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  • Cited by 4
  • Print publication year: 2004
  • Online publication date: May 2006

8 - Body politics


The extremes as points of orientation define the via regia of philosophical investigation for Benjamin. The first sentence that opens the main body of Benjamin's The Origin of the German Tragic Drama, after the epistemological preface, categorically states the direction as “the necessary direction toward the extreme” (Origin, 57). The extreme as point of direction and orientation, even as the “norm of conceptualization” (Origin, 57), is set off from a logic that defines the norm by the normal, the average, and the middle. It is in this direction toward the extreme that Benjamin finds his own intellectual procedure intersecting with that of Carl Schmitt, whose essay on the concept of sovereignty appealed to Benjamin above all because of this methodological intersection with his own mode of thought. When Benjamin, in his book on German tragic drama, explicitly quotes the one-sentence paragraph with which Carl Schmitt opens his book: “Sovereign is he who decides over the state of emergency,” his own epistemological preface has already articulated the logic of the extreme that underlies Schmitt's procedure. For Schmitt, the concept of the “sovereign” is a liminal concept (Grenzbegriff). “A liminal concept, ” he writes, “is not a confused concept as it is in the popular literature, but a concept of the extreme sphere. Accordingly its definition cannot be tied to the normal case, but to the liminal case.” At this point the intellectual worlds of Benjamin and Schmitt come to their closest encounter; from here they will move away from each other in opposite directions. Schmitt will become and remain a fundamentalist, Benjamin will remain a marginalist, being faithful only to the liminal border lines.

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