Law as Raw Material

 

 

MODULE 2

Foucault’s 1984 book, I, Pierre Rivierre, After Having Murdered My Mother, My Brother and My Sister, tells the ghastly case in 1835 where a boy in a French village slaughters his mother, sister, and brother, purportedly to avenge the suffering of his father. Foucault uses the ensuing proliferation of juridical discourses surrounding the forgotten peasant case as a mirror to reflect a pivotal moment when the professions of law, medicine and psychiatry were vying for power. As Rivierre’s exoneration was dependent upon convincing the jury he was “insane,” Foucault's reconstruction of the case is an exposition on the psychiatrization of law, the medicalization of crime, and the therapeutization of justice. Rivière provides the 'excuse' to examine the confrontation  between old and new ways of looking at medicine and psychiatry,  the formation of the subject positions of the “accused”, the “expert,” and the “witness,”  and above all else, a pointed exemplification of  “truth” as a frail and unstable composite framed by discursive regimes of contending power valences.

Foucault is cited to situate us firmly in a social constructionist approach to law: that is, law not  as a pre-existing  unity or body of warranted “true” statements or stipulations, but an unstable  epistemic  field of competing evidential and inferential claims - that is, law as “produced” rather than represented. How can art and cultural production suffuse, problematize and/or intervene in the apparatus of law?  How can art and culture form domains in which the exclusions, violence, or socialized coercion that have been normalized through legal constructs of citizenship, property, and personhood can be dramatized, reformulated, or destabilized and in which alternative paradigms can be proposed and disseminated? How can law be a “raw material”— the bounds of illegality/legality; law as ritual, artifice, cloak, architecture, or pure form; the affective theater of the War on Terror; the juxtaposition of the positive state of exception of the artist with the negative state of exception of the criminal; affinities between crime and art?  

As our case study, we will look at Jonas Staal’s artist project New World Summit, a nomadic parliament of representatives from groups arbitrarily deemed as “terrorists,” revealing the “War on Terror”  to be largely an affective theater with scant basis in democratic principles of transparency and due process.

 

RELATED LINKS:

Art, Life, and the Rule of Law

Perception of the Judiciary 

X and Y vs. France, The Case For a Legal Precedent

New World Summit

Forensis Exhibition 

Queer Perspectives on Law