Working with Benjamin on Law
Workshop for Young Benjamin Scholars
The contemporary political and legal landscape presents us with an array of situations that speak directly to Benjamin’s writings on law. Over the last year, various forms of the state of exception, either in response to the Covid-19 pandemic crises or, before that, to control social unrest in Chile, France, and Bolivia, have exposed the ambiguous relationship between law and violence. Surveillance and different forms of policing against massive mobilization to secure respective political-legal orders (in Hong Kong, Germany, Brazil, and Chile) remind us of the rotten foundations of the rule of law. Prosecutions and criminal trials that seek to redeem the victims of institutional violence or recent forms of State terrorism (in Argentina, Spain, Italy, etc.) raise the question of the (im)possibility of justice within the legal domain. Finally, in light of the current articulation between neoliberal accumulation and different forms of authoritarianism, Benjamin’s writings on fascism speak to the (legal) rise of the extreme right in different parts of the world.
While Benjamin’s critique of law was at the margins of Benjaminian scholarship for a very long time, over the past thirty years his comments on law across his oevre have become central to both critical legal scholarship and the law and literature movement. A large amount of this scholarship is dedicated to close readings of Benjamin’s often fragmentary remarks on law and explores the way in which theological and Marxist understandings of law/Law manifest themselves in Benjamin’s work.
This textual approach has, and still does, offer important insights for the understanding of Benjamin’s thinking on law/Law. However, the proposed workshop wishes to place a different emphasis in its engagement with Benjamin. It seeks to bring together young researchers who are not only working on Walter Benjamin but who refer to him to think through contemporary manifestations of law and state authority. As a space for those who work both on and with Benjamin, the workshop aims to explore what Benjamin’s sharp analysis of law offers to scholars interested in understanding contemporary uses of law. It invites participants to discuss to what extent one can pin down Benjamin’s abstract and ambiguous comments on law to profane manifestations of “actually existing law” without losing the gist of Benjamin’s philosophy.
The aim is to get a better understanding of both the contributions and limitations of Benjamin’s writings for understanding the world around us. To what extent can Benjamin help us to make sense of contemporary forms of fascism? Which tendencies of law/legal violence are important but hard to grasp with Benjamin’s work? What are the limits of Benjamin’s comments on law for analyzing current political/legal processes? To what extent is it possible to understand legal violence beyond the European context through a Benjaminian lens?
The workshop will be held in English.