Phillip Tribe kept a library in the Shade. Within its stacks he collected unpublished manuscripts written by each revolutionary thinker who was marginalized to the shadows. Many referred to it as the Shade’s very own “Library of Babylon.” But to Tribe, it was much more than that. It was an ethos. A movement. It contained within it the truths that would carry humanity into the future. To Tribe, it was an arc.
The library contained every note, outline, sketch, essay, and book written by Sebastian Heim. Tribe had absolute faith in the visionary direction Heim was leading the world. He was obsessed with the man’s writings. “These texts are the bedrock, the very foundation on which a new world will find its balance. Read carefully. Every page is a passport.”
Tribe and his husband, Vladimir Schwarz of Tear Theory fame, constructed the library primarily in Heim’s honor. Together, the two men created a haven for radical intellectualism. It became a cultural salon, full of new thought, science, art, music, sexual orgy, and political action. Tribe and Schwarz had no trouble keeping close quarters with the greatest minds of their generation, since every single one eventually flocked to the Shade to bask in Sebastian Heim’s halo. Every word of his, they believed, was a monument to passion, ferocity, and radical newness.
Above all, Heim was a champion of the miners. Few understood his position, but then again, few had the courage to enter the Shade and read the following manuscript. As groundbreaking as it is short, this essay outlines the structural relationship between the miners and sovereignty. It states that biopolitics, by definition, is power over transparent life. Heim uses this notion to prove that there is only sovereign law because humanity has separated and opposed himself to the miners, whom he keeps in the Shade, out of necessity, as an inclusive exclusion.
In Tribe’s words, paraphrasing Heim, “At the center of both our library and the Shade rests a Minotaur. Find it. Wake it from its nightmare. And lead it, by its wrathful hand, straight to the door of Heaven.”
Sovereignty and the Miners
1: The Center of the Labyrinth
We know what the miners are. We can trace their genealogy. Their origin is no longer condemned to shadows. Their ancestors were humans. They were men and women, but then they broke the laws of civilized society. They broke the rules. Suddenly, their citizenship was revoked. Not just from their cities, but from the face of civilization, from the human race. The logic went: The rules of men have been broken, so the rights of men shall be stripped. These criminals were excommunicated from society and cast out into the Shade. This punishment was originally conceived as a form of “clean” death penalty. Outcasts were “returned to nature,” so to speak. Civilized men told themselves that they weren’t “killing” other men, but rather sending fallen organisms back to Mother Earth. It was she who swallowed her young. The state of nature was the violent one, they claimed, not the state of man. Who cares what happens to beasts? Not society. And these men had become animals, exceptions from the human race. Such a subtle disavowal, as we will see, leads to enormous implications.
In the days of excommunication the rules were simple. Law was structured exactly like man’s conception of the planet. The Earth was flat and the Shade was seen as its limit. Back then there was an outside to the world. The spheres of life were believed to be concentric circles. Civilization was the bright, warm center of the world. And the Shade was its dark, forgotten outer edge. By breaking the laws of men, one was simply “cast out.” These criminal transgressors, by being sent outside, were conceptually “removed from the Earth.”
But, as history has shown, this solipsistic view of the world could not have been more backwards. Eventually, the Shade was traversed. Men explored the “outer” reaches of the Earth only to come out on the other side. Our planet suddenly became a globe. The two halves of the world were united and the excommunicated outcasts, long thought dead, were rediscovered. They were alive, yes – but changed. Having lived so long in the “state of nature” they had truly returned to nature – they had become animals. Regressive evolution turned them into beasts, their humanity finally stripped from their bodies like so much penance for their crimes.
It is important to note that these creatures were not discovered at the ends of the Earth where they had originally been sent, but rather at its very heart, at the interior. When the two hemispheres joined, the Shade suddenly became the center of the world – the empty center. This is a radical truth. Understanding “a system with an empty center” requires a firm grasp on the paradoxical logic of indistinction. These excommunicated criminals, those creatures that were stripped of their humanity and therefore not quite man, but, who were also unswallowed by Mother Earth and therefore not quite animal, were, in fact, not excluded to the outside, but were rather imprisoned on the inside. Simply put – they were excluded inclusively. This paradox of the “inclusive exclusion” is essential for understanding the nature of power.
