Tears of Reign: Big Sovereigns Do Cry

Kathleen Biddick



This paper argues that these processes of transference and periodization in contemporary theory need to be understood as sovereign border technologies. Kantorowicz drew the hard line when he presented the king’s two bodies as a product of the secularizing (read also, modernizing) transference of the corporate sacramental body of the Catholic Church (corpus mysticum) into the corporate notion of juridical royal embodiment. Kantorowicz intimates that this “transfer” was what psychoanalysts would call today “transference” in that Tudor jurists fabricating the juridical fantasy of royal zombie embodiment, did so, “unconsciously rather than consciously” (19). Kantorowicz thus positioned himself fantastically as the “one who knows” classic sovereignty; scholars have been transferring to his text ever since. What this institutional transference has foreclosed, I argue, is the queer imbrication of classical sovereignty (to let die) and biopolitics (to make live) — the living and the living dead. Such temporal foreclosure results, I argue, in the fetish of modernity among the disciples of Kantorowicz. Their tracts profess their faith in biopolitics as the sign of modernity; at the very same time they must painfully disavow the disturbing evidence for untimely traumatic entanglements of classical sovereignty and biopolitics. This impasse is not much fun, as Tim Dean has pointed out in his recent essay on the “Biopolitics of Pleasure.” This essay asks, then, how to rethink the living and the living dead, the theoretical impasse of political theology and biopolitics, such that critique is not dismissed as “mere” historicism or, alternatively, as a misguided effort to separate out symbolic fiction from fantasy? How then to argue for what I perceive as the queer untimeliness of the living and the living dead, the untimeliness of political theology and biopolitics?


Keywords: tears, biopolitics, Ernst Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies, William Shakespeare, King Richard II