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  • The (Un)Intelligibility of Radical Political Actors by Sina Kramer
  • Mario Venegas
The (Un)Intelligibility of Radical Political Actors
By Sina Kramer,
Oxford University Press, 2017. 256 Pages.

Sina Kramer opens with three stories: the story of Antigone, the occluded story of Claudette Colvin who preceded Rosa Parks in refusing to give up her seat in Montgomery, and the Los Angeles 1992 Watts Riots/ Rebellion. These accounts help Kramer establish their guiding question: why do figures like Antigone, Claudette, and the collective action of the riots/rebellion become excluded and read as unintelligible forms of political agency? To illuminate these exclusions and reading of events as inscrutable or outside the norms of political agency, Kramer centralizes the concept of "constitutive exclusions". Kramer defines constitutive exclusion as the phenomenon of creating internal exclusions in the process of forming a philosophical system or political body. This exclusion happens when a thought system or political body defines itself by excluding some difference which is intolerable to it. As such, this form of exclusion differs from absolute exclusion in that those constitutively excluded remain within the body of thought or political system and are covered up and repressed. In doing so, the excluded within is both what makes the constitution of a body possible but also what makes that constitution impossible since they threaten the borders of these systems of thought and organization. The acts of the excluded within, when they contest their exclusion become read as unintelligible, outside what is comprehensible to political actors and in doing so, the excluded within challenge the boundaries of what is politically permissible.

The author speaks to critical theory, feminist theory, queer theory, and critical race theory to ground their contribution. Indeed, Kramer develops constitutive exclusions in order to speak to these four schools of thought that have not given the concept the analytic attention it deserves, despite using the concept in these strands of thought. Kramer draws heavily on critical theory and feminist theory, in particularly from post-structuralist thinkers like Jacques Derrida and Judith Butler. Throughout the text, Kramer draws heavily from Judith Butler's work to develop a method of reading constitutive exclusions in texts and events, following that poststructuralist sensibility of reading events like one would a literary text.

Kramer organizes the book in three parts. Part one is a philosophically guided to diagnose the anatomy of constitutive exclusions and how it operates. This part shows a masterful handling of various philosophical strands such as Hegelian and Derridian thought to support Kramer's claim that those who are constitutively excluded occupy a quasi-transcendental space-that is, the potential to transcend the political body or system of thought lies within those who are internally excluded: such as women, people of color, and queer identified. Part II is the heart of constitutive exclusion as Kramer develops a method to identify and critique those exclusions in moments in history and in texts. Here Kramer describes this method as a negative dialectical method and also historical materialist, in order to read these exclusions into moments in concrete history.

In Part III Kramer presents a literary and two historical moments to illustrate the critique of constitutive exclusion to the case of Antigone, Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, and the Watts Riots/Rebellion.

Throughout part III, Kramer draws heavily on secondary sources to illustrate the method of reading constitutive exclusions. Through this reading of events, analysts can understand how the present and the politically possible are sedimented by past exclusions in the course of political activity. Doing so will help readers understand how history excludes the marginalized and thus call to develop a counter-memory that can honor the shards of those actors who contested their exclusion.

Kramer applies a method of deconstruction for events and framing of these events, yet there is little reference to primary sources which reveal some methodological weaknesses. Chapter 6 draws heavily on secondary source material, mostly interpretations of Antigone by Judith Butler, as well as original source material for the story of Antigone. Chapter 7 is almost all secondary sources for the case of the L.A...


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