Reference : LAW, UTOPIA, EVENT A Constellation of Two Trajectories
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LAW, UTOPIA, EVENT A Constellation of Two Trajectories
Van Der Walt, Johan Willem Gous mailto [University of Luxembourg > Faculty of Law, Economics and Finance (FDEF) > Law Research Unit >]
Law and the Utopian Imagination
Sarat, Austin mailto
Douglas, Lawrence mailto
Umphrey, Martha mailto
Stanford University Press
United States
[en] law and literature ; utopia ; Celan ; Rawls ; Literary Marxism ; Nussbaum ; Foucault ; History of Madness
[en] This paper concerns the fundamental transformation of the utopian imagination in the course of the twentieth century. This transformation became abundantly evident in certain prominent trends in twentieth century philosophical thinking. Philosophy’s role in this transformation was probably as performative as it was constative. Philosophy or at least some philosophy reflected or registered this transformation clearly but in doing so also contributed to it. The transformation of the utopian imagination was, however, not just the work of philosophers. It was also reflected in and effected by artistic and literary intuitions. Paul Celan’s poetry was surely an eminent case in point. The trend of philosophical, artistic and literary thinking at issue here can be described, very broadly, in terms of a resistance to the way language and the exigencies of clear communication reduce the utterly incomparable uniqueness of singular entities or persons or events to repeatable and generic instances of fixed identity and stable meaning. At issue in this trend is what one might call, following Theodor Adorno, a negative-linguistic quest for the non-identity of singular existence that transcends or exceeds the identity-forging thrust of conceptual language. This negative-linguistic quest is utopian because of the way it contemplates the possibility of the impossible, as Jacques Derrida put it when he received the Adorno prize in 2001. It contemplates completely non-instrumental relations between individuals that would not subject anyone to the systematic instrumentalisation at work in all generalising conceptual schemes.

What is the transformation of the utopian imagination in the philosophical, artistic and literary movements at stake here? What was the utopian imagination like before twentieth century philosophy and poetry and art changed it? The utopian imagination began with Plato and endured for many centuries – in the thoughts of thinkers such as St. Francis, More, Rousseau and Marx – as a very topical and typical denunciation of private property. It typically viewed private property as the source of all social injustice and all forms of societal alienation. The utopian imagination thus became a very predictable and generic socialist resistance against the institution of private property before it turned, already to some extent in the work of Marx and then very evidently in the work of Adorno and other neo-Marxists, into a much more radical questioning of linguistic or conceptual propriety as such. This radical questioning of linguistic propriety – what Celan describes as the wish of language itself to turn away from its regular quest for meaning so as to reach back into the absurd – was, however, surely not just a Marxist or neo-Marxist development. It reflected a broader movement in twentieth century thinking that was also clearly evident in the strands of twentieth century philosophical thinking that became known as phenomenology, post-structuralism and deconstruction.

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LAW UTOPIA EVENT - 22 July 2013.pdfThis is a copy of the last draft of this paper sent to the editors of the volume before the final editing process started. For all citations, please revert to the published version.Author preprint225.04 kBView/Open

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