The proceedings of last year’s Spindel Conference at the University of Memphis on the topic “Critical Histories of the Present” have now been published in The Southern Journal of Philosophy. Edited by Verena Erlenbusch, it has contributions from Bilge Akbalik, Amy Allen, Shouta Brown, Andrew Daily, Andrew Dilts, Stuart Elden, Bryan Kimoto, Colin Koopman, Jordan Liz, Mary Beth Mader, Ladelle McWhorter, Maia Nahele, Kevin Olson, Tuomo Tiisala, Jasmine Wallace, and Jim Zubko.
The issue requires subscription, unfortunately.
[Update 1 September 2017: the issue appears to be open access]
My contribution is entitled ‘Foucault and Shakespeare: Ceremony, Theatre, Politics‘. A preprint is available here. Here’s the abstract:
Foucault only refers to Shakespeare in a few places in his work. He is intrigued by the figures of madness that appear in King Lear, Hamlet, and Macbeth. He occasionally notes the overthrow of one monarch by another, such as in Richard II or Richard III, arguing that “a part of Shakespeare’s historical drama really is the drama of the coup d’État.” For Foucault, the first are illustrations of the conflict between the individual and the mechanisms of discipline. The second are, however, less interesting than moments when the sovereign is replaced, not with another sovereign, but with a different, more anonymous, form of power. Yet, in his 1976 Collège de France course, Society Must Be Defended, where he treats the theme at most length, he intriguingly suggests that Shakespearean historical tragedy is “at least in terms of one of its axes, a sort of ceremony, or a rememorialization of the problems of public right.” Foucault was long fascinated by the theatre, and especially its relation to political ceremony. Drawing especially on his 1972 lectures in Paris and a related presentation in Minnesota, this paper asks how we might understand the relation between ceremony, theatre, and politics in Foucault and Shakespeare. Many of Shakespeare’s plays, both histories and tragedies, thus demonstrate the importance of ritual and ceremony, a political theatre. Examining the disrupted ceremony of King Lear, the repeated ceremony of King John, the denial of ritual in Coriolanus, and the parody of the ceremonial in Henry IV, Part One opens up a range of historical, theoretical, and political questions.
As with all the papers, it is followed by a commentary, in this case from the insightful Bilge Akbalik in a piece entitled ‘The Modern Drama of coup d’État and Systems of Discipline: Foucault and Political Ceremony’.
The objective of my comments is to draw attention to the complex relationship between the juridico-political model of sovereignty and disciplinary power in Foucault’s work. I suggest that Elden’s reading of Foucault and Shakespeare opens up new ways to understand contemporary forms of governmentality through a genealogy of political ceremony and theatricality. More specifically, my comments seek to show that an examination of the ceremoniality of coup d’État in connection with what Foucault calls the “democratization of sovereignty” is potentially fruitful for examining modern forms of the government of civil society and counterconduct.
My thanks to Bilge for her commentary, and to Verena for organising the event.
I have a second piece on Foucault and Shakespeare forthcoming, this time in an edited book on Foucault, theatre and performance. That second piece looks at what I call the ‘theatre of madness’. Both pieces link the two main projects I’ve been working on over the past several years.