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[ox-en] sense and nonsense of licenses (bare acts/sarai reader 5)

dear oekonux list,

i wonder if anyone of you would like to write something for this sarai
reader about the rise and rise of legal issues. why do we believe in
licenses such as gpl and creative commons? isn't this just reflecting
the enormous power of lawyers and the legal class in general? we could
also print a (list) debate...

best, geert

From: Monica Narula <monica>



The 'Bare Act' is an expression used to specify the content of law, bereft
of any interpretative gloss. In a legal library in India and many parts of
the English-speaking world, a Bare Act is a document that simply codifies
a law without annotation or commentary. The 'Bare Act' is legality pared
down to its textual essence. It expresses only what the law does, and what
it can do.

The enactment of law, however, is less a matter of reading the letter of
the law, and more a matter of augmenting or eroding the textual foundation
through the acts of interpretation, negotiation, disputation and
witnessing. The law and practices within and outside stand in relation to
a meta legal domain that can be said to embrace acts and actions in all
their depth, intensity and substantive generality. This too is a stage set
for the performance of 'bare acts', of what we might call 'naked deeds' -
actions shorn of everything other than what is contained in a verb.

The 'Bare Act' that encrypts the letter of the law, the wire frame
structure that demands the fleshing out of interpretation, and the 'bare
act' that expresses and contains the stripped down kernel of an act, of
something that is done, are both expressions that face each other in a
relationship of tense reflection and intimate alterity. Bare Acts generate
bare acts, and vice versa.

"Sarai Reader 05: Bare Acts: Trespassers and Enforcers in Precarious
Times" proposes to be a considered examination of this troubled mirror

We are interested in looking not only at what happens in law courts but
also at customs, conventions, formal and quasi formal 'ways of doing
things' that are pertinent to communities howsoever they may be formed.
Thus the conventions and codes evolved by the practitioners of a
juridically 'illicit' trade or calling or way of life, such as that of
software pirates, or 'illegal' migrants, or squatters on government land,
fall within the ambit of our concerns. We want to speak of the
relationships of conflict, co existence and accommodations between
different kinds of codes that make claims to our ideas of what is right,
or just, or functional, or even merely appropriate.

To see 'actions' arrayed across a spectrum in this manner is also to see a
range of ways in which laws, codes and a variety of formal and informal
arbitration mechanisms act on us.  Sometimes this may take the form of
executive force and fiat, but crucially it may also rely on the powers of
persuasion that characterize a host of quasi formal interactions between
state and non-state actors, and between non-state actors and individuals.
Typically, this for instance is the way in which non-legal entities like
informally constituted councils, political formations outside the state,
customary bodies and traditional councils act to enforce their will or
influence those within (and occasionally outside) their ambit.

The landscape of actions and deeds covers a far more subtle, slippery,
nuanced and ambiguous ground (than the codes that seek to index, define or
govern them). Actions have gradients, they ascend and descend on to each
other much as peaks emerge from and plunge into troughs in a three
dimensional graph. The political, ethical and semantic facets of acts
shade off, and slope into each other, now revealing, now concealing
hitherto unknown aspects of themselves and their consequences, often in
unexpected ways. Laws are attempts to understand, interpret and govern
action, but their enunciative capacity is bundled up with executive
authority; they are words that decree what must be done. But just as the
way in which a map is drawn can have consequences on the ecology of a
terrain, the phrases spoken as law too can transform and erode as well as
irrigate the ground of action.

Laws are a creature of habit, of pattern, rhythm and repetition. The
exceptional singularity of an action, which is precisely what law seeks to
tame to the rhythm of the predictable, leaves us with a strange situation
where the "bareness of an act" is precisely what is sought to be clothed
by a 'bare act'. This gives rise to many tensions and aporias, which we
invite contributors to reflect upon and report, from their locations in
the real world, whatever be their locus standi.

You may be a human rights lawyer, or an intellectual property attorney, a
philosopher, an artist, an activist, a combatant or peace maker in a
conflict situation, a person who lives and works with ideas and words, a
person who saves lives or takes them, a person who has custody of others,
or who may be in the custody of an institution; in addition, you may be
someone who either is, or identifies with, or sympathizes with, a hacker,
a pirate, a re-distributor of intellectual assets, an illegal emigrant, a
non-heterosexual person, a compulsive traveller, a squatter, a sex worker,
a terrorist of the imagination, you may be free or in confinement, you may
be healthy or unwell - whosoever you may be and whatever you are, you have
to act, and deal with the actions of others, and all that you do, or do
not do, is framed by a structure of bare acts of the law. Yet, you shape
the world with the things you do to be yourself, to act in concert with
others, to defend yourself and to pursue what you see as liberty and
happiness, or simply, to survive.

