Skip to main content

The Royal Remains

The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty

The Royal Remains

The People’s Two Bodies and the Endgames of Sovereignty

"The king is dead. Long live the king!" In early modern Europe, the king's body was literally sovereign—and the right to rule was immediately transferrable to the next monarch in line upon the king's death. In The Royal Remains, Eric L. Santner argues that the "carnal" dimension of the structures and dynamics of sovereignty hasn't disappeared from politics. Instead, it migrated to a new location—the life of the people—where something royal continues to linger in the way we obsessively track and measure the vicissitudes of our flesh.
Santner demonstrates the ways in which democratic societies have continued many of the rituals and practices associated with kingship in displaced, distorted, and usually, unrecognizable forms. He proposes that those strange mental activities Freud first lumped under the category of the unconscious—which often manifest themselves in peculiar physical ways—are really the uncanny second life of these "royal remains," now animated in the body politic of modern neurotic subjects. Pairing Freud with Kafka, Carl Schmitt with Hugo von Hofmannsthal,and Ernst Kantorowicz with Rainer Maria Rilke, Santner generates brilliant readings of multiple texts and traditions of thought en route to reconsidering the sovereign imaginary. Ultimately, The Royal Remains locates much of modernity—from biopolitical controversies to modernist literary experiments—in this transition from subjecthood to secular citizenship.
This major new work will make a bold and original contribution to discussions of politics, psychoanalysis, and modern art and literature.

288 pages | 1 halftone | 6 x 9 | © 2011

Philosophy: Philosophy of Religion

Religion: Philosophy of Religion, Theology, and Ethics


“There is a truly remarkable persistence and consistency in Eric Santner’s relentless endeavor which I have been passionately following over the years. From My Own Private Germany (1996) and On the Psychotheology of Everyday Life (2001) to On Creaturely Life (2006), there is a far-reaching and ever expanding pattern of reflection on the very conditions of the emergence of modernity, the ways in which it has been underpinned, in a multiplicity of ways, by a pound of ‘spectral yet visceral’ flesh. This research has reached its most lucid and complex form so far with The Royal Remains, the vast politico-theological and psychoanalytic narrative about how the demise of transcendence has left us with a ‘surplus of immanence’, a bodily too-muchness, an errant fleshy excess that still defines our condition and haunts it. From Marat’s death to Rilke’s Malte, from Kafka’s country doctor to Foucault’s biopolitical body, there is an overarching and  developing plot, masterly told by one of the great theoreticians of our era.”

Mladen Dolar

“This is a major book by one of the most original and skilled critic-thinkers of our time. The Royal Remains—the newest installment in Eric L. Santner’s intellectual saga—charts the transition from personal to popular sovereignty, which is also the movement from the subject to the citizen. Santner is a master of the creative conjunction and here he generates dazzling readings that illuminate multiple texts and traditions of thinking. These same readings also lead directly and without apology to genuine insights into the ways we live, and fail to live, now—and how we might live better.”

Julia Reinhard Lupton, University of California, Irvine

“To read any work by Eric L. Santner is to enter a crowded, glorious, and alien world. A brilliant contribution to democratic and literary theory, political theology, secular studies, and aesthetics, The Royal Remains is a generous and humane book that is quite simply a must read.”

Bonnie H. Honig, Northwestern University

Table of Contents



1 Sovereignty and the Vital Sphere
2 Of Kings and Other Creatures
3 Toward a Science of the Flesh


4 Was heisst Schauen? On the Vital Signs of Visual Modernism
5 The Stages of the Flesh: Shakespeare, Schmitt, Hofmannsthal
6 The Poet’s Two Bodies: Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge


Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press