The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity

By W. T. Murphy | Go to book overview
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Perhaps, Kublai thought, the empire is nothing but a zodiac of the mind's phantasms. 'On the day when I know all the emblems,' he asked Marco, 'shall I be able to process my empire, at last?' And the Venetian answers: 'Sire, do not believe it. On that day you will be an emblem among emblems.'1

Critique, cynicism, and a somewhat ambiguous notion of simulation can be deployed to insinuate (through a collection of anecdotes, counterfactual instances, and so-called 'thought-experiments') that 'beneath' the plurality of systems or frames which configure the shape of modern society is 'something else' which variously resists, refuses, appropriates, plays -- 'lives', a kind of pre- or anti-sociological version of Foucault's great Unsaid which only the foolish would suppose they could raise up to rational or articulate speech.2 In some areas, especially in anthropology, the problem this presents to theory acquires explicitly ethicopolitical inflections.3 More generally, the somewhat negative projects which emerge at this point make strategic use of phenomena which it used to be convenient to call the traditional or irrational, while explicitly distancing themselves from all projects which assembled the modern as the antithesis of the traditional (so that the terms traditional and irrational are dismissed with derision).

Alternatively, a kind of philosophical anthropology4 seeks to pursue a less negative path. Habermas's thesis of the lifeworld-ed basis of resistance to systemic colonization, in particular, is a partial articulation of the fundamental problem of the (vertical) boundary of the legal (or of any other sub-system). Foucault's positive, almost programmatic, signal (almost despite himself) towards 'subjugated knowledges' is another.5 In some postmodern versions, the objection seems to be the attempt to

Calvino, Invisible Cities, 21.
Foucault, "The Order of Discourse", 48. Some pertinent examples are: de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life; Baudrillard, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities, and the now (paradoxically) classic Debord, Society of the Spectacle. For resistance see arguments in Dumm, Foucault and the Politics of Freedom.
Clifford and Marcus (eds.), Writing Culture; Geertz, Works and Lives; Bailey, The Prevalence of Deceit; Gellner, Postmodernism, Reason and Religion.
Murphy, "The Habermas Effect".
Foucault Power/Knowledge, 81.


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