Academic journal article New Formations

Buccaneers

Academic journal article New Formations

Buccaneers

Article excerpt

Daniel Heller-Roazen, The Enemy of All: Piracy and the Law of Nations, New York, Zone Books, 2009, 295pp, 21.95 [pounds sterling] hardback

Early on in Daniel Heller-Roazen's excellent book on the relation between piracy and law the author taps into the Roman sensibility on piracy: 'In speaking to a pirate, in dealing with a pirate ... one becomes a pirate oneself' (p21). For Cicero the pirate is the 'common enemy of all' and in dealing with this terrifying figure, this exception, one steps over a line and disrobes oneself of the mantel of Roman Law, becoming in doing so an exception oneself. But Heller Roazen's subject is not the pirate per se, rather law's understanding of what constitutes piracy, and the nature of the line, juridical and geographical, that keeps it apart from us.

There have been many authors, historians and novelists alike, who have stepped over the line--as it were perching themselves on the shoulder of the crimson tunicked pirate and recounting his every colourful deed--but what they are erasing in doing so is the idea of piracy as truly exceptional. This might seem rather an odd thing to say given that pirates are considered so exceptionally bold and daring, but Heller Roazen's use of terms like 'exception' and 'enemy of the human species', along with his comprehensive referencing of Roman society and its guiding legal terms, immediately reminds us that this is an academic study, one to be considered alongside Giorgio Agamben's work on the exception in Homo Sacer, rather than a more shipboard and romanticized account like A General History of the Most Notorious Pyrates (attributed to Daniel Defoe) or Hakim Bey's Pirate Utopias, neither of which have any place in this book.

In writing a book about pirates that contains hardly any pirates Heller-Roazen is taking something of a risk, but in one sense he is acting in the spirit of piracy itself for, as he points out, the term comes, in part, from the Greek word peira, meaning 'trial' or 'attempt', and hence risk. The risk, as with most academic books is that it might come across as a little dry. This isn't the case here: for the most part Heller-Roazen's study is both exciting and scholarly in a readable sort of way.

In one sense The Enemy of All is rather arid in that it roams around the solid, decidedly earthbound walls of the city state for its inspiration on law rather than the ocean (which is the original space of exception for the pirate). …

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