Carl Schmitt’s Hamlet or Hecuba

TELOS153_MEDDavid Pan and Julia Reinhard Lupton in Telos:

If recent discussions of Schmitt in these pages have made a broad case for the centrality of culture for his thinking, the current issue both specifies and generalizes this approach. The specificity derives from our focus on one key text by Schmitt that is often passed over but is in fact crucial for understanding his work. The generality is a result of the breathtaking sweep of issues that this text opens up for the contributors to this issue: the relation of sovereignty to popular will, the ontological status of modernity, the role of myth in society, the representational structure of human existence, the relation of art and theology to the public sphere. These discussions take our understanding of Schmitt into new directions that draw out not just the aesthetic and cultural aspects of his thought, but also reveal the import of his methods for fundamental questions of epistemology and ontology. He arrives at such questions through the consideration of a single exemplary case: Shakespeare's Hamlet.

His critical intervention has led to an increasing engagement by Renaissance scholars with Schmitt's work over the last decade. In the work of scholars such as Victoria Kahn, Anselm Haverkamp, and Kathleen Biddick, the example of Schmitt never functions as a simple template that would assert the isomorphism of religion and politics, but rather as an invitation to an impasse. What is it about politics that finds itself bound up in the person of the sovereign, the drama of the decision, and the state of exception even while regrounding the rule of law and the legitimacy of a constitution? What is it about politics that remains distinct from the content of ethics, economics, and culture while nonetheless bearing on them? Finally, what is it about politics that both courts and resists theology, catching civic and religious life in an impossible dance of failed separation and catastrophic rapprochement, the Scylla and Charybdis instanced by secularization on the one hand and fundamentalism on the other?