This essay argues that sovereignty, both the form of government and the law it constitutes, can be understood in terms of what it keeps out and at bay—namely, historically specific forms of formlessness. Assuming that formlessness does indeed have a form, the authors see it emerging in Jacobean tragedy whenever something happens to the body of the legitimate monarch and poses a threat to culture itself, endangering kinship along with the metaphysics of kingship. In Hobbes's Leviathan, sovereignty is no longer immanent in nature and the order of the universe itself but is a purely cultural or, in Hobbes's phrase, “artificial” thing. Hobbes designs the figure of Leviathan to render unthinkable the possibility of a many-headed body politic. Rather than set Hobbes in opposition to Locke and Defoe, who together arguably inaugurate the Enlightenment, the authors contend that such modern notions of self-sovereignty are defensive formations, responding to the same pressure of the multitude that shapes Leviathan.
Skip Nav Destination
Research Article| December 01 2009
Sovereignty and the Form of Formlessness
differences (2009) 20 (2-3): 148–178.
Nancy Armstrong, Leonard Tennenhouse; Sovereignty and the Form of Formlessness. differences 1 December 2009; 20 (2-3): 148–178. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10407391-2009-007
Download citation file: