New Criticals

Political philosopher Georgio Agamben and his work on the "state of exception" and the "homo sacer" might help us to understand these three fascinating criminals. At first blush, Avon, Stringer, and Omar seem to fit precisely into the paradigmatic notion of the criminal as radical irrational, immoral individual. They seem to act without norms, without boundaries, and in ways that can only be understood as self-aggrandizing and "criminal." All three revel in and profit from their exclusion, not only from society proper but also how they are "excluded" from parts of the street—they are veritably gods. Avon and Stringer, as sovereigns of the street, occupy that "state of exception," which Agamben describes as "being outside, and yet belonging," or more succinctly as an "ecstasy-belonging."  In this way, they are bound to the norms of the "inside," both the laws they create for the Barksdale organization but also to the rules of "The Game" as such. The violence they decree cannot simply be understood as violence that violates a law, but as a type of, to use the famous and difficult term from Walter Benjamin, "divine violence" that is necessary for law to exist and subsist as such. Thus, their transgressions are not really transgressions but foundations and parameters that make possible and circumscribe not only "The Game," but the other "legal" institutions as well—the police, the courthouse, the local government. The story of "law" and "out-law" is flipped in its head: law is not a response to transgression, as it is told in most mythologies of the "birth" of the social contract, but the very mechanism whereby transgressions are created. The radical individual does not necessitate the need for the Sovereign—Hobbes assumption—but the Sovereign defines, through an act of "divine violence" and decree what constitutes in-law and out-law, citizen and criminal in the first place. In this way, the very symbol of a society's norms and laws, the "King," is also unavoidably a "criminal" the moment he becomes Sovereign. Avon and Stringer are in-law in that they are "criminals" in relation to society's law as well as "players" in "The Game." But as criminal-sovereigns or sovereign-criminals, they are also "out-law" precisely because they are "criminals" in relation to society and sovereigns in relation to street. They occupy that "anomic" space that is necessary for law (nomos) to exist at all. Avon and Stringer, then are less threats to society's foundations, but the very architects that make society and its laws possible in the first place.