We would also like to invite investigations into the production of 'legal
subjects' through judgements (communiqus to the citizen/denizen)  and
petitions (appeals from the citizen/denizen)  as well as through
mechanisms like recording and registration mechanisms such as census
records, land records, municipal records, forestry regulations, registers
of citizens and aliens and other instruments that define and enumerate the
person addressed by the legal-formal apparatuses that govern day to day
life. What is the language, the rhetoric, the tone of these acts of
address? How are they scripted, rehearsed and staged? All these are things
for us to explore when we look at the law, whether in the courtroom, in a
village council meeting, or in the performance of a 'courtroom drama' in a
film.  Crucially, here we want to explore the figures of authorised and
unauthorised interlocutors, expert and wayward witnesses and the myriad
characters that constitute the theatre of the courtroom.

This Reader invites you to reflect on actions, yours as well as those of
others, to act with your words, thoughts and images to contribute to our
understanding of the world, as we know it today. We are committed to an
elaboration of positions that often find themselves identified with the
interloper, trespasser and the proscribed, not because we have any special
affinity for the illicit, but because we feel that the growing
constriction of the domain of the do-able by the letter of the law (which
we all face in societies where the state and para state institutions lay
increasing claims to our fealty) leads to a situation where those
committed to a modicum of social liberty, to expanding the territory of
what may be creatively imagined and acted upon, have to invest in knowing
and understanding an ethic of trespasses.  Interdictions need
interrogation, and this Reader is a call for such interrogations.

A 'bare act', as we said at the outset, can also be taken to mean action
divested of everything other than its essence as a deed. Encountering the
naked deed, action in and of itself, on its own terms, means facing up to
difficult and occasionally challenging ethical questions. What constitutes
violence? What is generosity, or hospitality? Why does altruism have to be
hedged in by qualifications and constraints?

It also means asking - what it is to become someone through action? What
is it to act, or play a part, in the theatre of social life? What is the
border that separates action from expression? What connects the act to
gesture and to performance, as much as it does to deed?

Moreover, what accounts can we give to the 'act' of witnessing, or bearing
witness to a course of action, or to an event? Law or codes of action of
any kind seem untenable without the notion of the witness. The presence of
the witness is crucial to any notion of credence, the foundations on which
arguments, petitions and judgements have to base their thrust and parry.
We would like this collection to provoke reflections on the nature of the
evidentiary and narrative protocols that frame acts of 'speaking' or
'speaking out' in the face of, or in the aftermath of, or in the
memorialization of, acts and events that leave a mark on our times so as
to instigate a more complex unravelling of the relationship between
persons, actions, narratives and codes of behaviour,

To carry this argument further, we want to point out that in languages
such as Arabic, Persian, Hebrew and Urdu, the roots for words as disparate
sounding as 'martyr' and 'witness' (shaheed/martyr and shahid/witness)
devolve to a common source. This suggests to us a febrile tension between
the reality of a precipitate, even violent action, its consequence (the
shaheed) and a recording presence (the shahid).  In other words, given the
fact that acts do speak for themselves (and sometimes make the claim to
speak for others), we consider it necessary to take stock and reflect on
what might be considered the heritage of the 'propaganda of the deed' - a
doctrine that underpins violent terrorism, as well as non-violent civil
disobedience and militant passive resistance, to see how such modes of
acting stretch and challenge consensual notions of the relationships
between means and ends.

As we have said in calls for contributions to previous readers, on themes
and subjects quite different from the ones that we have sketched here,
these are open questions with no satisfactory and coherent answers. But
Sarai Reader 05, like its predecessors, would like to take them on, so as
to map new territories of thought about the things we all do and the
things that are done to us.

Today, there are different images of naked legality that we have grown
accustomed to. We know that the law is often the last resort that the poor
and the marginalized can turn to in some societies to appeal for redress
and comfort from having to face obvious and naked oppression. Thus the
slum dweller facing demolition sees in a high court stay order, a
breathing space in which to try and muster some means of continued
survival in the city as a householder. A person on death row can have
little hope but to argue for an acquittal or a pardon. There are also
occasions when international criminal courts may be seen to be effective
instruments of redress for victims of genocide and war crimes. These are
but the bare facts of a case for the law, and for a conscientious practice
of the legal calling as a continuing good in human societies.

However, we have also seen pictures of naked human beings in judicial
custody in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This too is naked legality. We
have seen migrants waiting to be deported. We have seen the banal playing
out of the script of domination and violence, on streets, in educational
institutions, in homes.  We have seen attempts at the foreclosure of
cultural and intellectual commons. We have seen attempts at surveillance
and control, and we have witnessed, resistances to each of these - quiet
subversions, cunning negotiations and outright rejections as well as
attempts to scale the walls erected by the threat of interdictions,
sanctions and prohibitions.

Sarai Reader 05 seeks to register these matters in their puzzling
ambivalence, with intelligence, acuity and close attention to the pulse of
our times.

