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Sovereignty, Inc.

Three Inquiries in Politics and Enjoyment

Series: TRIOS
What does the name Trump stand for? If branding now rules over the production of value, as the coauthors of Sovereignty, Inc. argue, then Trump assumes the status of a master brand whose primary activity is the compulsive work of self-branding—such is the new sovereignty business in which, whether one belongs to his base or not, we are all “incorporated.”

Drawing on anthropology, political theory, philosophy, psychoanalysis, and theater, William Mazzarella, Eric L. Santner, and Aaron Schuster show how politics in the age of Trump functions by mobilizing a contradictory and convoluted enjoyment, an explosive mixture of drives and fantasies that eludes existing portraits of our era. The current political moment turns out to be not so much exceptional as exceptionally revealing of the constitutive tension between enjoyment and economy that has always been a key component of the social order. Santner analyzes the collective dream-work that sustains a new sort of authoritarian charisma or mana, a mana-facturing process that keeps us riveted to an excessively carnal incorporation of sovereignty. Mazzarella examines the contemporary merger of consumer brand and political brand and the cross-contamination of politics and economics, warning against all too easy laments about the corruption of politics by marketing. Schuster, focusing on the extreme theatricality and self-satirical comedy of the present, shows how authority reasserts itself at the very moment of distrust and disillusionment in the system, profiting off its supposed decline. A dazzling diagnostic of our present, Sovereignty, Inc., forces us to come to terms with our complicity in Trump’s political presence and will immediately take its place in discussions of contemporary politics.

Author Information

William Mazzarella is the Neukom Family Professor of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. Eric L. Santner is the Philip and Ida Romberg Distinguished Service Professor in Modern Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago. Aaron Schuster is a senior research advisor at the V-A-C Foundation, Moscow.


“I can hardly imagine a book more timely and more needed. Three prominent scholars, combining their expertise and different perspectives, provide a brilliant, astute, and far-reaching autopsy of our present turmoil. From the incisive new notions of manatheism and mana-facturing to a dazzling new reading of Genet’s The Balcony as a clue to the shifts of sovereignty, the book provides a panoply of conceptual tools to think about the absurdity of the present. If we feel powerless in the face of the pervasive vulgarity and obscenity of new forms of power, if power increasingly appears as a parody of itself and thrives on its own fakery, then this book inspires hope by its rigorous exercise of genuine thought in the face of this.”
— Mladen Dolar, University of Ljubljana

“This superb trio of essays focuses on the mysterious third sphere that separates the governmental function from every living and breathing efficient cause. Conceived variously as a gap, the empty throne of power, the seat of the flesh or of surplus enjoyment, this sphere was formerly celebrated with pomp and circumstance. While these trappings have vanished from our modern, capitalist age, this sphere, filled now with a new form of emptiness, insists with implacable force. Posed polemically against the gray hues of contemporary critiques of capitalism and neoliberalism, these essays are dazzling standouts.”
— Joan Copjec, Brown University

Audience: Professional and scholarly;