Thursday, August 2, 2007
Sherwin on Law, Metaphysics and the New Iconoclasm
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
Richard K. Sherwin, New York Law School, has posted a new essay, Law, Metaphysics and the New Iconoclasm. It is forthcoming in the journal Law Text Culture. Here's the abstract: Is seeing believing, or does the image deceive us? Must we look 'through' the image to get at unadulterated truth, or have we no choice but to make do with endless simulacra? Bruno Latour describes this uncertainty as “iconoclash.” We need the image, yet we fear it. We accept truth's dependence upon mediation, yet we yearn for meaning's unmediated purity. In its yearning to discard imperfection, the iconoclastic impulse risks the twin dangers of nihilism on the one hand (“It's all constructed”) and fundamentalism on the other (“let transcendent truth shine through”). Today's iconoclash is, at least in part, the offshoot of new digital communication technologies. These technologies have led to an unprecedented proliferation of images coupled with an equally unprecedented capacity to control the simulation of reality. Political and legal discourse has embraced these technologies together with the visual rhetorical strategies that they allow. As a result, law and politics have also inherited the same metaphysical anxieties that pervade society as a whole, for now they too must cope with concerns about our collective ability to distinguish truth and fiction, reality and fantasy, reason and desire. Positivism, instrumentalism, and the ideology of the marketplace have failed to acknowledge, much less affirmatively respond to the challenges of iconoclash and the metaphysical impulses that underlie it. Given the growing uneasiness regarding the Liberal state's capacity to fulfill its own conventional standards for legitimacy, it is time to rethink the role of metaphysics in the quest for legitimating values.