States of exception, ethics and new beginnings in middle east politics

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The work of philosopher Giorgio Agamben on states of exception generated discussion across various fields of enquiry about the suspension of juridical norms in liberal democracies. In the wake of Agamben's influential writing, state of exception commonly stands for the manifest might of the governing. However, the governed can also ethically refashion themselves under states of exception of their own. This essay goes beyond a juridical understanding of exception by examining an ethical exception in the texts of three writers whose politics exude a sense of encompassing emergency in the Middle East. They are Palestinian novelist Ghassan Kanafani, US peace activist Rachel Corrie and Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb. I discuss ways these writers conceptually expand exception's relation to norm - from that of suspension to that of cohabitation and complicity with the norm. Informed by Hannah Arendt's discussion of the human capacity to begin anew, I argue that, when not confined to the quandary of juridical order, state of exception can emerge as subjects' ethical capacity for political renewal, one that is not necessarily beholden to sovereign state power over law and life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)346-364
Number of pages19
Issue number3
StatePublished - 4 May 2014


  • Agamben Giorgio
  • Corrie Rachel
  • Kanafani Ghassan
  • Qutb Sayyid
  • ethics
  • state of exception


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