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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Powering Down: Disfigurations of Authority in the Modern Era
by Rauscher, William, Ph.D., New York University, 2011, 228; 3486808
Abstract (Summary)

My dissertation, “Powering Down: Disfigurations of Authority in the Modern Era,” reads figures in key texts in the twentieth-century German theological-political discourse as responses to the withdrawal of traditional authority from the political sphere. I first investigate the historical rise of several disparate efforts in German writing after the First World War to re-think the relations between political and theological concepts: what they share is the presupposition that an immanent political foundation cannot function, and which achieves historical significance if one adopts Arendt's claim that the traditional mode of authority has withdrawn from politics. Then I evaluate a number of significant attempts to label these efforts as “political theology” and suggest, following Claude Lefort, that this term instead be replaced by the “theological-political” instead.

I then read three figures that emerge in German theological-political discourse after WWI as attempting to reckon with the void of traditional authority in politics through varying engagements with theological concepts: the sovereign, the Messiah and the poet. Following Lefort, I read each of these figures of authority as being each in its own way also a disfiguration. Carl Schmitt's theory of the sovereign and his adoption of the figure of the katechon reflect a desire to resurrect a political authority undergirded by theology. The figure of the Messiah in Jacob Taubes' reading of the apostle Paul represents an inverse theological-political relation: the divine invalidation of earthly authority. Martin Heidegger's readings of Friedrich Hölderlin produce the figure of the poet as exceptional witness to the founding of a new theological-political assemblage. Finally, Arendt is unique in the field of thinkers here in that she does not rely on a figure. Natality, which retains a theological mark in Arendt's definition as reflecting “the divinity of birth as such,” is not embodied by a particular individual, instead its ontological nature, the fact that any human is capable of instituting a process of radical re-birth, contributes to the radically egalitarian core of her thought on political action.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Ronell, Avital
Commitee: Fleming, Paul, Goebel, Eckart, Rickels, Laurence A., de Vries, Hent
School: New York University
Department: German
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 73/03, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: German literature, Philosophy of religion, Political science
Keywords: Authority, Disfigurations, Natality, Poetry, Politics, Powering down, Sovereignty, Theology
Publication Number: 3486808
ISBN: 978-1-267-04963-6
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