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Latour and the Passage of Law$
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Kyle McGee

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697908

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697908.001.0001

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Bartleby, Barbarians and the Legality of Literature

Bartleby, Barbarians and the Legality of Literature

(p.304) 11 Bartleby, Barbarians and the Legality of Literature
Latour and the Passage of Law

Faith Barter

Edinburgh University Press

Faith Barter renews the conjunction of law and literature through the lens of ‘their shared interest in troubling the definition of the human’. Bartleby, in Melville’s story, traverses the superhuman and the subhuman, rendering him illegible and object-like to his frustrated employer, while the young girl in Coetzee’s novella (who is already, as a native, deemed non-human by the law of the Empire) approaches objecthood by virtue of the indecipherable traces of imperial torture she bears. Barter examines the twin dilemmas in Melville’s and Coetzee’s texts while also placing them into dialogue with the infamous 1857 Scott v. Sandford opinion of the US Supreme Court. She analyses the three texts along a temporal axis, from which emerges a set of dynamic historical oscillations and intertextual patterns of world-building. Suspicious of the ‘complete[] singular[ity]’ of law, conceived as a mode of existence, Barter reframes the relationship of law and literature by passing each through the partial regional ontology of the other, opening up a space for the interrogation of a new hybridity: literature as law. Perhaps all modes of existence are also, simultaneously and necessarily, modes of coexistence.

Keywords:   Law and literature, J.M. Coetzee, Herman Melville, Bruno Latour, Modes of existence, Slavery (U.S.), Human/nonhuman

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