Sanctimony Literature

As many have noted and some have lamented, politics are multiplying: these days everything seems to have one. The search term “the politics of” yields over a million results in my university’s library database. There is “the politics of dirt,” “the politics of sleep,” and even the politics of abstracta, such as “presence” and “absence.” Obviously political entities, such as “authoritarian rule,” have politics, as do things that might seem to the uninitiated to be staunchly apolitical, such as “dogs” and “snow.” In a quaint display of reactionary nostalgia, my thesaurus suggests that “governmental” is a synonym for “political,” but the political has evidently bubbled beyond the bounds of the state apparatus by now. It would make little sense to speak of the “the government of dirt” or “the government of absence,” but both of these things apparently have “a politics.” Many of these freshly politicized phenomena do not just have politics so much as they are political, no matter what else they might appear to be. Like Plato’s forms, a thing’s politics have come to constitute its true if invisible essence, or so the popular story goes. The ethical, for instance, has become political: there are more than nine thousand hits for “the politics of ethics,” whatever that means, in the library database. The aesthetic, too, is on the verge of annexation. As Lauren Oyler observed in Bookforum, “anxieties about being a good person, surrounded by good people, pervade contemporary novels and criticism.” By “good person,” contemporary novelists and critics do not mean someone rational, as Plato did; or someone merciful, as Augustine did; or someone who regards others as ends rather than means, as Kant did; or someone who celebrates the singularity of others, as Buber did. Instead, a person qualifies as “good” only if she conforms to

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