The Parliament of Bodies: Legal Sorcery
by Colin Dayan

Film screening
8–10 pm
Fridericianum, Friedrichsplatz 18, Kassel

The Black Code of 1685 defined in law the status and obligations—not the rights—of entire classes of humanity on the basis of their color. Its decrees were intended to be normative: Its effects penetrated the legal thinking and the social assumptions and practices of societies in the New World, especially the American South.

The ruler who issued it is gone; the regime and type of government abolished; the empire long dissolved. The theory and implications of the document have been cast aside, replaced in our thinking and in our popular self-image by such worthy texts as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Yet the return to chain gangs, the purging of books from prison libraries, the “torture memos,” and the living death of solitary confinement, confirmed in case after horrifying case every year, as well as the marvelous speech a few weeks ago by Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans, all remind us that at least in the United States the past lives on. In this performance-monologue I enact a ritual engagement with a document that has not died. As William Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It is not even past.”

Colin Dayan is the Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities at Vanderbilt University. Her books include Haiti, History, and the Gods; The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons; and With Dogs at the Edge of Life. Her memoir, Blue Book, is forthcoming.

Posted in Public Programs

Black Athena Reloaded 2: A Trial of the Code Noir

with Colin Dayan, Pélagie Gbaguidi, Tavia Nyong’o, David Scott, and Françoise Vergès

Books are material surfaces of inscription where political fictions have the opportunity to become collective reality. The Code Noir was an economic and legal decree passed by King Louis XIV in 1685 to…