States of Exception: Auto-immunity and the Body Politic in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus

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Abstract

The essay starts by referring to a central moment in Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, when the Roman hero reacts to his banishment by banishing: “I banish you!" (3.3.123). These lines, the essay argues, provide, in a condensed form, a radical shift of perspective on the question of the boundaries of Rome: how far does Rome extend? Can Rome banish herself ? Does Rome move with Coriolanus as he moves “elsewhere” (3. 3. 135)? They also force the audience to reconsider the "nature" of the political decision that leads to the ban. Taking its cue from this line, the essay shows that the question of boundaries in Coriolanus is intimately connected with the uncanny logic of "auto-immunity" which affects Rome’s body politic, a "strange illogical logic by which a living being can spontaneously destroy [...] the very thing within it that is supposed to protect it against the other" (J Derrida). The essay also argues that auto-immunity prevails insofar as political life in Rome repeatedly presents itself as life under a state of exception (G. Agamben), a life which is ultimately produced as the bare life of the homo sacer. Coriolanus clearly emblematizes the bare life of the homo sacer. Yet as a Roman / un-Roman hero, he also shows "practices of self-undoing that could clear a path out of the state of exception" (Kuzner). Most notably amongst these, the essay concludes, is his encounter with Aufidius, an encounter which temporarily enacts a "dis-arming" regime of inoperativeness focusing on the un-martial "nothing" (4.5.127) of masculine dreams and fantasies.
Lingua originaleEnglish
Titolo della pubblicazione ospiteQuestioning Bodies in Shakespeare's Rome
Pagine77-94
Numero di pagine18
Stato di pubblicazionePublished - 2010

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