A Poetics for Spatial Justice: Materialism and Legal Historiography, from Bachelard to Benjamin

The Oxford Handbook of Law and Humanities (Forthcoming)

UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper

29 Pages Posted: 4 Dec 2017

See all articles by Christopher Tomlins

Christopher Tomlins

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program

Date Written: December 4, 2017

Abstract

As the linguistic/cultural turn of the last forty years has begun to ebb, socio-legal and legal-humanist scholarship has seen an accelerating return to materiality. This paper asks what relationship may be forthcoming between the “new materialisms” and “vibrant matter” of recent years, and older materialisms – both historical and literary, both Marxist and non-Marxist – that held sway prior to post-structuralism? What impact might such a relationship have on the forms, notably “spatial justice,” that materiality is assuming in current legal studies? To attempt answers, the paper turns to two figures from more than half a century ago: Gaston Bachelard – once famous, now mostly forgotten; and Walter Benjamin – once largely forgotten, now famous. A prolific and much-admired writer between 1930 and 1960, Bachelard pursued two trajectories of inquiry: a dialectical and materialist and historical (but non-Marxist) philosophy of science; and a poetics of the material imagination based on inquiry into the literary reception and representation of the prime elements – earth, water, fire, and air. Between the late 1920s and 1940, meanwhile, Benjamin developed an idiosyncratic but potent form of historical materialism dedicated to “arousing [the world] from its dream of itself.” The paper argues that by mobilizing Bachelard and Benjamin for scholarship at the intersection of law and the humanities, old and new materialisms can be brought into a satisfying conjunction that simultaneously offers a poetics for spatial justice and lays a foundation for a materialist legal historiography for the twenty-first century.

Keywords: Gaston Bachelard, Walter Benjamin, Materialism, Material Imagination, History, Law, Time, Spatial Justice

Suggested Citation

Tomlins, Christopher, A Poetics for Spatial Justice: Materialism and Legal Historiography, from Bachelard to Benjamin (December 4, 2017). The Oxford Handbook of Law and Humanities (Forthcoming) ; UC Berkeley Public Law Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3082359

Christopher Tomlins (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program ( email )

Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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