Law in Contemporary Society

The Fugue and the Fission

-- By MatthewGoldstein - 28 Feb 2020

I saw the best minds of my generation trade in their pens to the Xerox Corporation, and they thought they knew love.

Watch the sub-critical mass of enriched uranium drive toward the target cylinder in the thin air of 31,000 feet and dropping. Hear the whistling above Honshu isle.

Remember it is a clear day and eight-fifteen a.m. but there will, later today, fall a black rain that will extinguish the thousand fires but poison a generation.

Consider the semioticist Eco and the abstractionist Carmi who will, two decades later, tell the story of atoms resisting their use in the bombs of a bad general’s war. They refuse to be split. They escape. The bad general’s war, unconsummated, deposits bombs unfit but for flowerpots. So we find him in denouement bearing his golden aiguillette to man a hotel door, among which hotel’s patrons are the wartime enemies and subordinates of a past life, waxing ingracious over the threshold.

Too consider that the story woven by the semioticist Eco and the abstractionist Carmi was a children’s story, a picture book, its debut one year after the first Marines had marched ashore at Da Nang. But it did not sell, and still more marched, and the sand was beaten into the sea.

Q: How does it feel to jump from the balcony of your penthouse duplex? A: Better than stumbling onto the subway tracks.

Law school, if taken as prescribed, produces a petit bourgeoisie of mostly unthinking technicians, a service industry to capital. It is extortion or else the spermarche of the idle rich. Let us discuss the former.


No? Has your loan disbursement hit your account?

If so, has not the rent-seeking axis of lending and education already dug in its talons? Do you not feel labor bled from your body on pain of default or bankruptcy, and all for the benefit of firm partnerships and their clients? Extortion—blackmail—and why not? “Three hundred thousand dollars in monthly installments or we kill the girl.” And in the fat envelope marked “urgent—late payment,” one severed pigtail off the head of your dear kidnapped credit score. (Never has the federal funds rate seemed such a villain.)

But we do not feel ourselves so subjugated, or we would not feed so easily into the woodchipper. We welcome the burden. And why? How and by whom? Perhaps we woke each morning from age eight on and ticked off the days until we would join the Vault 100. Perhaps we are intellectual investors and value an education for its own sake at a price greater than or equal to the market rate(—but more on that in a minute).

No; we are loss-averse animals on the order of Leffian marks. For most of us, a false dichotomy has been manufactured, supplied, and unconsciously adopted. For most of us would rather fall from the balcony than stumble onto the tracks.


This false premise is not instilled by diktat. It is instantiated in a new, learned language and reinforced with every use thereof. The language is hegemonic. It circumscribes a range of thinkable thoughts. Its vocabulary is abstracted and its referents vague, and it casts itself in prescriptive opposition to the natural language of our preexisting aspirational selves.

This language is not Law Talk. Its syntax admits none of the saved souls of V.J.’s heaven. It is, rather, Law School Talk, the language of the process and not the substance, insofar as the operation of the particular school and adjacent economics goes pretty much as I described above. Law Talk supplies a toolbox; L.S.T. supplies a filter.

Some phrases in L.S.T.: “I’m into complex transactional litigation.” “Biglaw or public interest?” “Oh, I didn’t do the reading either!” “The Kirkland event was better than Cravath’s.” “190K.” Fluency comes quick.

Chomsky argues that expression is most ably proscribed with the encouragement of vigorous debate within a narrow subset of propositions. L.S.T. supplies both the subset and the debate—hence “Biglaw or public interest?” And within the narrowed range of debate, the vocabulary of L.S.T. operates like Orwell’s stunted English of political orthodoxy: His “transfer of population” and “rectification of frontiers” admits of no more intelligible disagreement than does our “I’m into complex transactional litigation.” L.S.T. ensures conformity by abstracting up and away from concrete propositions for which we can generate malleable mental images and therefore with which we might find reason to disagree.

And L.S.T. does not announce itself as a companion language. It installs itself as a mother tongue and prescribes itself to replace natural language in which we once upon a time defined our pre-law school personae. It is a plague with syntactic cousins in the other preprofessions. It usurps in the dark.

Monkeybars and Blackboards

Part of the aversiveness of this, our shedding and donning of skins, is the violent reckoning of the persona speaking our natural language with another, created by and speaking L.S.T. We feel the inadequacy of a servant with two masters and the isolation of failing to communicate, even with ourselves, because our two tongues spoken together are unintelligible.

But Wallace recognized that the teacher’s problems with the vulgar schoolboy can be dealt with if she understands that the English he uses on the playground is not slang at all but a different language altogether from the English she drills in the classroom. And our angst might dissipate with the realization that L.S.T. and our natural language are not meant to be used in the same breath. We might rest if we realize that saying “I am here because I want to learn, dammit, and charge me what you will” is not a violation of the rules of a monolithic language but a sentence in a natural language entirely its own.

Because when we realize this, we may, like Eco’s atoms, choose to leave the bomb. Our destruction is our choice.

And in our choice, liberation.

You are entitled to restrict access to your paper if you want to. But we all derive immense benefit from reading one another's work, and I hope you won't feel the need unless the subject matter is personal and its disclosure would be harmful or undesirable. To restrict access to your paper simply delete the "#" character on the next two lines:

Note: TWiki has strict formatting rules for preference declarations. Make sure you preserve the three spaces, asterisk, and extra space at the beginning of these lines. If you wish to give access to any other users simply add them to the comma separated ALLOWTOPICVIEW list.


Webs Webs

r1 - 28 Feb 2020 - 23:01:32 - MatthewGoldstein
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM