5. Of Blackstone's Tower: Metaphors of Distance and Histories of the English Law School



To the extent that they are not repressed, my memories of law school as a student are of a world of progressive disappointment. My unexceptional emotional trajectory from aspiration to estrangement and from optimism to fear reflected in part the privilege of my background and in part the intellectual paucity of 'school law' in England.1 Law school stole my hopes of change and robbed me of any surviving sense of the relevance of my inner world, of poetry, desire or dream, to the life of the institution. My experience of law school was of the denial of the relevance of my experience of law school. The irony of that paradox, of the experience of repression as a mode of knowing, of the embodiment of denial as a mode of being, is the secret of the school's success as a rite of reproduction: an institutionally managed trauma gives birth to a conforming or believing soul.2

To the extent that they are repressed, my memories of law school are repeated, often in inverted forms, in my practice as a teacher of law. It is a repetition which, unsurprisingly, has its origins in my student experiences of law school but which has its most intense and prolonged expression in my academic life: it is lived out obscurely in personal forms of non-communication and in institutional forms of non-relationship. This repetition can be formulated in the dual terms of the trauma and the insignificance of school law. The trauma has been well documented in novels, dramas and films as well as in academic and most usually self-consciously 'critical' legal self- reflection. The trauma is mundane and concerns the isolation and impersonality, the elitism and relentless competitiveness, the objectivity and homosociality of law school. The trauma produces 'the reasonable man', the 'black-letter' lawyer, the dull white face with one less thought each year. The insignificance concerns the self-effacement of the scholar within an institution which does not prize thought but rather prestige, publication, the circulation of texts and the manipulative repetition of standard argumentative forms. The insignificance of scholarship to the law school expresses the predominant epistemic form of law: it is a knowledge which is rigorously separated from any being that knows-- in this sense the persona of judge or professor or lawyer is mystical, a status rather than a being--and it is a knowledge which denies the significance of thought and thereby allows for the reproduction, the repetition, of established legal forms.

The repetition of forms, or to borrow from Maitland, the forms of action which rule us from the grave, repress through on estrangement or distance which denies both the subject's prior experience and the passion or desire that paves the subject's entry to law. In more psychoanalytic terms, the mechanism of repetition institutes repression and does not necessarily distinguish between traditional and radical, black-letter and critical, expositors of law.3 The critics who live (and relive) the trauma of school law in the self-conscious form of subversion, rebellion or resistance to the norms of an externally defined law are likely to be as authoritarian, competitive, status conscious, elitist and existentially and politically lost in relation to their critical knowledges of law as are their traditional counterparts in relation to the more

Corporation of London Professor of Law, Birkbeck College, University of London. My thanks to Harry Arthurs, Costas Douzinas, Neil Duxbury, Lindsay Farmer, Nicola Lacey, John Henry Schlegel and David Sugarman, for comments on this essay. I have also benefited immeasurably from the encouragement and participation of Linda Mills, without which, it would not have been written.
I borrow the term 'school law' from W. T. Murphy, "'Reference without Reality: A Comment on a Commentary on Codifications of Practice'" ( 1990) 1 Law and Critique61-80, referring to school law as the form of commentary taught in law school: 'The principal genre of School law is commentary. Students are assigned carefully delimited texts to read for the next class, whether or not these texts are appended to a problem. Yet what are such "exercises" about? Is more at stake here than debating . . . whether God could have become a cucumber or a beetle rather than a man? In what sense is school law a "discipline"'. (at 62)
This biographically explicit and psychoanalytically informed analysis of law school has been well represented within critical legal studies, critical race theory and feminist legal thought. See, for diverse examples, Duncan Kennedy, "'Legal Education as Training' for Hierarchy'", in David Kairys (ed.), The Politics of Law ( 1982); Duncan Kennedy, "'Psycho- Social CLS'" ( 1985) 6 Cardozo Law Review1013; Peter Rush, "'Killing me Softly with his Words: Hunting the Law Student'" ( 1990) 1 Law and Critique21; Patricia Williams , The Alchemy of Race and Rights ( 1991).
This point is made at length, and with characteristic acumen, in Lindsay Farmer, "Bringing Cinderella to the Ball: Teaching Criminal Law in Context'" ( 1995) 58 Modern Law Review756, at 760 (discussing a critical legal studies approach to criminal law) 'What is most immediately striking is that we are shown the mirror image of the orthodox account. Where the law is allowed no internal theoretical unity, [the critic] sees a unity in terms of its ideal purpose. Where one claims to be formal and abstract, the other sees moral and political decisions being made. In holding the mirror to conventional legal reasoning, [the critic] demands that it recognise its true self . . .'.


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