The thot came to me: EUSAS HEAD IS DREAMING US.
1ce I said that I knowit there were a many in it only I had to wait for the diffrent shapes of it to shif a part so I cud work be twean. Which they done then I did work in be twean and seen the shapes of it. I wer going to tel the shapes but that seamt foolish all I had to do wer show them when they movit pas. Which I done I poyntit to each 1 the woal thing wer as plain. I dint even bother to say it to my self I knowit I cudnt lose it out of memberment.
When I lookit agen it wernt there. I thot: At leas it ben all ready showit. I lookit roun and every body looking at me. I said, ‘At leas it ben all ready showit’.
They all said, ‘What ben showit?’
– Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker
I’ve been sketching a division between reality (the day job, criminology, funding applications, the present) and fantasy (Cambridge, legal theory, pure research, an imaginary future). Perhaps a sense of not being good enough, learnt – and ultimately inherited – from my mother, has been leading me to disengage from the reality and seek compensation in the fantasy, while making sure to keep it unreal. Perhaps. It’s a plausible scenario, but it’s not entirely true – almost by definition. A critique is only ever a model; there have to be aspects of reality which don’t fit the model, or there’d be no growth points, no potential for change. To say that my life actually consists of a reality of self-thwarted dull office-workerdom alongside a fantasy of academe would be to restate the very attitude that I was criticising in the first place, under the guise of critique. (Tricky business, self-criticism.) And, although I have consciously been telling a story of self-sabotage and under-achievement, there are quite solid assertions – and solid achievements – all through this series of posts, from the original Cambridge admission to the publications in journals with the words ‘Criminology’ and ‘Law’ in their titles. The things I’ve achieved, and the interests I’ve pursued, haven’t just been solitary, fugitive diversions from some broader and better-lit path.
And this goes for the law, too. Frankly, I haven’t finished with the law yet; I certainly haven’t finished with Hart. I haven’t even finished with Pashukanis: nothing I’ve written citing the blighter has seen print so far, and I have got an argument to develop which uses his analysis of (bourgeois) legality. It’s an argument that’s been brewing for some time now. I’d got the shapes of Pashukanis’s model of liberal subjectivity under law before I had any grasp of the detail (something similar happened with Williams and cultural materialism, many years ago). A lot of the reading I’ve done over the last few years has been an attempt to fill in the blanks, grounding the model in some kind of understanding of the law by way of Fuller, Simmonds,
WolframWaldron and Hart. Several years later, however far I’ve travelled from my starting-point – when I find I’m reading Epstein on strict liability, Michael Moore on interpretation, Nicola Lacey on character and responsibility – there’s still a question to be asked, having to do with the rule of law and the legitimacy or otherwise of un-lawlike forms of regulation.
I’m talking about questions like these. If my social environment is structured such that I know I personally am liable to be penalised for activities that are generally lawful, am I free? What about if the environment is structured such that I have no idea whether I will be penalised or not; or such that I know I won’t be penalised, because I will have had no opportunity to break the law? I’m certainly not free, in any of these hypothetical situations, to shape my conduct to remain within the law – or knowingly to break it. Building on this argument, if we accept that effective freedom is circumscribed by unlawlike forms of regulation, how far are we from living in a free (and law-governed) society? Has such a society come closer or receded, become more or less feasible, over recent years and decades? What, to us, would such a society look like? Conversely, are there situations in which (as Pashukanis himself argued) individual freedom should be restricted in unlawlike ways, or structured out of existence – and what are the conditions of justice of these situations (other than the withering away of the state following the period of socialist construction)? What light does our society’s treatment of legal non-subjects – prisoners, young people, migrants – throw on these questions? There’s something there, I think. (One of the great regrets of this part of my life is not discussing all of this with Barbara Hudson when I had the chance. But the thing with regrets is not to compound them.)
So, although I feel as if I could happily read nothing but legal theory from now on – and although this does seem rather worryingly removed from the things I write about, let alone the subjects I teach – I don’t think the answer is to abandon law, along with crossing Cambridge off my list. On the contrary. The point about the dream of academe – deep baths, well-stocked bookshelves and all – is precisely that it is a dream: a consoling fantasy, an alternative to recalcitrant reality. As such, to invest in one is to invest in the other. If you dream of a well-furnished Library of Babel of endless solitary research, you will wake to a reality of being merely and dully someone who works in a busy office (in a university): they’re two sides of the same coin. “The call to abandon their illusions about their condition is a call to abandon a condition which requires illusions”; the call to abandon the jurisprudential fugue (or at least to get some work out of it) is also a call to stop sitting at my desk like a disempowered lump of recalcitrant me-ness (or at least to have some fun while I’m there). In short, the task is to keep hold of those ideas and take them seriously – and, in the immortal words of Peter Blegvad, “when I say ‘serious’, I mean like children are at play”. I need to wake up and start bouncing those ideas around.
Which, rather more than incidentally, will also mean bouncing them off other people. Part of the appeal of the academic dream has always been that it validates solitary brilliance – think of the Professor in his upstairs flat. But it’s incoherent – who, after all, is doing the validating, and why? I think, from my teenage frustration with difficulties in communicating, I took a wrong turn into outright refusal to communicate, buttressed by an unrealisable fantasy of being perfectly understood and correctly valued. The dream of an academic berth fitting me like a leather armchair has only ever been a dream – the twist being that I’d designed the dream in such a way that it never could be made real. Which is not to say that I can’t feel reasonably comfortable and pretty well accepted, doing what I do at work, but that this is something I’ll need to work towards; something I’ll only reach in that big mundane, unredeemed space that is neither uniquely wretched failure nor uniquely acclaimed brilliance. And it’s going to mean working with other people, doing things that other people (also) want to get done – or finding ways to do what I want to do which will also help other people get things done.
I suppose the final and most blindingly obvious revelation is that this – working with other people in settings that pre-existed me – is what I’ve been doing all along; it’s just that I’ve been dreaming of being somewhere else.
Maintenant c’est joué. L’hacienda, tu ne la verras pas. Elle n’existe pas. Il faut construire l’hacienda.
– Ivan Chtcheglov, Formulaire pour un urbanisme nouveau