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The Art of Surrender

Decomposing Sovereignty at Conflict’s End

How do we know when a war ends? For many, the resolution of a conflict comes not with the last traces of smoke left on the battlefield, but with the formal ceremonies of surrender: possession and repossession, the signing of treaties, and the pomp and circumstance that mark them. Historically, most conflicts have ended with such rituals. But, as Robin Wagner-Pacifici reveals in The Art of Surrender, they should not be seen as merely a matter of giving up. They also offer ways of holding back and signal early fault lines that give rise to later undoings and conflicts.

The Art of Surrender explores these ritual concessions as acts of warfare, performances of submission, demonstrations of power, and representations of shifting, unstable worlds. Wagner-Pacifici analyzes three significant military surrenders in the history of warfare—the Thirty Years’ War of the seventeenth century, the American Civil War, and World War II—through the use of period documents and forms, maps, literature, witness accounts, photographs, and paintings that were left as proof of victory and defeat. In her analyses of such archival material and iconic works of art, she considers the limits of sovereignty at conflict’s end, showing how the ways we concede loss can be as important as the ways we claim victory.

224 pages | 9 color plates, 9 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2005

Art: Art--General Studies

History: Military History

Political Science: Diplomacy, Foreign Policy, and International Relations

Sociology: General Sociology


The Art of Surrender continues and deepens one of the more remarkable projects in the human studies: Robin Wagner-Pacifici’s political semiotics of violent confrontation in the contemporary world. Through a series of virtuoso case studies, The Art of Surrender reconceptualizes strategic political action. Demonstrating the profoundly performative qualities of politics and violence, this sparkling work takes cultural sociology where it has never gone before.”--Jeffrey C. Alexander, Yale University

Jeffrey C. Alexander | Jeffrey C. Alexander

“Robin Wagner-Pacifici shows that defeat is never simply the inability to go on fighting, but a form of social organization orchestrated by its own rules. She makes beautiful use of visual and textual evidence for three archetypal cases of the Western tradition of surrender—Breda, Appomattox, and Tokyo Bay—thereby making also an outstanding contribution on the politics of painting and photography. This is a book that would delight the ghost of Georg Simmel.”--Randall Collins, University of Pennsylvania

Randall Collins | Randall Collins

“This book is a fine piece of cultural sociology: smart, sound, and original. It is also particularly timely because it deals with sovereignty and surrender when the world political map and rights of self-government are matters of violent as well as political struggle. Robin Wagner-Pacifici peels away layer after layer of the arts of diplomacy, political ritual, and warfare as they come to light in critical moments of surrender.”--Chandra Mukerji, University of California, Davis

Chandra Mukerji | Chandra Mukerji

Table of Contents

1. The Problem of Surrender
The End
Archetypes in Action: A Word on Method
Cases of Surrender
The Archaism of Surrender
The Conditions of Surrender: Toward a Political Semiotic
Converging to Convert
The Etymology of Surrender
Etymological Coda
Surrenders as Actions in the Interstices
The Copies of Surrender
2. Witness to Surrender
Bearing Witness at Breda
What Is a Witness?
The Visual Order of the Witness
Where Is the Witness?
What Does the Witness Do?
Signatories to the Scene
Witness to a Disappearance
Looking at the Vanishing Point
Paper and Responsibility
3. The Exchanges of Surrender
The Dangers of Surrender
The Case of the Unconditional Surrender
The Nature of the Surrendering Exchange
The Objects of Exchange
Originary and Secondary Objects of Contention
A Note on the Work of Maps
Civil War Territory
The Fates of Warriors and Civilians
Transactional Objects of the Process of Surrender
Pledges, Oaths, Promises, and Pardons
Instruments and Weapons of War
Symbolic Objects of Authority and Solidarity
Tributes, Demonstrations, and Gestures
Sites of Exchange
Convergence and Divergence
4. Sovereignty and Its Afterlife
What Is Sovereignty?
Types of Sovereignty
Erotic Exchange and Vicarious Surrender
Actions of the Sovereign
Assumption and Divestment of Responsibility
The Itinerant Sovereign
How to Recognize the Sovereign
Mapping Sovereign Relations
Agency without Sovereignty
How to Represent the Sovereign
The Multiplicity of Singularity
Sovereignty at the Scene?
The Uncopied
5. The Deep Structure of Surrender
Borderline Scrutinies
Uneasy Appearances
The Political Semiotic at Conflict’s End
Demonstration and Deictics
Deictic Deferrals
Performatives and Transformations
Copies and Their Inversions
Underrepresentation and the Civil War
On the Threshold of Assumptions and Divestments


ASA Culture Section: Mary Douglas Prize
Honorable Mention

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