The Bending World, a Bent World: Supernatural Power and Its Political Implications

In Helen De Cruz & Johan De Smedt (eds.), Avatar: The Last Airbender and Philosophy. Wisdom from Aang to Zuko (forthcoming)
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In the world of Avatar: The Last Airbender (ATLA) and The Legend of Korra (LOK) —let’s call it the Bending World—some people (“benders”) are endowed with telekinetic superpowers to maneuver surrounding objects without physical interaction, by mentally steering (“bending”) one of the four classical “elements of nature” composing the objects: air, fire, water, and earth. Perhaps, in a world where the fundamental laws of nature are radically different from those of our world, the fundamental conditions and manifestations of politics should be radically different too. That, of course, is not to deny that political bodies familiar to us are depicted in ATLA and LOK: tribes, monarchies, autonomous townships, city-states, loose federations, colonial empires, and democracies. Despite those familiar depictions, however, it’s worth contemplating how the existence of supernatural power might fundamentally alter the norms and rationales of politics—and how it might in turn help us better understand our own political reality.

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Yao Lin
New York University, Shanghai


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