Fourth Annual M.I. Rostovtzeff Lecture Series - The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus

Lecture 4: The Political Machine in the Late Bronze Age

Adam T. Smith (Cornell University)

The last lecture of the series explores the production of the final condition of sovereignty in the South Caucasus by a novel apparatus of regulation: the political machine.  The political machine was in one sense strategic and technocratic, appropriating the charismatic violence of the war machine to the very different ends of governmental order.  But the political machine was also an aesthetic object that promoted the separation of authority from the organic human body, embedding it in the complex sovereignty of assemblages.  The discussions in this lecture will utilize the recent work of Project ArAGATS in the Tsaghkahovit Plain of central Armenia to understand the sense, sensibility, and sentiments that shaped the reproduction of the political machine.  The lecture will conclude by returning to the larger theoretical questions that opened the series.  An archaeology of the sovereign assemblage ultimately leads not only to a reassessment of our theoretical understanding of the efficacy of objects, but to a critical reappraisal of the very premises of our constitution as political subjects.

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NOTICE: Admission to the ISAW Lecture Hall closes 10 minutes after the scheduled start time.

Series Abstract - The Sovereign Assemblage: Sense, Sensibility, and Sentiment in the Bronze Age Caucasus

The modern understanding of political association has centered resolutely on the person of the citizen, whose interactions with other members of the body politic establish and reproduce the possibilities and limits of sovereignty.  However, rarely do we interact with one another directly as citizens.  Rather, a vast assemblage of things, from ballots and bullets to crowns and regalia to licenses and permits, incessantly intrudes upon our political relations.  What role has this assemblage played in the historical formation of our political practices?  What principles fundamental to sovereignty does an archaeology of this assemblage reveal?

Taking the narrow isthmus of the Caucasus as their geographic focus, the lectures in this series describe the emergence of a complex set of material assemblages that originated in the Bronze Age yet continue to shape our politics today.  The lectures provide a detailed account of the transformation of communities in the Caucasus from small-scale Early Bronze Age villages committed to an ideology of egalitarianism to Late Bronze Age complex polities predicated on radical inequality, organized violence, and a centralized apparatus of rule.  These formidable social transformations were made possible by the efficacious operation of three critical assemblages, or machines, that reordered human communities.  Each was vital to the operation of the next, forging the polity over time in the articulation of things and persons along three linked dimensions: sense, sensibility, and sentiment.  It is by attending to these points of articulation between our things and our selves that we can illuminate the enduring sovereignty of the assemblage.

About the Lecture Series

Michael I. Rostovzteff, a Russian ancient historian, came to the U.S. after the Russian Revolution and taught for many years at Yale University as Sterling Professor of Ancient History. Rostovtzeff's prodigious energies and sprawling interests led him to write on an almost unimaginable range of subjects. ISAW's Rostovtzeff series presents scholarship that embodies its aspirations to foster work that crosses disciplinary, geographical, and chronological lines. The lectures will be published by Princeton University Press.

Adam T. Smith if Professor of Anthropology at Cornell University.

There will be a reception folowing the event.

This is a public event.

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