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The Law Is a White Dog

The Law Is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    The Law Is a White Dog
    Book Description:

    Abused dogs, prisoners tortured in Guantánamo and supermax facilities, or slaves killed by the state--all are deprived of personhood through legal acts. Such deprivations have recurred throughout history, and the law sustains these terrors and banishments even as it upholds the civil order. Examining such troubling cases,The Law Is a White Dogtackles key societal questions: How does the law construct our identities? How do its rules and sanctions make or unmake persons? And how do the supposedly rational claims of the law define marginal entities, both natural and supernatural, including ghosts, dogs, slaves, terrorist suspects, and felons? Reading the language, allusions, and symbols of legal discourse, and bridging distinctions between the human and nonhuman, Colin Dayan looks at how the law disfigures individuals and animals, and how slavery, punishment, and torture create unforeseen effects in our daily lives.

    Moving seamlessly across genres and disciplines, Dayan considers legal practices and spiritual beliefs from medieval England, the North American colonies, and the Caribbean that have survived in our legal discourse, and she explores the civil deaths of felons and slaves through lawful repression. Tracing the legacy of slavery in the United States in the structures of the contemporary American prison system and in the administrative detention of ghostly supermax facilities, she also demonstrates how contemporary jurisprudence regarding cruel and unusual punishment prepared the way for abuses in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.

    Using conventional historical and legal sources to answer unconventional questions,The Law Is a White Dogilluminates stark truths about civil society's ability to marginalize, exclude, and dehumanize.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3859-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xx)
    (pp. 1-38)

    In 1989 Helen Ackley sold her five-thousand-square-foot, eighteen-room Victorian house on the Hudson River in Nyack, New York, to a young couple, Jeffrey and Patrice Stambovsky. After making a down payment of $32,500 for the house, they learned that it was haunted. Although Jeffrey did not believe in ghosts and did not mind knowing that the house was thus occupied, his wife refused to live there. Ackley had enjoyed a good relationship with the ghosts for over twenty years, and had become accustomed to steps on the stairs, doors slamming, beds shaking, and chandeliers moving back and forth. She assured...

    (pp. 39-70)

    In Port-au-Prince, Haiti, I heard a story about a white dog. Reclaimed by an oungan—a priest who “deals with both hands,” practicing “bad” magic—a ghost dog comes to life. Starving, its eyes wild, it appears late at night. A Haitian friend called it “the dog without skin.” To have white skin was to have no skin at all. But this creature was not really a dog. When a person died, the spirit, stolen by the oungan, awakened from what had seemed sure death into a new existence in canine disguise. We all agreed that no spirit formerly in...

    (pp. 71-112)

    The extremity of contemporary punishment in the United States—practices (anomalous in the so-called civilized world) of state-sponsored execution, prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement, excessive force, and other kinds of psychological torture—can be traced back to the country’s colonial history of legal stigma and civil incapacity. This terrain of disfigured personhood is everywhere. The “global war on terror” has facilitated the export of prison practices from the United States, where over 2.3 million persons are now incarcerated, to other locales of containment. In accounting for the continuity of these landscapes of unfreedom, let us engage with the legal forces...

    (pp. 113-137)

    Near the end of Melville’s novelIsrael Potter(1855), Israel, the disabled and dispossessed beggar, wanders through the streets of London. In these last pages, no longer depending on the biography that had given shape and structure to most of the novel, Melville envisions another kind of history that combines fantasy and horror. Ostensibly describing the “mud and mire” of brick-making, after he has recalled a drowned slave at the bottom of the Dismal Swamp in tidewater Virginia, he portrays a crowd streaming “like an endless shoal of herring, over London Bridge,” laborers trudging over the flagging of London streets...

    (pp. 138-176)

    In warning against the anachronistic reading of early Anglo-American practices of servitude, Maitland hesitated about thinking of slaves as things. His admonition registered unease with the sharp divide between person and thing. In exhuming the history of English common law, he recognized the dangers of forcing modern ideas onto medieval facts. Neat distinctions misrepresented the evidence of an untidy, ambiguous past. “As we go backwards the familiar outlines become blurred; the ideas become fluid, and instead of the simple we find the indefinite.”¹ Modern legal conceptions of slaves did not help to clarify whether theservusof Domesday Book was...

    (pp. 177-208)

    On Christmas Day in 2007, Tatiana, a 243-pound Siberian tiger, escaped from her grotto at the San Francisco Zoo. She scaled the twelve-foot-five-inch wall, killed seventeen-year-old Carlos Sousa Jr., and injured his two friends Amritpal (“Paul”) and Kulbir Dhaliwal. When police arrived at the scene, Tatiana was guarding Kulbir as her prey. She was shot and killed as she turned, responding to their shouts. A year later, the four San Francisco officers who appeared at the scene of this misadventure were awarded the Gold Medal of Valor by the chief of police. The man who shot the tiger reminded his...

    (pp. 209-252)

    Not all laws command the same assumptions about personhood and property, nor can we be sure how far case law can be understood to offer insight into worth and insignificance. If we were challenged to write a legal history of dispossession, we could find no better examples, both profound and ancient, than in the taxonomies of personhood when bounded and enlivened by the dog kind. Only with dogs before us and beside us can we understand the making or unmaking ofthe idea of persons.

    Does ownership mean the same thing for all citizens? Perhaps one way to approach questions...

    (pp. 253-258)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 259-302)
    (pp. 303-324)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 325-343)