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The Law: Like God, Like Sex

Date: 5 March 2008 Time: 12 noon

Mr Angus H McDonald, Senior Lecturer in Law from Staffordshire University.

Venue: County South B45

In Leonardo Sciascia's "Il Contesto" (Equal Danger), the President of the Court makes this claim: "Judicial error does not exist." He claims this not out of personal arrogance but out of a distinction between his own person and his office. His justification is by way of a comparison between the judge and the priest:

"Let us take, well, the Mass, the mystery of transubstantiation, the bread and wine that become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. The priest may even be unworthy in his personal life, in his thought. But the fact that he has been ordained means that at each celebration of the Mass the mystery is completed. Never, I say never, can it happen that the transubstantiation not take place. And so it is with a judge when he celebrates the law: justice cannot not be revealed, not transubstantiated, not completed. A judge may torment himself, wear himself out, tell himself, "You are unworthy; you are full of meanness, burdened by passions, confused in your ideas, liable to every weakness and every error" - but in the moment when he celebrates the law, he is so no longer. And much less so afterward. Can you imagine a priest who, after celebrating Mass, says to himself, "Who knows if transubstantiation took place this time, too?" There's no doubt; it did take place. Most assuredly. I would even say inevitably." (pp84-5)

The plausibility of the President's claim turns on our acceptance of the claim that what the judge is doing, in sitting in judgment, is celebrating the law - not perhaps the first description we would usually offer.

In Robert Musil's "Die Verwirrungen des Zoglings Torless" (Young Torless), the act of judgment is undertaken - usurped - by certain schoolboys:

"Now Beineberg recited the list of Basini's infamies - monotonously, in a hoarse voice.

Then came the question: "So you're not ashamed at all?" At that Basini looked at Reiting, and his glance seemed to say: "Now I think it's time for you to help me." And at that moment Reiting hit him in the face so that he staggered back, tripped over a beam, and fell. Beineberg and Reiting leapt upon him.

An agreeable sensation went through Torless when he heard this whimpering. A tickling shudder, like thin spidery legs, ran up and down his spine, then contracted between his shoulder blades, pulling his scalp tight as though with faint claws. He was disconcerted to realize that he was in state of sexual excitement." (p92, p94)

This too is the act of judgment - the celebration of the law.

From the President's sacramental theory of adjudication to Torless's discovery of the erotogenic impact of judgment and punishment might seem quite a stretch. This paper will attempt to negotiate a settlement between the two literary visions of law.

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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