- Sovereignty, Secrecy, and the Question of Magic in Roberto Bolaño's Distant Star
I would much rather have been a homicide detective than a writer. That's one thing I'm absolutely sure of.—Roberto Bolaño (2011, 369)
That sovereignty possesses a mystical quality, one that at times borders on the occult, is something on which many theorists have commented. We could think here of the way Schmitt positions the sovereign as simultaneously inside and outside of the political order, and of his claim that "the exception in jurisprudence is analogous to the miracle in theology" (2006, 36); we could also mention the sustained engagement with magic in the work of the most important theorist working in Schmitt's wake, Giorgio Agamben.1 [End Page 233] We could also think of the way Derrida, drawing upon Benjamin, refers to the "mystical foundation of authority";2 or of Hardt and Negri, who, in seeking to chart the "new global form of sovereignty" (2000, xii) that they call Empire, refer, in the preface to the book of this name, to Marx's invitation, in Capital, to "descend into the hidden abode of production" (xvii)—the place at which, according to Marx, we will finally witness "the secret of profit making." Indeed, haven't many of the most important thinkers of modern political philosophy, from de la Boétie through Rousseau and beyond, sought to interrogate an element of politics that it would be no exaggeration to label a mystery: why the many acquiesce to the power of the few?
Few recent theorists, however, have gone so far as to use the term "magic" to refer to the workings of sovereignty. Deleuze and Guattari are an exception to this rule: in their 1980 book A Thousand Plateaus, a work that is curiously overlooked in most contemporary debates around sovereignty, they write that "political sovereignty, or domination, has two heads: the magician-king and the jurist-priest" (1987, 351). What accounts, then, for the magical nature of one of the two poles of sovereignty? On the one hand, the "magic" of the king to whom Deleuze and Guattari, after Dumézil,3 refer, lies in his ability to awe his subjects, to put across the idea that he possesses special powers that they do not, powers that serve to justify his authority. Yet we should not assume that the magical power in question separates the ethnological and "mythographical" sources on which Deleuze and Guattari base much of their investigation from our own experience of sovereignty: magic, after all, is in many ways a very prosaic term. We can think here of the definition one of its best-known Renaissance theorists, Giordano Bruno, gave it: "the word magus," he writes, "designates the man who unites knowledge with the power to act" (2000, 12). If the sovereign is always in some way a magus, it is not because he practices sleight of hand, or makes us believe in what is not real, but because he possesses the power of poiesis: for him, saying is doing, and his words and thoughts are "magically" endowed with the power to act.4
This sovereign form of magic, however, is not the only one that Deleuze and Guattari deal with. Throughout their book, they argue that there is another form of magic, one that from time to time they label sorcery,5 that lies outside of, and is irreducible to, the sovereign form, and that by its very nature [End Page 234] resists all attempts at containment by the latter. It is often difficult, however, to distinguish these two forms of magic: they may appear the same, share similar traits, even express themselves in decidedly similar ways. How, given how closely they relate to one another, might we tell them apart—how can we, all the while that we think about their complex interaction, understand that point at which the one ends and the other begins?
To respond to the questions I have just raised, this essay will examine what is, for Deleuze and Guattari, one of magic's specific modes of expression: that of secrecy; and it will do so by looking not...