In Textual Conspiracies, James R. Martel applies the literary, theological, and philosophical insights of Walter Benjamin to the question of politics and the predicament of the contemporary left. Through the lens of Benjamin's theories, as influenced by Kafka, of the fetishization of political symbols and signs, Martel looks at the ways in which various political and literary texts "speak" to each other across the gulf of time and space, thereby creating a "textual conspiracy" that destabilizes grand narratives of power and authority and makes the narratives of alternative political communities more apparent.
However, in keeping with Benjamin's insistence that even he is complicit with the fetishism that he battles, Martel decentralizes Benjamin's position as the key theorist for this conspiracy and contextualizes Benjamin in what he calls a "constellation" of pairs of thinkers and writers throughout history, including Alexis de Tocqueville and Edgar Allen Poe, Hannah Arendt and Federico García Lorca, and Frantz Fanon and Assia Djebar.
"This is a daring book! A generous, joyful, and, yes, conspiratorial reading of a series of writers who have all too often been approached in a spirit of violence or despair, it also offers a more slyly ambitious challenge: it asks its readers to find an antidote to political hopelessness not in revolutionary activism but in the radical reinterpretation of time and language. Textual Conspiracies is essential reading for anyone seeking an inspiring, rather than facilely condemnatory, work of democratic theory."
—Ruth A. Miller, University of Massachusetts, Boston
"This is a sophisticated and fascinating argument written in a very enjoyably entertaining style. It is hard for me to see how readers initially interested in these texts will not be 'swept off their feet' by the core assertions of this author, and the devastatingly comprehensive way in which he demonstrates those arguments."
—Brent J. Steele, University of Kansas
"James Martel's book offers a compelling and original vision of radical political resistance, a resistance we conspire in even when we don't mean to. Inspired by Benjamin's sense of the conspiracy of language, Martel brings out the possibilities immanent in the ways we thwart ourselves: there is hope, but not for us. Anyone interested in current debates in deconstructive, psychoanalytic, and poststructuralist theory must read this book, one of the best to appear in over a decade."
—Jodi Dean, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Jacket illustration: A painting of Walter Benjamin by Huguette Martel, based on a photograph by Gisèle Freund. Used with permission of the artist and the estate of Gisèle Freund.