, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 91-116
Date: 04 Jan 2007

Superego, special juries and a split law: eighteenth-century adultery trials viewed through Zizek’s lens

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Abstract

Over the course of several books, Zizek develops a psychoanalytical account of the symbiosis between the public law and the individual subject’s own acquiescence. It is of course a non-formalist theory, suggesting that formal law alone does not achieve social order. This article applies an element of the theory empirically to a historical question: to the question of how the behaviour of juries in a particular type of 18th-century adultery trial managed to be both the object of contemporary controversy and an expression of normative values. The social ambivalence signalled by that doubleness opens surprisingly well to Zizek’s theory that the power of law is divided between its own public form and the subjects’ expression of superego. The theory of the split law, the hidden supplement outside the system, clarifies the historically-specific example. However, the historical example also illuminates the theory: it suggests how the space for this supplement also exists within the system, which can incorporate and make use of it.