by William P. MacNeil. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007. 260pp. Cloth. $45.00. ISBN: 0804753679.

Reviewed by Paul Parker, Political Science, Truman State University. Email: parker [at] truman.edu.


LEX POPULI is part of Stanford’s Cultural Lives of Law, a series edited by Austin Sarat that focuses “on the production, interpretation, consumption, and circulation of legal meanings.” In this contribution, William P. MacNeil, a law professor at Griffith University (Queensland, Australia), attempts a “recontextualization of jurisprudence from the specialist to the generalist interpretive community”(p.2). The specialists from whom MacNeil hopes to reclaim jurisprudence are the sociolegal studies and law and economics scholars, who have displaced traditional jurisprudential questions of rights and justice with their own foci on policy goals and efficiency. MacNeil’s recontextualization involves an analysis of the “culture of law and the law of culture” to produce a new “intertext”: MacNeil aspires to “a unique mode of analysis, of interpretation, and of reading, and what this book in part proposes is nothing less than a practical demonstration of how to read jurisprudentially” (p.2).

This practical demonstration consists of eight substantive chapters in which he “reads” a popular cultural text from the standpoint of a popular jurisprudential school, shedding light on both. In Chapter 1, HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE sheds light on how liberal legalism involves substantive injustice. “Natural law, and its semio-psychoanalytic transmorgrification by Buffy [the Vampire Slayer, Chapter 2] is succeeded by an analysis of positivism-as-psychomania in Chapter 3: ‘The First rule of Fight Club Is—You Do Not Talk About Fight Club!: The Perverse Core of Legal Positivism” (p.3). In subsequent chapters, THE LORD OF THE RINGS is read against Kelsen –“the lawless looking for the law, the illegitimate looking for legitimacy” (p.65) – and MINORITY REPORT and Law and Economics are argued to embody a “jurispruidence of antijurisprudence,” seeking “results without rules” (pp.83-84). Grounded in critical feminist analysis, legal training is analyzed through THE PAPER CHASE and LEGALLY BLONDE, while critical race theory and the Australian film THE CASTLE are the intertext of Chapter 7. Finally, MILLION DOLLAR BABY and THE SEA INSIDE are read against the discussion of the right to die. A brief introduction and a conclusion round out the 157 pages of text.

This is not a book of casual essays. The prose is lively, witty, and challenging, full of puns and cultural references that pay a careful reader. MacNeil wants to demonstrate how one can have fun with popular culture, and fun with jurisprudence, and consistent with his use of intertext, how works can be read together for greater enjoyment [*610] (or joiussance, a term he borrows from Lacanian psychoanalysis; more below). But while this text about entertainment and law is entertaining, MacNeil has a serious goal: MacNeil wants the legal community to take jurisprudential issues seriously, so that we think about the rights and duties under law, the access to justice, the role of the state. Parallel to how MURPHY BROWN provoked conversation about single parenting, MacNeil believes we can bring jurisprudential issues into public dialogue with the aid of popular culture (p.156). We read these texts jurisprudentially to think then also of the contributions and shortcomings of the schools of jurisprudence.

The close readings by MacNeil will be most comfortable to those already swimming in the interpretive community. Familiarity with the texts MacNeil interrogates, as well as the schools of jurisprudence he engages, also helps. The essays do fulfill his goal of being “a practical demonstration of how to read jurisprudentially” (p.9), and thus the book is especially well suited for graduate students or scholars wishing to join an interpretive community. But this is demonstration, and not instruction.

One extended example that will give some flavor of this approach is a discussion of legal education through the lenses of THE PAPER CHASE and LEGALLY BLONDE. MacNeil argues the two films, set 30 years apart, demonstrate “that law school trains not only for hierarchy but also for hysteria – and a whole host of symptoms, illnesses, and mental disturbances that support and sustain hierarchy” (p.99). The chapter is quite rich; MacNeil persuasively argues, for instance, how the Harvard Law of LEGALLY BLONDE is “something of a gynocracy,” transformed from the role of women-as- sustenance in “the precritical phallocracy under Kingsfield” in THE PAPER CHASE (pp.102-103). In both films, there is a central issue of “sorting.” While nominally this is sorting into a hierarchy of ability to succeed (in law school), in MacNeil’s interpretive lights, the central issue is what that success means, and what that tells us about legal education and the law.

In MacNeil’s Lacanian psychoanalysis of THE PAPER CHASE, protagonist Hart is hysterical in his attempt to sort his (masculine/feminine) identity, a struggle that centers on Kingsfield: Hart’s claim to be “having a ‘true Socratic experience’ with Kingsfield” is “not only suggestive of the Platonic Dialogues’ implicit anal-eroticism, but in its blurring of sodomy and Socrates, also indicative of Hart’s deepening psychic crisis as he moves from neurosis (hysteria) to full-blown psychosis (paranoid delusion)” (p.105).

MacNeil argues that the dysfunction created by law school, long critiqued by “crits” like Duncan Kennedy, is functional: law-schools-as training-for hirerarchy needs the “nervous and neurotic energy” (p.107). For Elle, in LEGALLY BLONDE, the sorting and psychic energy revolves around fitting in to the man’s world of the law. While both Hart and Elle “succeed,” they do so on the law (school)’s terms, argues MacNeil, diminishing themselves in the [*611] service of the phallus of the law (embodied in the professors Kingsfield and Stromwell). However, there is difference. For MacNeil, the top-dog of the hierarchy, the phallus, in THE PAPER CHASE – a text from when women were largely outsiders – is Kingsfield. In LEGALLY BLONDE, the phallus is the female Stromwell. The former is blinded to social realities and relationship, all in the service of the law; Hart is nothing to Kingsfield. Meanwhile, Stromwell’s suspension of her phallic power in order to nurture Elle demonstrates the possibilities of a nurturing law school. The law as hierarchy, and law schools and professors as masters, are thus challenged by LEGALLY BLONDE.

The book has extensive chapter notes – five of the eight analytic chapters are based on previously published articles or chapters – and an extensive bibliography, chock full of both scholarly and popular cultural entries. While necessarily there is great breadth to the bibliography, as he surveys several schools of jurisprudence, he also has some favorites that mark his grounding and approach: Hart (5 entries) Sarat (6) Dworkin (7), Freud (10) Jacques Lacan (11) Slajov Zizek (12). Additionally, several pages in the introduction provide a quick tour of scholars active in this interpretive community, helping to locate MacNeil’s influences and position.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER. 1997-2003. Joss Whedon. Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox.

THE CASTLE. 1999. Directed by Rob Stitch. Village Roadshow.

FIGHT CLUB. 1999. Directed by David Fincher. 20th Century Fox.

HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. 2005. Directed by Mike Newell. Warner Bothers Pictures.

LEGALLY BLONDE. 2001. Directed by Robert Luketic. Metro-Goldwynn-Mayers.

LORD OF THE RINGS. 2001. Directed by Peter Jackson. New Line Cinema.

MILLION DOLLAR BABY. 2004. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Warner Brothers Pictures.

MINORTY REPORT. 2002. Directed by Stephen Spielberg. Dreamworks SKG.

MURPHY BROWN. 1988-98. Created by Diane English. Warner Brothers Television.

THE SEA INSIDE (Mar Adentro). 2004. Directed by Alejandro AmenĂ¡bar. Sogepaq.


© Copyright 2007 by the author, Paul Parker.