hand I can’t see all the time. Because I can only see four people on the screen and gauging by the silence that this is a good stopping point at least for now, but this has been a really great conversation Thank you so much, the highlight of my week.
Arthur Bradley: Highlight of my week, I want to thank you Roger, and thank everybody. I know everybody’s incredibly busy with their own work and it’s been great to hear a little bit about your projects as well. And please if you want to follow up on anything that we’ve been talking about today don’t hesitate to get in touch with me and I’d be very happy to chat to you all. Thank you so much for your attention, it’s been a great honor for me to have this opportunity to speak to you all about my work.
Roger Green: Very much so, likewise. Okay, everyone has a great rest of your day or night wherever you are in the world. Thanks, very much for being here. Thank you.