A Preliminary List of Themes (these are not chapter or section headings,
but point to areas of interest) could include:

 The Pure Act, the Impure Gesture and Bare 
Presences: A Sceptical Guide to Acting in Today's 
 Barely Human/Naked Power: Critiques of Contemporary Injustices
 Punishments in Search of Crimes: Histories and Practices of Illegality
 Authorised and Unauthorised Interlocutors
 The Human Right to Copy and Paste: Culture, 
Law, Conflict and Intellectual Property
 The Letter of the Law: Glossing Gender, Class, 
Race and Caste in the Courtroom
 In Camera: Courts, Prison and the Justice System in Cinema
 Rough Justice and Gentle Persuasion: Non-legal Forms of Arbitration
 To Be Done and To Be Seen to be Done: Legal 
Action and its Media Representations
 Despatches and Communiqus: Reflecting on Media 
Representations of Direct Action
 Private Matters in the Public Domain: The Law and Sexuality
 The Encounter: Terror In and Out of Uniform
 Caught in an Emergency: The Ethical Dilemmas of 
Humanitarian Intervention in War Zones and 
Conflict Situations
 The War Against Error: The Normalization of Surveillance and Identification
 Bearing Witness
 Citizens, Denizens, Aliens, Others: Taxonomies for Our Times
 Altitude Sickness: The Activist on Higher Moral Ground
 What is (not) to be Done: Understanding the 
Limitations of Action and Activism
 The Right to be Wrong: In Praise of Political, 
Ethical and Legal Uncertainties
 What it Takes to Be... Accounts of Becoming and Choosing to Remain Marginal
 At A Loss for Words: Talking about Things Perhaps Best Left Unsaid
 Utterance as Action: How Speech Acts Change the World Sometimes
 The Word as Violence: Interpretative Acts in the Field of Life and Death
 Politics beyond the Law

"Sarai Reader 05: The Bare Act" seeks to engage with this situation by
inviting a series of reflections. We are looking for incisive analysis, as
well as passionate writing, for scholarly and theoretical rigour as well
as for critical and imaginative depth. We invite essays, reportage,
diaries and memoirs, entries from weblogs, edited compilations of online
discussions, photo essays, image-text collages and interpretations of
found visual material.

Finally, we would like to see texts that draw attention to the curious and
unfolding relationships between acts, actions (especially what is called
'direct action'), activism and the domain of media practice: namely
between acts and representations, and on representations as acts.  What
are the trade offs involved in transmission of an 'action', how does the
possibility of transmission help script and action before it is staged -
these are urgent questions, especially at a time when the relationship
between deed and representation tends to blur in the form of what we can
call a 'media event'. This is not to evaluate such instances negatively or
positively, only to register the fact that they occur, and to call for an
attempt at an informed understanding of their contents and ramifications.
We invite activists, media activists and media practitioners to revisit
and reflect on the instances of the encounters between deeds and
mediatization in their own practices, and on the relationship between
media and action in a general sense. In doing so, we are revisiting and
continuing a discussion on some of the questions that have already been
raised in "Sarai Reader 04: Crisis/Media".

The Sarai Reader 05, like the previous Sarai Readers, will be
international in scope and content, while retaining a special emphasis on
reflection about and from areas that normally lie outside the domain of
mainstream discourses. We are particularly interested in contributions
from South Asia, South and Central America, East Europe, the Arabic
Speaking Countries, Central and West Africa, South Africa, South East
Asia, China, Tibet and Taiwan, Korea, Singapore, Iran, Iraq, Turkey and

The Editorial Collective

*Guidelines for Submissions*

Word Limit: 1[PHONE NUMBER REMOVED] words

1. All submission, unless specifically solicited, must be in English only.

2. Submissions must be sent by email in as text, or as rtf, or as word
document or star office/open office attachments. Articles may be
accompanied by black and white photographs/other visual material submitted
in the .tif format.

3. We urge all writers, to follow the Chicago Manual of Style, (CMS) in
terms of footnotes, annotations and references. For more details about the
CMS and an updated list of Frequently Asked Questions, see
- For a
Quick Reference Guide to the Chicago Manual of Style, especially relevant
for citation style, see -

4. All contributions should be accompanied by a three/four line text
introducing the author, with email address and a relevant url.

5. All submissions will be read by the editorial collective before the
final selection is made.  The editorial collective reserves the right not
to publish any material sent to it for publication on stylistic or
editorial grounds.

6. Copyright for all accepted contributions will remain with the authors,
but Sarai reserves indefinitely the right to place any of the material
accepted for publication on the public domain in print or electronic
forms, and on the internet.

7. Accepted submissions will not be paid for, but authors are guaranteed a
wide international readership. The Reader will be published in print,
distributed in India and internationally, and will also be uploaded in a
pdf form on to the Sarai website. All contributors whose work has been
accepted for publication will receive two copies of the Reader.

Monica Narula [Raqs Media Collective]
29 Rajpur Road, Delhi 110 054

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