Encountering Law's Harm Through Literary Critique: An Anti-Elegy of Land and Sovereignty
Law and Literature Special Issue, Littoral Readings: Representations of Land and Sea in Law, Literature, and Geography in Law and Literature 27 (2), 2015
26 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2015 Last revised: 23 Mar 2016
Date Written: March 28, 2016
This article focuses on the significance of practices of representation to law’s role in adjudicating harm — both the role of representation in the adjudication of past harms, and in law’s present-day assertions of authority. I focus in particular on the ways in which questions of harm to the person, relation to land, and sovereignty have been separated in law, and the effects of these practices in constructing legal authority. I turn to Wright’s The Swan Book (2013) to provide a reading of the “undoing” of narratives of harm based on the person, and to thereby critique law’s representations of harm. I argue that, as an anti-elegy in the Modernist tradition, Wright’s novel provides a metaphor of harm and responsibility that reorganises time, destabilises law’s claims to authority over the adjudication of harms, and queries law’s claim to authority over other legal systems and sovereignties. This reading takes the framework of harm beyond the personal, to include the violent histories that have produced legal concepts including “land,” “sovereignty” and even “law” itself — histories and contexts that are separated and obscured in law.
Keywords: Modernism and representation; anti-elegy; Alexis Wright; colonisation; representations of land; figure of the child
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