- Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature by Anne Quéma
In their introduction to a special issue of this journal devoted to "The Critical Work of Law and Literature" (Fall 2013) the editors suggest that the contents address an early critique of the field: that it has failed to fulfill the potential of interdisciplinary scholarship through an examination of how and why we categorize knowledge. Anne Quéma's study, Power and Legitimacy: Law, Culture, and Literature addresses squarely that call. In a move to circumvent some of the interdisciplinary tensions that have hampered epistemological border crossings in the field, Quéma deploys social poiesis as a frame through which to view the polis as [End Page 235] a site where both law and literature constitute themselves as fields of symbolic power. She begins with a claim that her study will move from feminist and materialist critical analyses of the law, analytical philosophy of the law, and political science, to a discussion of statutory family law in England and Wales and contemporary Gothic narratives of the family. Her book delivers as promised, and if the rather limited focus on two examples of the contemporary Gothic disappoints expectations of the "literature" promised in the title, it nevertheless offers strategies of reading that others may usefully take up.
The first half of the book provides the theoretical heft of her approach. Setting into conversation the contrasting analyses of symbolic representation and political power offered by philosopher Judith Butler and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Quéma draws on the work of both to assemble an understanding of the ways in which law and literature intersect (and less frequently congrue) in the fields of narration, intentionality, and interpretation. Observing that the legal norm cites its own texts and decisions while it refers to norms of being and acting in the world in order to legitimize and regulate them, Quéma argues it is this interaction between legal and social normativity and the historical transformation it potentially engenders that constitutes the double helix of the law in the western world. Shadowing this potential is the tradition of precedent that serves as a banked archive of injustices that constitute a "return of the repressed" and document a part of the symbolic violence of the social terms that the law legitimizes.
The second half of the book turns more explicitly to literature. Noting the literary Gothic's origins in eighteenth-century England – in particular the illegitimate inheritance in Horace Walpole's Castle of Otranto and the elaborate metaphorical figuring of the common law as a labyrinthine edifice in William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England – the author identifies a patriarchal sociodicy that continues to haunt both contemporary Gothic narratives and recent efforts to reform family law in the United Kingdom. Quéma offers a persuasive reading of the Civil Partnership Act (2004), intended to address the fragmentation and diversification of the family, alongside her analysis of Patricia Duncker's The Deadly Space Between (2002), with its dispersed kinship relationships and accounts of incest, to argue that the proscriptive norms of religious marriage constitute the political uncanny of both the novel and the legislation. This is followed by an exploration of the subject(s) of domestic violence. Here Quéma reads Lesley Glaiser's Honour Thy Father (1990) in parallel with legislation in the United Kingdom to disentangle residence and property rights in the matrimonial home. She traces the novel's representation of shame and abuse against the persistent tensions in family law as it strives to institute change and reform within a matrimonial discourse [End Page 236] that silences domestic violence. In both instances, the explorations of the uncanny as it emerges in the two novels opens the accompanying readings of the law and the legal texts in revelatory and troubling ways. And it is these two case studies, set within a critical parsing of the poiesis and praxis of law and literature, that illuminate the rich potential of this interdisciplinary field.