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Derrida’s Kafka and the Imagined Boundary of Legal Knowledge

Conklin, William E., "Derrida’s Kafka and the Imagined Boundary of Legal Knowledge," in Law, Culture and the Humanities, 2016.

Windsor Law Faculty Author: William E. Conklin Abstract:

This article raises the critical issue as to why there has been assumed to be a boundary to legal knowledge. In response to such an issue I focus upon the works of Jacques Derrida who, amongst other things, was concerned with the boundary of the disciplines of Literature, Philosophy and Law. The article argues that the boundary delimits the law as if the inside of a boundary to territorial-like legal space in legal consciousness. Such a space is not possible without the boundary. Derrida’s most insightful essay in this regard is his study of Franz Kafka’s untitled parable in The Trial. The parable represents a man who waits for an invitation to enter the Law until he nears his end. Derrida responds to the parable in his essay, “Before the Law.” This article uses the parable and Derrida’s response to it as a starting-off point for a reconsideration of the boundary of legal knowledge. In this context, Derrida asks this question: “why is Kafka’s parable categorized as Literature or Law?” Such an issue depends upon the boundary of a discipline, according to Derrida. And that focus, in turn, asks whether the boundary pre-exists any text which is represented as “Literature” or “Law” or “Philosophy.” This article claims, however, that Derrida’s theory presupposes that law, as a discipline, encloses a territorial-like space in legal consciousness. Each discipline possesses such a space. So too does the state and the university. Inside this bounded space, officials of the Law are free to consciously deliberate, reflect, and render decisions about the context of the Law. Analytically and phenomenologically before the boundary is taken for granted in an academic discipline, however, there is an unbounded non- law. The aporia of Derrida’s theory of the boundary of the Law is that the official or expert knower of the official language inside the boundary cannot assume the imagined boundary of legal knowledge without implicitly claiming to know the exteriority to the boundary. And yet, officials and expert knowers cannot know such an exterior extra-legality because, by virtue of the boundary as encircling a territorial-like space, knowledge is considered legal only when it exists inside the boundary. “The Law” is the consequence of the imagination of the expert knowers of the language as well as of the non-expert who believes in the bounded territorial-like space.

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