Sovereign Exceptions and Sexual Autonomy in Heinrich von Kleist’s Betrothal in San Domingo
Keywords:State of exception, sovereignty, race, gender, subjectivity
This article investigates how the concept of a state of exception and its dialectic relationship with the norm are negotiated in the German author Heinrich von Kleist’s Betrothal in San Domingo (1811), the story of two doomed lovers – a Swiss visitor named Gustav and a “mestiza” woman named Toni – set against the backdrop of the Haitian revolution. Drawing primarily upon Carl Schmitt and Giorgio Agamben’s political thoughts as well as Alexander Weheliye’s critique of Agamben which, the former claims, has little “to say about racism, colonialism, and the world beyond fortress Europe” (64), I argue that the novella critically engages with the concept of exception and calls attention to its limitations but simultaneously offers an alternative conception to what political action may look like during a moment of intense conflict. The novella scrutinizes bio(necro)political theory’s placement of death at the center of our political thought, emphasizing instead the inadequacy of the universalization of the concept of “life,” particularly outside its Eurowestern perimeters. Through Weheliye, my analysis further suggests that Betrothal in San Domingo establishes Toni as an active, sovereign subject who, through actions of friendship and love, poses a significant challenge to the systems of exception and its underlying violent potentialities.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Nazia Manzoor
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