Liminal devices of interpretation: paratexts of the Supreme Court
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“The Supreme Court”, first published in 1987, is a concise and informative narrative of the highest court in the USA. It contains much that is of interest and probing about the court and the intrigues of its decision-making. Moments abound when the reader is taken on a journey through the humanity of the cases, the erudite corridors of high-law and into the intensely high-strung but level-headed hallowed chambers of the Justices and Justice. What is revealed is the exacting mask of law, the humanity and affectations of those whose burden it is to deliver far reaching judgment on the American people. However, more revealing of the storyline is, perhaps, not so much the woven narratives contained within the three pages of text as it is the peripheral story (what Gerard Genette called the ‘paratext’) unfolded in the cover wraps, what they contain and the stories they weave. In this paper, I examine the liminal devices of ‘The Supreme Court’. I argue that much of the systemic cognition of the legal system can be divined from a scholarly encounter with these elements. Furthermore, the paratexts of two editions of the book indicate a paradigmatic shift in the legal perception of both the Supreme Court and the author between the periods of publication. This underscores the law not only in its reactive form but also in its dexterity in shifting its position to reflect the reality of its time. On each occasion, it alters the legal consciousness of a nation. Yet, it stays remarkably stable and self-effacing. The essential question is one of deference. It is of great interest that the Chief Justice targets the informed and the interested as opposed to the ignorant and ambivalent. The liminal devices, I observe, are probably as eloquent with this message as the text within. The paratext bears testimony to this.