Hamlet’s Nothing


Russell Bennetts and Daniel Tutt interview Simon Critchley in Berfois (image by Tommaso Galli):

You present Carl Schmitt’s reading of Hamlet and discuss the politics of Hamlet, what you call “Hamletization”. It’s probably the most important reading of the political implications ofHamlet. Based on his reading of Hamlet, Schmitt argues that all politics happens in a radical decision to establish sovereignty. This strikes a similar chord to Badiou’s theory of the truth event, and even Žižek’s idea of the act – a sort of radical, earth-shattering moment to break us out of what’s rotten in Denmark. To what extent is that a plague of modernity, this “Hamletization”? One could also apply Foucault’s biopolitics as a kind of impossibility of real politics, where we lack the capacity for real change to take place. Countless political theorists since Schmitt present a theory of an act or an event to break out of this deadlock of the political. Are we doomed to a Schmittian politics? How is this connected to what Hamlet tells us about the modern condition, politically speaking?


The first thing is that it’s not clear what the ‘modern condition’ is. One of the axes that we’re grinding in this book and in my own current work on ancient tragedy is to try and destabilise the distinction between ancient and modern tragedy and, by implication, antiquity and modernity. I don’t believe in modernity. I don’t believe there is such a thing as modernity. And you get a kind of modernity fundamentalism in all kinds of areas of inquiry.

If you look at a play like Hamlet, it’s more like there’s some relationship between a world that is passing away and a world that is coming into existence. The play seems to be taking place at a kind of end between those two moments – the old and the new. The old is still there, though it’s in crisis – the king has been murdered – so the order of sovereignty based on kings has been destabilised with the murder of Hamlet’s father. And the new world is coming into being, which looks like a world of crime and opportunism, and that’s what’s wrong. The play is kind of juxtaposed between the two domains. It’s as if what most philosophers want to say of Shakespeare is that he’s the philosopher of modernity – that’s what you get with Hegel, Schelling, everyone. And we’re not so sure about that. And if you look at antiquity, it’s not clear what’s ancient about antiquity.

Ancient drama is as modern as modern drama. In exactly the same way, if you look at ancient tragedies, you find a world that has passed away – a world of myth – and the world that’s coming into existence – the world of law. And there’s a crisis.

More here.