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The Law Is a White DogHow Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons$
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Colin Dayan

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780691070919

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691070919.001.0001

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(p.113) 4 Taxonomies
The Law Is a White Dog

Colin Dayan

Princeton University Press

This chapter describes how Herman Melville recognized the existence of what he had once called not “ordinarily human”: the chattels that gave new meaning to persons, the human anomaly constituted by law as property. Melville is obsessed with the making and unmaking of human materials as well as humans and animals. The chapter then assesses what it means in times of torture and dissembling to be like an animal. It all began with chattels. Their treatment helps one to understand the limits of cruelty. They are used as examples when humans need most to categorize, to dominate, and to justify slavery, genocide, and incarceration. The proximity between humans and animals is sometimes tenuous. Boundaries are permeable, and taxonomies are necessary to ensure the order of things. However, when the pressure is on to construct—legally and socially—degradation and inferiority, categories and terminologies get muddled. The hierarchies no longer hold.

Keywords:   Herman Melville, chattels, torture, animals, slavery, genocide, incarceration, taxonomies, degradation, inferiority

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