Monday, December 3
6 p.m.
Russell House 

Law, Ornament, and the Quotidian Body

Anne Cheng

Department of Anthropology, University of California, Irvine

What is the relationship between law and ornament? In what ways can the law be said to decorate a body and, in doing so, distinguish it from its quotidian comings and goings? While Modernism is known for its minimalism and its zeal for de-ornamentation, this paper argues that the ornament not only continues to exert its seductions for Modernist aesthetics but also presents a lynchpin for what constitutes legal personhood and the making of modern civil rights. Tracing the surprisingly intimate relationship between ornament and socio-legal legibility, this paper suggests that the seemingly superfluous and often minute decorative detail offers the key to understanding how style and personhood are historically imbricated. Professor Cheng will explore the political implications of this connection. What are the risks and the gains of seeing a delegitimized person—someone made at once exceptional to yet instrumental for daily life&emdash;as a “decorated” subject? Can the ornament, especially the person-as-ornament, be capable of redressing the tension between worth and worthlessness? And how does the notion of a synthetic/ornamented person contest the very terms of our civil rights as they are envisioned today?