A Face Decomposed

A detail of Diana Al-Hadid's'Self-Melt' (2008) - Perry Rubenstein Gallery.Within the alchemical legal doctrine of royal circles, the doubling of the heir to the throne’s body as the expression of the nation’s future health requires, as Ian Jack has noted, that the utmost composure be displayed.1Thus mirroring ‘the king’s two bodies’: see the work of this name by Kantorowicz (1957).  Serenity should not descend from timeless altitudes, for were it to do so, the darkness of becoming would engulf the nation.  Fiction though it be, the breakdown of composure that occurred as Charles Windsor encountered politics in the raw may nevertheless stand to signify the truth of a change in the field of socio-legal composition.

The loss of composition operates as the ever-present horizon of crisis for those subjective theories of natural right which seek to invest the compositional power grounding the state’s normative order either directly in the sovereign (divine right), or through the necessary fiction of the state of nature (e.g. Hobbes), in free individuals alienating this right to the common sovereign who then acts as the common measure – the structure by which things shall be composed.  To view the world through the prism of such a fiction is to be forever haunted by decomposition, that is, by the undead: ‘For the sovereign is the public soul…which expiring, the members are governed by it no more than by a carcass’.2Hobbes, Leviathan ch.xxiv, 23.

Oscar Guardiola-Rivera draws our attention to Spinoza’s own haunting,3Being against the world: Rebellion and constitution (2000:168-9). early one morning in 1644, by the ‘image of a black scabby Brazilian’ and wonders how this phantasm might stand for a certain blind spot in legal theories of the time with regard to colonial abuses.  Might we pursue this phantasm and suggest that here we already see Spinoza, pre-consciously, being pushed away from the Hobbesian explanatory mechanism which would characterise his earlier political work on natural right, the Theological-political treatise (1670)?  For by his death in 1677, Spinoza’s unfinished Political Treatise discloses a refusal by Spinoza to except any facet whatsoever from the face of natural right.

The persistent critique which has dogged ontological univocity, that nothing can escape the One, at the least may turn to Spinoza’s thinking for a counterblast to certain theories of plurivocal being: namely, that it is not a virtue of a theory that it can explain everything solely by pulverising it into dust and then reconstituting it according to its own bland order.  Through the bringing even of the anarchic power of natural right into the very state itself,4See Spinoza’s letter to Jarig Jelles of 2 June 1674. Spinoza embraces the dynamism of social composition and offers up a vision of the socio-political field as the material from which, with the tool of life, a joyous city can be built.  Decomposition is raised to the perfection of composition and holds no fear for the virtuous.  For the flux of the socio-political field is now understood as the means and not necessarily the hindrance of well-being.

Within this metaphysic, the task of the lawyer in the widest sense becomes that of topological architect: natural right as the face of the whole universe is to be worked ‘like clay in the hands of a potter5This phrase is often repeated by Spinoza: cf. the letter to Henry Oldenburg of December 1675;  Tractatus politicus Ch.II para.22; Tractatus theologico-politicus ch.XVI n.34. so that the surface of the city becomes a dynamic iura communia – the right of each is not summated as the right of the one sovereign as in Hobbes. No. The face of the city is  constituted so as to augment the power or right of each of its subspaces – the right of each is empowered by the coming together of all.

But the toll Spinoza exacts is the constant acceptance of immanent decomposition, lest it come to us without warning in the darkness of a December night, clattering at the window, trying to break open the door.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.