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Classical Reception Seminar Series

When May 22, 2018
from 05:15 PM to 07:00 PM
Where G.21
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Dr Charles Stocking (Western University, Canada)

Kratos before democracy: force, politics, and signification in Derrida and Homer

Abstract:

In Iliad Book 2, Odysseus delivers a speech to the dēmos, which has been quoted extensively throughout antiquity and modernity as a distinctly anti-democratic claim for monarchic sovereignty. He exclaims, “Rule by many lords is not good. Let there be one lord, one king, to whom the son of crooked counseling Kronos has given the scepter and right of judgement” (Iliad 2. 204-206). In one of his last major publications, Rogues (Voyous), Jacques Derrida used this speech as a center piece for broader arguments on the problematic relationship between force and politics.  In particular, he suggested that the speech represents a principle of “ipsocentric,” self-referential force, which has a divine correlate with the kratos of Zeus. Ultimately, Derrida argued for the notion of kratos as ipsocentric force in order to contrast it with the institution of democracy, which, for Derrida, is a political manifestation of his philosophy of différance. This paper will take up Derrida’s use of Homer in Rogues as a starting point for analyzing the political logic of force in Homer’s Iliad. As I shall argue, we do not necessarily need to posit a future “democracy,” as Derrida does, in order to deconstruct the model of ipsocentric force represented by the “one king” speech of the Iliad. Rather, I suggest, such a unified notion of force is already deconstructed in the Iliad itself. Such deconstruction is most readily observed in the general cultural semantics of kratos, in its mythological implications for the rule of Zeus, and in the uniquely discursive role that kratos plays within the narrative of the Iliad.

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