Before Judgment. Critiquing Imagery and Style of Good and Evil
Conference organized by the Minerva Research Group The Nomos of Images. Manifestation and Iconology of Law
Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz - Max-Planck-Institut
Florence, 29-31 May 2017
An uncanny play of prefixes to the German term Urteil (judgment or adjudication) mirrors the common observation that every act of sentencing (Verurteilen) is preceded by prejudice (Vorurteilen). Prejudices, as tacit assumptions underlying judgment, predetermine how a crime, a deed, or a criminal profile is reconstructed or how the gravity of a deed is perceived, if not subjected to critical scrutiny. Judicial judgments are as much shaped by images and forms as by language. Hence, legal norms themselves can be apprehended as artefacts of social and cultural practices, which not just regulate actions, but co-create the identity of subjects and communities acting through them. In order to understand how notions like "reality", "fact", and "value" are constructed in the legal sense, the act of judging, that manifests legal norms, should be regarded as a "total social phenomenon" (Mauss), into which political, economic, religious, moral as well as aesthetic aspects merge.
Although the codification of positive law – through norms and acts/statutes – seeks to counter the moral duality of "good" and "evil" as these ascriptions entail arbitrary misuse, the workings of imagination and fiction remain operative. They gain relevance especially in situations of a perceived or actual legal deficit, for instance, when different legal spheres – state and church or diverse national jurisdictions – come into conflict with one another, when new facts emerge, or the law no longer reflects the lived reality. While in criminal law today the notion of "evil" is restricted to signalling culpability (Gesinnung or attitude, character), establishing the criminal proclivities of the purported perpetrator, it remains notoriously resistant to formal rationalizations. Whether assessments, actions and facts are deemed "evil", illegal and criminal or, conversely, legal or lawful and, therefore, "good", is dependent on a cultural framework, in which imagery and forms play a significant role. Consequently, they require critical attention, taking into consideration, in particular, aesthetic, stylistic and visual perspectives.
No judgment can be rendered without the construction of "evil". In a similar vein, law cannot exist without taking into account "evil". Thus, Hegel defines "evil" not as a potential tendency of the conscience, but, rather, in a dialectical sense, as the negative that is constitutive of legal systems and norms in general. The task of the state, accordingly, lies in the meticulous administration of justice that seeks to contain "evil". Only through punishment and the exercise of judicial power can a polity be constituted. In this manner – through punishment and pardon – law could demonstrate that it controlled "evil". Legal practice is the necessary condition for transforming a contextual judgment to an independent norm; it, therefore, cannot be reduced to a mere "application" of law. Legal judgments include cognitive as well as normative considerations that are closely related to aesthetic judgments. Thus, images and aesthetic sensibilities that extend into the legal realm play a crucial part in the process of establishing norms.
The main objective of the conference is to analyse the place and significance of visual media in determining the interplay between norm and deviation: How is "evil" visualized and framed in normative terms? In what ways are "good" and "evil" manifested as opposing forces and by which means do these images – directly or indirectly – refer to perceptions of norms and law? Furthermore: How do each of the different legal and norm systems, ranging from customary law, public law, criminal and private law, state and constitutional law, right up to international law, generate specific constructions of "evil" and how do they relate to the visual? Not just the subject and the use of these images are at stake, rather, also the aesthetic and stylistic criteria of a negatively connoted vocabulary of form. In this context, while "evil" must be viewed as an apolitical paradigm, its success and reach in times of crisis need to be reflected upon critically. Ranging from demonically imbued images, figurations of "evil" (devil, demons, monsters, tyrants) and the techniques of its exorcism (apotropaics) to physiognomic strategies of criminalisation, from the forensic commensurability of representations, proportion and dimensionality to its unrepresentability and banality, its distortions and antinomies, from aesthetic antagonisms to transparency, the question of "evil" will serve as a leitmotif for reconsidering the relationship of society, legal practice and visual culture.
Papers are invited to consider the following themes:
1. Evil Images
Apotropaic or magically imbued images can themselves appear to be bearers of "evil" intentions. How is the intended damage visualised? To what extent do they result from ritual and to what extent from the aesthetic rendering of objects? When is delinquency explicitly associated with images?
2. Display and Stigma
Visualising "evil" can be as much in the service of social order as it can be a challenge to its internal logic. The staging of the convicted (pillory, execution) as well as the stigmatisation of deviant behaviour (illness, criminality) both reveal and enact the exclusion from society. How is deviation visually depicted? Can specific strategies of visualisation be directly related to specific norms?
3. Binary Oppositions
"Evil" stands in constitutive tension to its other. Formal and aesthetic configurations of binaries (light/dark, beautiful/ugly) that are ascribed to specific states or affects (anger/patience, pathos/discipline) will be analysed to retrace the visual modelling of "good" and "evil".
4. Proportion and Appropriateness
Law depends on principles and processes of decision making that stem from discretion, proportionality and assessment. How is proportionality of deed and sentence visually manufactured and established? To what extent is the equitableness of the sentence anchored in the aesthetic principle of appropriateness? What significance do figures of extreme "evil" have in the deliberation process?
5. Excessive Forms
Extreme violence and cruelty appear to elude the conventions of iconographic and stylistic visual vocabulary. What visual codes are suitable for capturing offenses that exceed the realm of the conceivable? When are images sought to manifest excess, when are they circumvented? In what cases do images infringe upon the principle of appropriateness?
Representations of genocide, war and state crimes are often legally forbidden, morally tabooed or repressed (trauma). What arguments can be brought forth for or against their representation? To what extent are aesthetic, social and juridical normative standards effective?
Please send proposals in German, English, Italian or French (max. 300 words) and a short CV firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com by 15 December 2016.
The Minerva Research Project will cover travel costs (economy class) and accommodation in accordance with the provisions of the German Travel Expenses Act (Bundesreisekostengesetz). Presentations will be 25 minutes in duration. Selected papers will be published following a peer review process.