Abstract

Centering on the poetry of Şeyh Galib (1757–1799), this article considers Ottoman imperial sovereignty in tandem with the discourse of mysticism that underpinned it. A key rhetorical device that enables the abstraction of the politics of empire in this discourse is the metaphor of the beloved sovereign. In the mystical writing of Galib, this metaphor gives a spiritual edge to the authority of the sultan and expands the reach of his power beyond its physical limits. The metaphor of the beloved sovereign neutralizes sovereignty as it turns submission into an act of love, a voluntary abandonment of political agency. To elucidate this obscured dimension of power in Galib’s mysticism, I draw on Giorgio Agamben’s notion of “potentiality.” Proposing that one must pay heed to potentiality in order to dig into “the ontological root of every political power,” Agamben considers “love” the proper medium of a potential resistance to sovereignty. Galib’s poetry, on the other hand, illuminates that which is not addressed in this analogy: love can occasion a commitment to sovereignty that forces itself upon the subject as an “ontological” condition, in the way Agamben terms it. I suggest that the metaphor of the beloved sovereign in Galib’s poetry cautions against the sovereign’s own “potential” to claim vulnerability and exploit love to consolidate its power.

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