Dark Speech: The Performance of Law in Early Ireland (The Middle Ages Series)

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9780812239898: Dark Speech: The Performance of Law in Early Ireland (The Middle Ages Series)

What does it mean to talk about law as theater, to speak about the "performance" of transactions as mundane as the sale of a pig or as agonizing as receiving compensation for a dead kinsman? In Dark Speech, Robin Chapman Stacey explores such questions by examining the interaction between performance and law in Ireland between the seventh and ninth centuries.

Exposing the inner workings of the Irish legal system, Stacey examines the manner in which publicly enacted words and silences were used to construct legal and political relationships in a society where traditional hierarchies were very much in flux.

Law in early Ireland was a verbal art, grounded as much in aesthetics as in the enforcement of communal norms. In contrast with modern law, no sharp distinction existed between art and politics. Visualizing legal events through the lens of procedure, Stacey helps readers recognize the creative, fluid, and inherently risky nature of these same events.

While many historians have long realized the mnemonic value of legal drama to the small, principally nonliterate societies of the early Middle Ages, Stacey argues that the appeal to social memory is but one aspect of the role played by performance in early law. In fact, legal performance (like other more easily recognized forms of verbal art) created and transformed as much as it recorded.

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About the Author:

Robin Chapman Stacey is Professor of History at the University of Washington. Her book The Road to Judgment: From Custom to Court in Medieval Ireland and Wales, also published by the University of Pennsylvania Press, was awarded the John Nicholas Brown Prize of the Medieval Academy of America.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Introduction

It is often the case that the most important and unanswerable—and importantly unanswerable—questions are asked by those who know relatively little about the subject under discussion. Even the most naïve of queries from a community member in the back row can generate panic in an experienced lecturer possessed of a mastery of his subject, but not of its implications. And of course students are notoriously good at asking the sort of question which, if thought about at all honestly, could take days or even weeks to answer properly. So it is that this study also begins, for it too has its origins in one such confounded lecturer, and in one such unanswerable query. Some years ago, a student raised her hand in the middle of a lecture I was giving about the native Irish legal tradition and its relationship to the new dispensation prevailing in the island after the coming of Christianity. This was a subject I thought I knew relatively well, but her question was one that had never occurred to me, at least not in the terms in which she chose to phrase it. Why, she asked, would a literate jurist, working in a tradition that would ultimately produce the largest number of vernacular legal texts extant from anywhere in pre-twelfth-century Europe, choose in his own written lawbook to characterize the ecclesiastical legal tradition (but not his own) as recht litre, "written law?"

The question was a good one, and on one level eminently answerable: the longevity and appeal of native oral lore, the impact of the Scriptures and other early Christian writings on a hitherto exclusively oral culture, the tremendous promise represented by the new technology of writing introduced to Ireland by Christian missionaries. On another level, however, it seemed considerably more difficult, and the longer I thought about it the less satisfied I became, both with the specific response I had given and with my general understanding of the nature of the legal and political world these texts were purporting to describe. It is one thing to know that oral legal procedures exist, and quite another to imagine how and why they might actually have worked. The jurist who so confidently distinguished his own tradition from that of recht litre did so not because he perceived writing to be unimportant, but because he believed the essence of his tradition to lie elsewhere, in the performance of law rather than in what was—or could ever be—written about it. The authority of the procedures with which he was familiar lay not in their sameness, in their ability to be captured in writing, but rather in their difference, in the potential for success or failure that existed every time a king proclaimed a verdict from a mound or a farmer intoned a contractual formula. Risk, not security, is the essence of performance, and performance, not inscription, was the essence of "the law" as our jurist knew it.

Performance has, to date, played a relatively minor role in our thinking about early medieval law and government. Students of the judicial ordeal have long recognized the dramatic nature of the ritual with which they are concerned. And other, no less theatrical productions have been detected as well in the insular and continental legal sources: the public perambulation of the boundaries of a contested estate, for example, or the throwing of earth on a person rendered liable for a kinsman's offence. Indeed, scholars now remark quite openly on the performative element of early law, on the important role played by spectacle and show in the small, principally nonliterate cultures of the early middle ages. But despite our acknowledgement of the theatrical character of early medieval justice, despite our increasing tendency as historians to make use of the terminology of the stage, we have yet to probe very deeply into the metaphor we employ. What does it mean to talk about law as theater, to speak about the "performance" of transactions as mundane as the sale of a pig, or as agonizing as the receiving of compensation for a dead kinsman? Historians have tended to use drama as a metaphor for legal rituals of this sort primarily in order to emphasize the publicity attendant on the affair. Attention has focused almost entirely on the issue of social memory, on the means by which imagery and symbol preserve in the collective consciousness of the non-literate that which might otherwise be forgotten. What will be argued in this book, however, is that the appeal to memory was but a single aspect of the role played by performance in early law. The power of legal performance, like that of other more easily recognized forms of verbal art, lay as much in its ability to create and to transform as to record.

