Unexceptional Politics
On Obstruction, Impasse, and the Impolitic
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288 pages / February 2018 / 9781784780852
February 2018 / 9781784780869

A new vision of politics “below the radar”

One way to grasp the nature of politics is to understand the key terms in which it is discussed. Unexceptional Politics develops a political vocabulary drawn from a wide range of media (political fiction, art, film, and TV), highlighting the scams, imbroglios, information trafficking, brinkmanship, and parliamentary procedures that obstruct and block progressive politics. The book reviews and renews modes of thinking about micropolitics that counter notions of the “state of exception” embedded in theories of the “political” from Thomas Hobbes to Carl Schmitt.

Emily Apter develops a critical model of politics behind the scenes, a politics that operates outside the norms of classical political theory. She focuses on micropolitics, defined as small events, happening in series, that often pass unnoticed yet disturb and interfere with the institutional structures of capitalist parliamentary systems, even as they secure their reproduction and longevity. Apter’s experimental glossary is arranged under headings that look at the apparently incidental, immaterial, and increasingly virtual practices of politicking: “obstruction,” “obstinacy,” “psychopolitics,” “managed life,” “serial politics.” Such terms frame an argument for taking stock of the realization that we really do not know what politics is, where it begins and ends, or how its micro-events should be described.


Unexceptional Politics is a book that teaches walking the walk by exposing the talk talked. Very few academic books of this intellectual quality can serve as a guide for activism in the interest of social justice. A text for careful reading.”

“Emily Apter’s new book is exceptional. It doesn’t just challenge the current, fashionable inflation of discourse on ‘states of exception,’ but reveals how much of politics lies beyond the antithesis between ‘normal’ and ‘exceptional.’ It uses the philological method, not only to revisit the past, but to diagnose the emerging future. A must read, I certify.”

“At a moment when so much thought on the left has been reduced to an exercise in personal brand-building, Emily Apter has dared to produce an uncompromisingly serious work of political imagination. In its commitment to history, to theoretical precision, and to the insistent aliveness of the revolutionary project, it joins Joshua Clover’s Riot, Strike, Riot as one of those rare indispensable interruptions of speculative business as usual.”

“Apter’s concept of unexceptional politics is an exceptional achievement. While most definitions of politics (or the political) smuggle a normative notion of politics and, as Latour strongly argued, fail to give a convincing account of politics as a specific dimension of our lives which is not a separate domain of objects (e.g. laws, state decisions, etc.) but rather a particular way of doing things in general, Apter succeeds in making it tangible maybe for the first time in such a thorough and subtle way by tapping in theory, literature, film and news with dazzling erudition. Anyone interested in contributing to an anthropology of politics must read this book.”

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