The Politics of Spectacle

My latest guest post has just gone up over on Political Theology Today:

Sovereignty has historically been manifested and exercised in no small measure through spectacle and through glory. The regal finery with which monarchs are attired, the imposing grandeur of government buildings, the elaborate ritual, ceremony, and pageantry of state occasions, the extravagance of titles and honours, the grandiloquence of state speeches, the exactitude of official etiquette, the lavishness of the provisions for state banquets, the grand exhibitions of marshalled might in military reviews: in these and many other ways sovereignty, power, and authority express and exert themselves in the mode of glory. The spectacle is the clothing of power and sovereignty, the manner in which it manifests itself to the world. As sovereign majesty and might present themselves to be gazed upon in the spectacle, populations can be entranced, enthralled, and arrested, bound together in a sense of reverence, deference, awe, fear, solemnity, delight, or admiration, the public’s imagination captivated.

In the spectacle the quasi-transcendence of sovereignty is affirmed and displayed. A constant lurking fear is that the mortality and weakness of the king’s ‘natural body’ might appear beneath the majestic clothing of the ‘body politic’ (Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies is a significant treatment of this distinction), the latter proving to be naught but a fragile and fading façade over an underlying impotence, or that the mask of the state’s glory might slip to expose its face of brutality. Maintaining the spectacle imbues realities with dignity and symbolic purchase in the popular imagination that they might otherwise lack.

The Transfiguration is a spectacle displaying royal glory and majesty, a manifestation of a rule that is operative in the world. Yet Christ’s kingship, while gloriously displayed in the Transfiguration, is no masquerade beneath a tissue of symbolism and spectacle: his is no ‘hollow crown’. Christ is a king who divests himself of the spectacle of the Mount of Transfiguration, being raised up in the immediacy of his naked mortality on the Mount of Calvary. The dazzling body of the Transfiguration and the whip-furrowed body of the Crucifixion can only truly be understood in relation to each other—they are one and the same.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Bible, Guest Post, Luke, NT, Politics, Society, The Gospels. Bookmark the permalink.

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