And as with performance, so with speech and language generally. Earlier generations of anthropologists sought to define the phenomenon of performance as precisely as possible, drawing boundaries around that which they thought did and did not constitute "performance" within the cultures they studied. Dell Hymes was particularly insistent that performance not become a "wastebasket," a formless category of action into which to dump everything we do not otherwise know how to characterize. He himself differentiated between behavior ("anything and everything that happens"), conduct ("behavior under the aegis of social norms"), and actual performance, which he argued constituted a subset of conduct in which those performing assume a "responsibility for presentation" to an audience or a tradition. Richard Bauman refined Hymes's characterization somewhat, defining performance as "the assumption of responsibility to an audience for a display of communicative skill," and pointing to the manner in which it "calls forth special attention to and heightened awareness of the act of expression and gives license to the audience to regard the act of expression and the performer with special intensity." Another concept emerging as prominent in the literature was that of the frame—whether geographical, chronological, or ritual—within which performative actions often occurred and were interpreted by those who witnessed them. Central to all of these constructs was an emphasis on the performer's deliberate shouldering of responsibility towards his tradition and his audience. As anyone who has ever actually put themselves forward in such a way will immediately recognize, performance is an inherently paradoxical venture, an occasion both of power and vulnerability, since a performer displaying his mastery of his art inevitably renders himself open to the assessment of others. "Did he perform poorly, did he perform well?" When the performance in view has legal as well as artistic implications, these are questions of more than passing interest.

The views advanced by Hymes and Bauman have greatly improved our understanding of the workings of performance within oral cultures, although the issues raised by their attempts to define and delimit the phenomenon are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. It is possible to take a relatively narrow view of performance, defining it solely in terms of formal, framed procedures whose ritual aspect makes them easy to differentiate from more ordinary forms of social interaction. However, it is also possible to take a totally different view, defining performance more broadly, in a way that encompasses a wide variety of public demonstrations of status or affiliation, however brief and unpatterned. Traditionally, anthropologists have been as interested in the abstract as in the particular—that is, gleaning from the specific societies they study a sense of how their structures and traditions compare with those by which humans in other world cultures have historically organized themselves. In recent years, this emphasis on identifying what is "fixed" and "traditional" in society has waned somewhat. Culture tends now to be viewed as constructed and constantly evolving rather than as stable and immutable: for many scholars the challenge currently is to capture a sense of movement within the society they study rather than to establish boundaries around the practices by which in an earlier age that society might have been defined. Even the most nuanced of anthropological works, however, continues to display an interest in categorizing and distinguishing like from unlike, not least because it is so difficult to engage in cross-cultural comparisons without to some degree reifying that which one seeks to compare. It was probably inevitable, for example, that Catherine Bell's excellent book on strategies of ritualization (of which great use is made in the present work) would be criticized for treating ritual as an "it" and falling thereby into error she had objected to in others. It is difficult to write on a topic one cannot to some degree define.

But while it is thus understandable that anthropologists should seek to delimit performance from other aspects of the cultures they observe, the historian's primary goal remains that of understanding the particular rather than identifying the abstract, a fact that permits—perhaps even mandates—a different approach. Having begun with performance, I quickly found that I could not end there. The more closely I contemplated those rituals and procedures standing out in the Irish sources as unquestionably "performative," the more apparent it became that in the particular culture in which I was interested, such events did not occur in isolation, but were rather part of a larger nexus of beliefs about language and the exercise of power. Indeed, the authority to which many of these procedures laid claim within the community was inconceivable outside the context of such beliefs, not least because the speech many of them envisaged resonated so deeply with authoritative words spoken (or written) elsewhere. Thus what had been a work about law and performance quickly became a book about the manner in which publicly enacted words and actions of all types—and their opposites, including silence—were used to construct legal and political relationships in a period in which traditional hierarchies were very much in flux. Such an overlapping of performance with speech and language generally is not unique to Ireland, although there are elements in early Irish culture that make it particularly difficult to separate one from the other (the political prominence of poets, for example). But while not unique to Ireland, it is certainly relevant to it: the more I read the more convinced I became that there was nothing to be gained by treating performance separately from the larger world of culture and language of which it was a part, and a great deal to be lost.

The connections between speech and performance are most visible in the scholarly fields devoted to their explication. Sociolinguistics as a discipline is closely linked to performance theory, a fact that should not surprise us. One seeks to understand the manner in which language structures and regulates social relations (and vice versa), while the other imagines the structuring of social relations through formalized events in which language often (though not inevitably) has a role to play. Ritualized events often involve speech that differs in various ways from the speech of ordinary everyday interaction, and that speech frequently draws upon or alludes to types of language significant in other contexts. Moreover, phenomena that are bread and butter issues to sociolinguists, such as situational language use, codeswitching, and the social differentiation of codes, are all elements potentially important to an understanding of performance, just as they are of the social and political structures of the culture within which that performance takes place. Especially important to a sense of the authority claimed by performance (as by public speech generally) is the sociolinguists' observation that, in many cultures, it is not only language per se, but the form and syntax of that language that matters. In other words, the power claimed for particular types of speech is in many instances directly related to the structures of which that speech is composed, just as the structures of which that speech is composed are directly related to the nature of the authority claimed for it. Hymes has commented on the manner in which all too frequently anthropologists rush through the form of the speech they are studying to get to its content, whereas linguists in a hurry to explicate its points of grammatical interest pay little attention to what the statement before them actually says. In many cultures, the power of speech cannot be easily separated from the nature of the language in which that speech is couched nor the venue in which it occurs: the best approach, he argues, is one that takes all such elements into account.

