Against Agamben : Sovereignty and the Void in the Discourse of the Nation in Early Modern China

, par Joyce C. H. Liu


In Kingdom and Glory, Agamben analyzed the dual perspective of the void, through the metaphor of the empty throne, in the governmental machine in the West. I engage with the ambiguous question of the void with regard to the concept of sovereignty through my reading of two Chinese intellectuals in the late Qing period, Liang Qichao (1872–1929) and Zhang Taiyan (1869–1936). This paper therefore addresses the question of sovereignty and the void in the discourse of nation in early modern China, an issue that is related to the problem of the political economy or the politics of life. I argue that the rhetorical move in Liang Qichao’s argument for the birth of a new nation and new people was to move from the not-having to the there is in support of the formation of a new nation-state and a restricted logic of sover- eignty, while Zhan Taiyan’s position was to affirm the dynamitic re-composition of the void by constantly negating the given fixated state, and thus proposing a different and radical vision of nation and full sovereignty of the lives of each and every one of the people who are co-inhabiting in the polis.