New book by Professor Desmond Manderson examines law through artistic lens

ANU Law Professor Desmond Manderson.
"Danse Macabre: Temporalities of Law in the Visual Arts" is the ninth book by Professor Manderson.

I’ve always been interested in understanding law, not just as a creature of legal structures but cultural representations.

ANU Law Professor Desmond Manderson’s new book, Danse Macabre: Temporalities of Law in the Visual Arts, has received critical acclaim for its “utterly enjoyable” exploration of the intersection between time, law and art.

The book focuses on the idea of time and temporality as a focal point through which to explore how art engages with and constitutes law and human lives. It aims to give readers an understanding about how art facilitates real and imagined concepts of law, says Professor Manderson.

“I’ve always been interested in understanding law, not just as a creature of legal structures but cultural representations. In my career, I have looked at how literature and music, for example, imagine and treat law, giving us the language and feelings about legal concepts, values and ideas that shape our lives. Art is another way in which law moves from the made up to the made real,” he says.

“Rather than understanding law as a technical discipline with its own autonomous ways and forms, I’m interested in exploring how big ideas of law are mediated through the culture we share; from coins to statues to monuments – these are all important in communicating ideas about power, authority, law, justice, rights and so on. Art, through its social life, helps us understand law both in the imaginary world and society.”

Reviewing the book, renowned Dutch cultural theorist Mieke Bal observes it “dances” in its navigation between various disciplines.

“This book … [moves] deftly from one angle of the triangle of time, law, and art, to the other, this book shows - through a great variety of artworks, all taken up in detail - the complexities and the consequences of these pluralities. There is no other book which does this in such depth in all three fields,” writes Bal, Professor Emerita at the University of Amsterdam.

“That law's dance has death at its heart is a fact of life, but that so many artists in so many different cultural places and moments have been able to make this sensuously perceptible and deploy it as a cry for a justice that is, precisely, not blind: this is what Manderson demonstrates in this utterly enjoyable book.”

Professor Ian McLean, Hugh Ramsay Chair of Australian Art History at the University of Melbourne, says: “Through a close and extended reading of his chosen artworks, and through the innovative methodologies he uses to unpack them, Manderson's chapters build like symphonic movements into a veritable masterclass in the historiography of art.”

Danse Macabre: Temporalities of Law in the Visual Arts is the ninth book by Professor Manderson, who works across the ANU College of Law and College of Arts and Social Sciences.

The book will be formally launched in June 2019 and will be subject of a day-long symposium at the University of Melbourne in September. Order your copy online here.


Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team