Demonic Ambiguities: Enchantment and Disenchantment in Nat Turner's Virginia, 4 UC Irvine L. Rev. 175 (2014)
This Essay conjoins and inspects an unlikely array of three texts - the "Confession" of Nat Turner, Walter Benjamin's fragment "Capitalism as Religion," and Max Weber's "Science as a Vocation." The second and third are used here as successive interpretive prisms through which to view the first. They are as unlike each other as each is unlike the "Confession," except in one regard - the glance each casts at the demonic. Though abbreviated, those glances are of some significance for the meaning of the "full faith and credit" held due the acts of the Southampton County Court in convicting and condemning Turner. Like guilt/debt, the demonically ambiguous meanings of Schuld that, for Benjamin, confirm capitalism's religious - specifically its Christian - structure, the conjunction of faith and credit has its own demonic ambiguity, simultaneously sacralizing and secularizing the authority of the law. In capitalism as Christianity, in religion as law, one encounters moments in which these demonic ambiguities - guilt/ debt, faith/credit - suddenly collapse into states of overwhelming, indeed terrifying, simultaneity: economic and juridical, moral and psychological, profane and sacral. In recognizing, at the end of his stern pronouncement of the world's calculability, the demon "who holds the fibers of his very life," Weber accepts the possibility of precisely this collapse into fusion: of disenchantment and enchantment, materiality and metaphysics, into one.
The Southampton slave rebellion of 1831 - the event that calls Nat Turner's confession forth - is such a moment. It is a monad, dialectics at a standstill. But at its center lies a "precious but tasteless seed" - the one statement of Turner's that, in the whole affair, we can be confident comes to us, unmediated, out of his own mouth - "Not guilty" reportedly adding "that he did not feel so." What might it mean that Turner did not feel guilty?