There is an ancient myth that tells a similar story of animal-men being imprisoned on the inside. This myth is the story of the Minotaur. It goes like this: To help his rise to power, King Minos gave an oath to the gods that he would sacrifice an animal. In response, the gods produced a magnificent white bull, which rose out of the sea so Minos could complete his rite. Yet, King Minos found the snowy creature too beautiful, so he broke his sacred promise and kept it alive. Such a transgression angered the gods. Out of retribution they cursed his wife, Pasiphaë, to fall madly in love with the animal. Smitten with lust, the queen was beside herself. She knew that somehow she would have to fulfill her desire. So, with the help of Crete’s master craftsman, the queen was given a wooden cow within which she could lie prostrate. It was placed out in the fields and the clever ruse worked. The bull was tricked. It mounted the machine and copulated with Pasiphaë. Nine months later the “Minotaur” was born – a word that simply means, “Bull of Minos.
This creature, being the impossible child of a sacrificial beast and a queen, remained completely outside of definition. It was not quite man. It had a muscular human body, yes, but could never become civilized with such a horrifyingly grotesque face. Nor was it a wild animal. Sure, it had the horns of a bull, but it spoke and cursed and spit with the agony of a man. Thus, it was half of each but also neither. It was everything animalistic about man while also being everything uncannily anthropomorphic about animals. The Minotaur was an inconsistency. It was a contradiction in terms. Most importantly, this paradox was the product of forbidden love with a god disguised as a bull, and therefore constituted the transgression of divine law. It was a curse upon humankind. By revealing the animal in man, the creature revealed itself to be excessively human – as the kernel of animality that lies hidden in all men. In order to hide this monstrosity, Pasiphaë called upon her master craftsman once more. Daedalus, the architect, the artist, was entreated to make a prison fit for such a contradictory creature. So, he constructed a gigantic labyrinth near the royal palace. It was there, at the very center of the maze, that the Minotaur was imprisoned.
The banishment of the creature within the labyrinth is a curious and important gesture in the history of power. There, the Minotaur was positioned in a state of “inclusive exclusion.” To understand this contradiction, the beast must be fully grasped for its paradoxical nature. It was both man and animal. Both sacred and cursed. Both human law and divine transgression. Therefore, at this intersection, the Minotaur was a creature of absolute indistinction. Exile within the center of the labyrinth, therefore, was the only possible solution for such a creature – it had to be both inside and outside simultaneously. This paradoxical logic has a semantic president in Roman etymology.
2: Sacred and Dammned
Sextus Pompeius Festus was a Roman lexicographer and etymologist writing during the second century AD. His only surviving tome was entitled “On the Meaning of Words.” Although it only survives in pieces, it proves to be an essential glossary of Latin definitions. To us, these descriptions can provide a window into the foundational logic of antiquity.
Under the curious heading “homo sacer,” Festus writes:
The sacred man is the one whom the people have judged on account of a crime. It is not permitted to sacrifice this man, yet he who kills him will not be condemned for homicide; in the first tribunitian law, in fact, it is noted that “if someone kills the one who is sacred according to the plebiscite, it will not be considered homicide.” This is why it is customary for a bad or impure man to be called sacred.
At once this logic is paradoxical. What does it mean to allow someone to be killed but not sacrificed? How can a man be condemned to death, but only by chance, never by rite? Could it be that the death of the exile has the capacity to dirty God, but not the hands of men? Who is so unclean that God would have to cast him out of his kingdom? Who first, who last? Yes, perhaps that is the logic – “homo sacer” is the fallen creature. He is the sacred angel without wings who, like Satan himself, could never dream to rise, never back to heaven, but rather, instead, he is condemned to the Earth, and may be killed thousands of times over, his blood eternally reanimating like some filthy phoenix, the whipping boy of humanity, that lie, that first exile, the exception by which God originally constituted moral law. Where could such a man live? Where, exactly, is hell? Is it outside? Or is it inside?
Perhaps it is neither and both. This man, our “homo sacer,” lives at the intersection between worlds, that line of indistinction between good and evil, God and Devil, heaven and hell, and is, therefore, at once entrapped in human law, which we shall call sovereignty, while also remaining outside of divine law, which we shall call death.
