Law in Crisis: The Ecstatic Subject of Natural Disaster

Law in Crisis: The Ecstatic Subject of Natural Disaster

Law in Crisis: The Ecstatic Subject of Natural Disaster

Law in Crisis: The Ecstatic Subject of Natural Disaster

Synopsis

Taking natural disaster as the political and legal norm is uncommon. Taking a person who has become unstable and irrational during a disaster as the starting point for legal analysis is equally uncommon. Nonetheless, in Law in Crisis Ruth Miller makes the unsettling case that the law demands an ecstatic subject and that natural disaster is the endpoint to law. Developing an idiosyncratic but compelling new theory of legal and political existence, Miller challenges existing arguments that, whether valedictory or critical, have posited the rational, bounded self as the normative subject of law.

By bringing a distinctive, accessible reading of contemporary political philosophy to bear on source material in several European and Middle Eastern languages, Miller constructs a cogent analysis of natural disaster and its role in modern subject formation. In the process, she opens up exciting new lines of inquiry in the fields of law, politics, and gender studies. Law in Crisis represents a promising new development in the interdisciplinary study of law.

Excerpt

This book is in part a plea to revive ecstasy as a point of departure in the study of law. Ecstatic subjects—shattered, dispossessed, displaced, and beside themselves—have never disappeared completely from legal or political analysis. Since the 1970s and 1980s, the subject in ecstasy has been invoked in a number of books and articles, especially in the fields of religion, metaphysics, and literature. the idea, however, that ecstasy is, or should be, central to legal structures or legal study is one that has not found proponents for a number of centuries. I make the case in this book that legal ecstasy is still very much with us, that it remains an effective framework for politics, and that ecstatic subjects—or their off-center, eccentric counterparts—have been key players in the articulation of modern and contemporary political norms. I do so by focusing on what has increasingly been called disaster law” —defined broadly here as the legal and political structures that appear in the aftermath of crises such as earthquakes, floods, or fires. What I suggest throughout this book is that the dual purposes of disaster law are, first, to make the disaster intelligible by, second, assigning a politically normative function to the subject in ecstasy.

I admit that the subject in ecstasy is a strange place to start a book that is not being written thirty years ago, when discussions of subjectivity were more widespread. What I propose over the following chapters, however, is that at that moment thirty years ago, there was a potential connection, a possible linkage . . .

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