Ben Golder, Review of Foucault’s Monsters and the Challenge of Law, Abingdon: Routledge , 2010 by Andrew Sharpe, The Modern Law Review, Volume 74, Issue 4, July 2011, pp 639–642.
Andrew Sharpe has written a very erudite and impeccably serious book about monsters. However, Sharpe’s thought-provoking book is not so much about the mythological imagination as it is about the legal imagination and the ways in which ‘at least some human beings are positioned as outsiders’ by the law (3). Foucault’s Monsters thus takes up the important question of the production, circulation and management of human difference in and through legal discourse. For Sharpe, the category of ‘the monster’ has historically been one of the crucial techniques whereby law has sought to define the acceptable limits of human being – it helped furnish an answer to those presuppositional ontological questions of ‘who is legible as a human?’ and ‘who shall count as a human?’ As Sharpe’s fascinating historical researches on the English common law show, and as one would expect in a book theoretically indebted to Foucault, this process according to which certain humans are constituted as legal monsters (a process, precisely, of monster-isation, of making into a monster) proceeded according to different logics at different points in time. For example, each historical epoch depicted here deploys its own ‘privileged’ figure – for the Middle Ages, it is the bestial human; for the Renaissance, it is the spectre of conjoined twins; and for the Classical Age, it is the figure of the hermaphrodite which exercises the legal imagination. I say ‘history’ and ‘historically’, but of course as Sharpe makes clear early on (and indeed as does the latter half of the book itself, which addresses the contemporary issues of transsexuality, conjoined twins and admixed embryos), a legal history of the monster is not simply a return to the recondite pronouncements of Bracton and Britton, Swinburne and Blackstone (as interesting and bizarre as this turns out to be). Rather, the intent – in true Foucaultian style – is to unsettle the grounds of the present legal construction and regulation of human difference.
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