Again, let us return to the complex meaning of words as our guide. How exactly does “sacer” translate? Not surprisingly, its translation from Latin is paradoxical. “Sacer” means both “hallowed” and “damned.” It is an adjective that encapsulates both the God-like and the Devil-like. It is at once double-meaning, both itself and its opposite; it is “both” and it is “neither.” It is inside and simultaneously outside. We originally turned to this word for clarification on the law – “what can ‘sacer’ teach us?” we asked, “and where does the distinction between good and evil lie?” A naïve question from the start, because such distinguishability does not exist. The logic of “sacer,” as its history shows, is a divine logic that existed prior to the split between good/evil, either/or, both/neither. Here we cannot depend on binary law. For paradoxical indistinction is the only origin, and it is an origin that is at once a non-origin: the empty center. This contradiction, it turns out, is the very lesson “sacer” proposes to teach. “Sacred is the paradox,” it says, “of the creature imprisoned within the inclusive exclusion.”
This contradictory prison sentence was the exact fate of our Minotaur: to be damned to a hell of binary indistinction. As we saw earlier, the beast was excommunicated to the inside, to the center of the labyrinth. Out of structural necessity, following the paradoxical logic of the law of “sacer,” the beast’s exile had to be an inclusive exclusion. Killed, but not sacrificed. It was nothing less than sovereign power that made this necessary, obligatory precisely because the Minotaur was no-thing, neither a man nor a beast. From the day of its birth it was caught in the logic of the paradox, and only then, from there, could such a contradictory logic keep it at bay. The Minotaur was placed both outside the laws of God and inside the laws of society – able to be killed but not sacrificed, simultaneously hallowed and damned, condemned to be a victim of the world’s violent inconsistency. This horrible fate rings true today. As there is another creature, just like the Minotaur, caught in this realm of indistinction.
For what creature in our world is both no-thing and no-where? What creature is caught in the laws of man but not in the grace of God? What creature litters the Earth like the fallen wings of so many devils? What creature could ever be so unclean? The answer lives between worlds – it is a beast that lies in wait at the empty center: the Shade.
It should come as no surprise that the Latin word for miner is “minutor.” For us, today, it is not “homo sacer” we speak of, but rather “minutor sacer” – the sacred miner. For today, under our laws, it is the miners who are both hallowed and damned. The miners are trapped in the paradoxical logic of sovereign law. The same rules apply now as they did a thousand years ago. And it is more than coincidence that “minutor” is a homonym for “Minotaur.” The miners are our Minotaurs. They are our sacred creature that, just like the mythical beast, is both half-animal and half-man, both naked human life and disavowed animal nature, both, and neither.
And just like the Minotaur, our “minutor sacer” is imprisoned within the labyrinth of the Shade – they are excommunicated to the inside in an inclusive exclusion. The miners are indeed sacred. But let us not speak of religion but of politics. Our laws state that the miners can be killed indiscriminately by the hands of capital. But they cannot be sacrificed by any political movement, which is to say, they can never achieve class consciousness. Our world depends on the miners never acting in their own collective self-interest. This is the wager of modernity. Moving forward we see that the miners, as “sacer,” as the exception to the rule, become the paradoxical figures that, out of necessity, constitute sovereign law. This is the new form of global politics. Not policy over social interaction, but rather power over transparent life itself.
3: The Biopolitics of Sovereignty
“Minutor sacer” stands as the original political relation precisely because it represents the rule that is at once its own exception, i.e.: the sacred creature that can be killed but not sacrificed. When the miners were excommunicated they were stripped of their humanity and cast off into the shadows. When this happened they lost everything. They lost their claims to both the animal kingdom and the world of men – all that was left was their claim to life. They were alive, but just barely. They had become transparent life. And it was there, at the empty center of the Shade, that they were found again. When the miners were rediscovered their face of their prison changed, no longer just a labyrinth, they were now forced into slavery within the maze. The Shade had become a concentration camp. With this gesture humankind drove the miners back into the politics of man (a politics, it should be noted, from which they were still excluded – but, like all things paradoxical, inclusively excluded). Suddenly transparent life had become politicized. Politics became biopolitics, a term that means, quite simply, “the direct application of political power onto naked life.” It was here, with the biopolitics of the miners, that sovereignty finally found its case study.
To fully comprehend sovereignty one must first understand the logic of the exception. Not unlike the paradoxical indistinguishability of “sacer,” the exception also has an origin that is at once a non-origin. In law, just like in language, expressions are only differential. This means that they exist without positive terms. Exceptions do not arise. Nor do rules emerge. Exceptions and rules first appear simultaneously in negative difference. Rather than having positive content, terms are only negatively related to other terms. They are only what others are not. This means: there was never a singular origin. For example, raw meat never existed before cooked meat. There was only just plain “meat.” Applying the word “raw” would be extraneous and incomprehensible. It wouldn’t make sense. But, at the precise moment the meat was cooked, two antagonistic terms simultaneously sprung into existence – raw/cooked. This double origin is the logic of negative difference. Exceptions and rules are no different.
