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Vol. 2 No. 1 (2019): General Issue 2019

(Un)Exceptional Trauma, Existential Insecurity, and Anxieties of Modern Subjecthood: A Phenomenological Analysis of Arbitrary Sovereign Violence

  • Sabeen Ahmed
February 7, 2023


This article examines the lasting phenomenological consequences of inhabiting “spaces” of exception by rethinking the operation of sovereign violence therein. Taking as its point of departure Giorgio Agamben’s suggestion that the ‘state of exception’ is the ‘rule’ of modern politics, I argue that arbitrary sovereign violence has taken the place of the ‘sovereign decision’ of Carl Schmitt’s original theory. However, recognizing that it is neither enough simply to articulate the institutional grid of intelligibility of the state of exception nor expose the logics of sovereignty that make possible arbitrary violence, it draws on phenomenology, affect theory, and trauma studies to reorient our focus from the sovereign to the subject upon whom sovereign power is executed. Ultimately it proposes a new understanding of modern subjecthood as one of existential insecurity generated by the ‘new age of anxiety’ permeating social and political life today.