Hershman Leeson’s and Thek’s effigies provide a lens through which to perceive the confluence of political power and individual sovereignty in America in the 1960s and 1970s. Both stage the effigy at a point of putrefaction – the blue tongue of Thek’s figure, the duration of The Dante Hotel installation – evidencing the political as well as corporeal volatility of the subject. This was to some extent achieved by both artists’ subversion of the effigy as a form of representation. In The King’s Two Bodies (1957) German historian Ernst Kantorowicz explained how the royal corpse threatened the symbolic continuity of power, thus prompting the production of a more durable substitute for public display upon death.7 What Kantorowicz identified in his book on the prehistory of modern ‘political theology’ was elaborated on by the philosopher Michel Foucault in a 1975–6 series of lectures at the Collège de France, in which he defined the concept of biopower.8 Foucault modified earlier theories, which understood sovereignty as the divinely ordained right to ‘take life or let live’, to argue that the state now had the authority ‘to make live and to let die’.9 Where individual bodies were subject to disciplinary techniques under medieval regimes, modern political regimes inaugurated in the later eighteenth century applied these techniques to entire populations.10 Individuals only mattered in terms of what data they could yield about the masses; in extreme cases this data could be used to strip citizens of their rights and place them under a ‘state of exception’, a term coined by juridical theorist Carl Schmitt to refer to a sovereign’s ability to transcend the rule of law.11 The political philosopher Giorgio Agamben has followed Schmitt by reviving the obscure Roman legal term homo sacer (sacred man) to connote the idea of a ‘bare life’, what the ancient Greeks called zoē and distinguished from bios, the politically acknowledged and thus protected life of a citizen.12 In that they both exist outside or beyond the law, the sovereign at the top of the social ladder and the homo sacer at the bottom are thus oddly aligned.13


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