Arguing for the First Amendment rights of computer content, recent legal scholars Ronald Collins and David Skover have adapted Reader Response literary criticism from the 1970s, as well as related debates about literary meaning from the 1980s, to develop the idea of “intentionless free speech.” This essay examines and challenges these ideas. To think that intention can be meaningfully severed from free speech is to fundamentally misunderstand both speech and language. Siraganian situates and contextualizes this legal scholarly development in relation to both literary theory (Steven Knapp, Walter Benn Michaels, Stanley Fish, Toril Moi) and legal theory (Leslie Kendrick).
Indicating more than a set of investigative practices that respond to crime, forensics has come to connote a kind of secular faith in an animate material world—a phantasmagoria, in which material appears to both “hold secrets” and “speak back to us.” As such, forensics makes crime investigation appear not only the moral and administrative responsibility of a state, but also a magical power in and of itself. This response offers a brief analysis of the forensics imagination, as exemplified by Forensic Architecture’s rhetoric around its own work, and suggests some of the entanglements that come along with it.
Forensic Architecture claims to mobilize its own ethics, aesthetics, and rhetoric in the pursuit of forensic knowledge. Weizman and his collaborators have suggested that their methodologies operate outside of, or adjacent to, traditional legal procedures, and lend “new material and aesthetic sensibilities” to legal conceptions of proof. The result is that Forensic Architecture’s evidentiary assemblages have an uncertain, ambivalent relation to spaces of legal deliberation even while they act upon them.
Plea bargaining is a vital element of the criminal justice system, and it deserves more attention from scholars interested in law and culture. Legal scholars have proposed reforms to curb the more extreme abuses of the plea-bargaining system in the U.S. To these recommendations, I add the suggestion that we think of plea bargaining as occurring “in the shadow of narrative.” By looking beyond the trial, the paradigmatic narrative form that has engaged scholars of law and literature, we might appreciate the significance of legal processes that conform less easily to conventional narrative representation, while also revising our understanding of what legal narrative includes.
Most constitutional scholars dismiss birther conspiracies by pointing to the birthright citizenship clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Yet birthright citizenship in the United States was founded on a case of exception (“excluding Indians not taxed”), leaving the relationship between American soil and American citizenship ambiguous. It was American literature, not American law, that defined who gets to count as “born American” in this country, because only in the literary realm could the language of the soil manage to spell inclusion and exclusion at the same time. Specifically, Bret Harte’s 1868 Western frontier tale “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (called “new and fresh and spirited” by none other than Mark Twain) teaches readers just why it is that Native Americans could never count as native-born Americans, and why, as a result, the question of who gets to count as “born American” has not been laid to rest, and likely won’t be anytime soon.
After 1848 the bourgeoisie cannot and no longer does understand itself as standing in for the universal. The threat posed to “subjective but universal” judgment by the newly insistent particularity of the literal, empirical bourgeois audience becomes a problem to be — sometimes literally — confronted.
John Berger and Michael Fried emerged as forceful critics alongside, and largely against, the new form of art that we now call “contemporary.” To fully appreciate what was and continues to be at stake in the distinction between their competing critical arguments at the time of Fried’s January 1962 review of Berger’s 1960 book Permanent Red, we need to understand all three of our terms—Berger, Fried and contemporary art—in relation to the ruins of modern art atop of which each staked its claim for the future.
Experiences of world-disclosure are accomplished by achievements in certain long-tested forms of art—what we can call the canonical forms. These forms, like easel painting or lyric poetry, have proven over long periods of time to be the appropriate sites for this activity; but, more than that, they were practices through which the value of world-disclosure had been invented and developed through history. It was on this basis that they constituted a canon not just of exemplary works in each art, but a canon of the forms of art themselves. As such, they embodied criteria that could be effective in deciding if an activity was or was not “art.” Although the existence of the canon gave no conceptual guarantee or definition of art, it was accepted as one, de facto, based on its own history, or histories.
What all this comes down to, then, is that Berger accepts a priori a militant and often staggeringly vulgarized brand of Marxism from which all his judgments about art derive, in language anyway. … My fundamental objection is not that Berger begins from a position of accepting Marxist theory. In the world we live in more and more critics of art may be expected to start from similar political premises. But what is imperative is that the critic define his terms; that he show with sensitivity and logical rigor the usefulness and, if possible, the necessity of employing Marxist concepts and terminology. Unless he can do this his judgments will reveal nothing more than the strength of his bias and the slovenliness of his mind: they can say nothing about the works of art in question.
The individualization of artworks was due to the ubiquity of formalist art and criticism, a sign, in Berger’s view, that art had been intimidated by the barrier between avant-garde art and the working class. This situation posits for Berger a challenge to be overcome to deliver new ways of seeing, breaking through subjective private worlds and toward democratic and collective ways of seeing.