CLC 2011 – Time as Technology: Law? Justice? Atomic Fission?

by | 23 Jun 2011

Critical Legal Conference 2011

The relevance of time and temporality seems particularly pertinent for critical legal scholars interested in themes of memory, trauma, forgiveness, and post/colonialism. However, time also plays an important role in cases that are not overtly concerned with “history” as such. For example, ideals of justice are often oriented according to a particular time in both case law, and constitutional drafting. Indeed, the “present” and the “future” frequently represent the “time” of justice for lawyers, academics, and claimants. How does this notion of time shape what is at stake in conceiving of justice? How might attention to time alter how we imagine otherwise? This stream will explore the potentialities of thinking (or unthinking) through temporality and whether such thinking offers insights for critical legal scholarship.

Walter Benjamin famously took a critique of history as “progress” as his intellectual aim. Benjamin rejected a notion of time as propelled forward by a chronological series of events, unfolding as a neat and tidy teleological narrative. Benjamin’s project was a resistance to the forces of narratives that hinder the potentialities of the past, present, and future; a resistance to the strongest narcotic of the nineteenth century – the authoritative weight of chronological history (Benjamin 1999: 863).

As such, Benjamin posits a radical re-conception of how we think of history and indeed what history is. What do these insights mean for critical legal conceptions of ‘justice’? How do such challenges come to bear on law and critical legal thinking? How do legal practices and legal philosophy also function as smoothing and cohering technologies that deny the potentiality of subjects, objects, and ultimately, the political? Though taking “time” as a backdrop, this stream also proposes to explore “explosions” more broadly.

For example, Benjamin’s political project resonated strongly with Surrealism. In his work he claimed that the Surrealist Andre Breton redeemed the ephemeral by “causing the mighty forces of ‘atmosphere’ that lie hidden in these things to explode” (Benjamin 1979: 148). For Benjamin, Surrealism offered a methodology of seeing and thinking that had the potential to shock and interrupt. It was Benjamin’s aim, like the project of atomic fission, to blast open latent energies, releasing them from the restrictive temporality that they were suffocated by. In a similar register, Giorgio Agamben explores the persistence of that which cannot be remembered. Like Benjamin, he excavates the potentialities of that which exceeds our categories of knowledge and understanding, and draws our attention to the force of the unseen presence of that which has been forgotten (Agamben 2005: 40).

How do the concepts of “blasting”, “exploding”, and “atomic fission” speak to the work of critical legal scholars? Contributors are asked to reflect on “explosions” (or lack thereof) as well as their potentialities, dangers, and capacities to “backfire”. Papers may consider, but are not limited to, the role of law and legal scholarship in relation to: time and temporality, forgetfulness, history, schematism and/or periodization, time and the possibility of knowledge, non-knowledge, law as ruin/s/ed, as well as technologies of ‘interruption’ that may be found in law, art practices (e.g., Surrealism), literature, and film.


Agamben, Giorgio. 2005. The Time that Remains. Stanford, California; Stanford California Press.

Benjamin, Walter. 1999. The Arcades Project. Trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLoughlin. London: Belknap Press.

— “Surrealism”. 1979. One-way Street and Other Writings. Trans. Edmund Jephcot and Kingsley Shorter. London: Verso.


Stacy Douglas, Kent Law School

Deadline : 15 July 2011

Please send your abstracts to: email: S.M.Douglas[at]


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