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On Lingering and Being Last

Jonathan Elmer

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print October 2008 | ISBN: 9780823229406
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780823240982 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.5422/fordham/9780823229406.001.0001
On Lingering and Being Last

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  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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What are we talking about when we talk about sovereignty? Is it about formal legitimacy or practical authority? Does it require the ability to control the flow of people or goods across a border; is it primarily a principle of international recognition; or does its essence lie in the power to regulate the lives of a state's citizens? Political theorists, historians, scholars of international relations, lawyers, anthropologists, literary critics all approach the dilemmas of sovereign power with a mixture of urgency and frustration. In this book, the author argues that the logic of sovereignty that emerged in early modern Europe and that limits our thinking today must be understood as a fundamentally racialized logic, first visible in the New World. The modern concept of sovereignty is based on a trope of personification, the conjunction of individual and collective identities. In Grotius, Hobbes, and others, a fiction of sovereign autonomy enabled states to be personified as individuals, as bodies politic, even as individual humans could be imagined as miniature states. The contradictions of this logic were fully revealed only in the New World, as writers ranging from Aphra Behn to Thomas Jefferson and Herman Melville demonstrate. The racialized sovereign figures examined in this book are always at once a person and a people. They embody the connection between the individual and the collectivity, and thereby reveal that the volatile work of sovereign personification takes place in a new world constituted both by concepts of equality, homogeneity, and symmetry and by the realities of racial domination and ideology in the era of colonial expansion.

Keywords: sovereignty; modern Europe; identities; logic; New World; personification; equality; homogeneity; racial domination; ideology

Book.  256 pages.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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Introduction in On Lingering and Being Last

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