Instead of rules being established in an ideal vacuum from which exceptions can later arise; rather, both terms appear simultaneously, paradoxically constituting each other as valid. In other words, exceptions are not subtracted from rules. Instead, the rule, in a constituting gesture, calls forth its own exception to give itself identity. The rule then keeps the exception nearby so it can always be in relation to it. This proximity is essential, since the rule can only remain legible and comprehensible through the principle of negative difference. For example, one rule states: “Thou shall not kill.” Just like raw meat, this term is only comprehensible when paired with its opposite term: the exception – killing. This may sound overly complex already, but there is one more twist. Just like the lesson we learned from “sacer,” there is a third term, “the law,” which can only be found at the very line of indistinction between the previous two terms.
Sovereign law, therefore, is the logic of negative difference precisely at the line of indistinction between the two terms of rule/exception. This can be proven by returning to our example.
- Rule: “Thou shall not kill.”
- Exception: “One man kills another.”
- Law: “It is illegal to kill, but the law may kill in order to constitute itself as sovereign.”
Therefore, the line of paradoxical indistinction teaches us: Sovereign power is the exception to its own rule.
Thus, sovereignty only exists because of the paradoxical logic of “minutor sacer.” This is the exact reason why the miners are entrapped within biopolitics – the miners, as the exception, have been separated off from the rule of men in a constituting gesture. Out of the necessity of negative difference, the miners are kept in close relation in the inclusive exclusion of the Shade. It is only through this relation that man may have his own identity. We have a political life because the miners are transparent life. The problem is, as we have shown many times over, this binary opposition is unstable and threatens to explode in a brilliant excess of paradoxical inconsistency. Yes – an explosion, a contradiction, a singularity, like the tear in space above our heads. It is here that opposites combine:
- Sacred/Damned –> (Miners)
- Man/Animal –> (Minotaur)
- Inclusion/Exclusion –> (Labyrinth)
- Inside/Outside –> (Shade)
- Life/Politics –> (Biopolitics)
- Rule/Exception –> (Sovereignty)
4: Transparent Life
Sovereign power exists only because man has separated the miners off from himself while simultaneously keeping the creatures in a relation of negative difference via inclusive exclusion. Because of this logic, which is also the paradoxical logic of “sacer,” the Shade has become the most overt sphere of biopolitics in the history of the world. Here, sovereign power confronts the miners unmediated. They are naked before the twisted whips of capital. Here, the miners instantly become “minutor sacer,” hallowed and damned. They are stripped of everything. They stand before us merely as transparent life. Here, the miners are enslaved by humankind. But these binaries don’t line up. Something happens at their intersection. Paradoxes roam free in the shadows – all lines become lines of indistinction and inconsistent multiplicity. In the Shade, all men become miners. In the Shade, all law becomes violence. And in the Shade, all paths become labyrinthine. In the Shade, all thoughts become madness.
When religious men and women, on that fatal day, flew to their deaths it was deemed “The Rapture.” They were able to sacrifice themselves to their God because they were free, clean, sovereign creatures. The miners, however, cannot enjoy a similar fate. Martyrdom is structurally denied to them. There is no death for that which cannot be killed. No sacrifice for that which is fallen. The miners are the dangerous supplements to the world – simultaneously in peripheral excess of man while also lying at the core of his disavowed internal essence. As supplements, the miners live paradox. They produce what they forbid: Ikaros. They make possible the very lives that make them impossible: political life.
So what is to be done? Should the miners be set free and released out into the Sun? No, transparent life cannot exist in the light. Should we take pity on the miners and exterminate them? No, as sacred creatures they deaths mean nothing. Should we awake their class conscience and give them a political life of their own? No, the inclusive exclusion would structurally implode, making all creatures slaves.
Then what is to be done? What are the miners, exactly? Now that we can see their history stretching before us like a roadmap, where do we go? Transparent where we are not, only through them can we see the true face of our humanity: nothing.
“Minutor sacer” lives the paradoxical truth of our own lives – there is no outside. Humans are just man/animals imprisoned in an endless, shifting, jet-black labyrinth. The Shade is now open. Above our heads the void yawns like an eternal abyss. Long is the way, and hard. For there is no way out. There is only up.