This have I tried to do in what follows. In many ways, the idea that performative speech might be linked to power in early Irish society will not seem terribly new. It is a commonplace among Celticists to speak of the "power of the word"—to remark, for example, on the unusual language depicted in the sources as a hallmark of those with claims to otherworldly knowledge, or on the manner in which the powerful spoken genres of satire and praise exalted or diminished the standing of individuals in medieval Ireland and Wales. But if this study thus seems to replicate trends in existing scholarship, it also departs from it in significant ways. Typically, the power of performance has been associated primarily with self-consciously religious or artistic contexts and individuals—druids, seers, poets, and the like—just as matters pertaining to language have generally been treated by literary specialists rather than by historians. Law and politics have not usually entered into the discussion, except in the form of comments on the political implications of satire or the historical links between jurists and poets. The manner in which language structures legal relationships among persons living together within political communities has not been studied in detail, nor have the links between publicly enacted speech and performance as a more generalized phenomenon (e.g., nonverbal as well as verbal performance). A particularly important aspect of this study is the relationship between politics and aesthetics. It is a central contention of this book that the production (and prevention) of verbal art was a key element in the structuring of legal and political hierarchies in early Ireland, both on the level of metaphor (how power was discussed) and of actualization (how power was acquired and exercised). Performance appears thus in this work not only as an object of study in its own right, but also as a lens through which to detect struggles for dominance otherwise obscured from view—a role it has hitherto played only rarely in existing scholarship.

In short, what follows is less a study of the abstract phenomenon of performance than it is of the inner workings of one particular legal system, and less an inquiry into ritual per se than into the type of power ritual can effect. Although considerable attention is given to the sort of formal, framed performances on which the theorists are inclined most easily to agree, more than half the book focuses on the ways in which publicly executed speech of all kinds structures and defines the hierarchies within which people live. The first section of the book is devoted explicitly to performance per se, with chapter one focusing on nonverbal performative events (or at least events that appear in the sources as nonverbal, which may of course be quite a different thing). With chapter two we enter upon the...

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Descrizione libro University of Pennsylvania Press, United States, 2007. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. What does it mean to talk about law as theater, to speak about the performance of transactions as mundane as the sale of a pig or as agonizing as receiving compensation for a dead kinsman? In Dark Speech, Robin Chapman Stacey explores such questions by examining the interaction between performance and law in Ireland between the seventh and ninth centuries. Exposing the inner workings of the Irish legal system, Stacey examines the manner in which publicly enacted words and silences were used to construct legal and political relationships in a society where traditional hierarchies were very much in flux. Law in early Ireland was a verbal art, grounded as much in aesthetics as in the enforcement of communal norms. In contrast with modern law, no sharp distinction existed between art and politics. Visualizing legal events through the lens of procedure, Stacey helps readers recognize the creative, fluid, and inherently risky nature of these same events.While many historians have long realized the mnemonic value of legal drama to the small, principally nonliterate societies of the early Middle Ages, Stacey argues that the appeal to social memory is but one aspect of the role played by performance in early law. In fact, legal performance (like other more easily recognized forms of verbal art) created and transformed as much as it recorded. Codice libro della libreria AAJ9780812239898

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Descrizione libro University of Pennsylvania Press. Hardback. Condizione libro: new. BRAND NEW, Dark Speech: The Performance of Law in Early Ireland, Robin Chapman Stacey, What does it mean to talk about law as theater, to speak about the "performance" of transactions as mundane as the sale of a pig or as agonizing as receiving compensation for a dead kinsman? In Dark Speech, Robin Chapman Stacey explores such questions by examining the interaction between performance and law in Ireland between the seventh and ninth centuries. Exposing the inner workings of the Irish legal system, Stacey examines the manner in which publicly enacted words and silences were used to construct legal and political relationships in a society where traditional hierarchies were very much in flux. Law in early Ireland was a verbal art, grounded as much in aesthetics as in the enforcement of communal norms. In contrast with modern law, no sharp distinction existed between art and politics. Visualizing legal events through the lens of procedure, Stacey helps readers recognize the creative, fluid, and inherently risky nature of these same events. While many historians have long realized the mnemonic value of legal drama to the small, principally nonliterate societies of the early Middle Ages, Stacey argues that the appeal to social memory is but one aspect of the role played by performance in early law. In fact, legal performance (like other more easily recognized forms of verbal art) created and transformed as much as it recorded. Codice libro della libreria B9780812239898

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