Songs without Music: Aesthetic Dimensions of Law and Justice


In this pathbreaking and provocative analysis of the aesthetics of law, historian, legal theorist, and musician Desmond Manderson argues that by treating a text, legal or otherwise, as if it were merely a sequence of logical propositions, readers miss its formal and symbolic meanings. Creatively using music as a model, he demonstrates that law is not a sterile, rational structure, but a cultural form to be valued and enhanced through rhetoric and metaphors, form, images, and symbols. The author further develops this argument by basing each chapter on a different musical form.

The author begins his analysis with "Prelude", in which he follows Heidegger and Gadamer's view that aesthetics is a pervasive way of knowing and being, and explains that the aesthetic is best understood as a union of the sensory force of everyday experience with the symbolic meanings with which those sensory experiences become imbued. Next, "Fugue" provides an overview of the book, backgrounded against a discussion of related areas of recent legal writing, including the law and literature movement, and postmodern legal theory.

In the chapters that follow, Manderson develops his unique perspective using specific case studies, such as "Variations on a Theme", which turns the reader's attention to the drug problem in Western countries by looking at the laws against drugs in terms of images of dirt, race, and pollution; and "Quodlibet", which presents a manifesto on the importance of aesthetics to justice.

Law, for Manderson, should strive for neither coherence nor integrity. Rather, it is imperfectly realized, constantly reinterpreted, and always in flux. Songs without Music is written in an original, engaging,and often humorous style, and exhibits a deep knowledge of both law and music. It successfully traverses several disciplines and builds an original and persuasive argument for a legal aesthetics.

Additional information

Publisher: Place of publication:
  • Berkeley, CA
Publication year:
  • 2000


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