Making a Point and Making a Noise: A Punk Prayer

Presenter: Professor Desmond Manderson 

Recent scholarship in the new interdisciplinary field of law and music has done much to explore the relationship between these two cultural forms, in terms of force and meaning, history and structure. More must now be done to show how they matter to one another, how music can charge a social conflict with political urgency and color it with a distinct emotional timbre.

The future lies in developing these research trajectories still more intently: towards the embodied and sonic dimensions of music on the one hand, and towards its contemporary relevance on the other. Such a discussion would have to be alert to the places and times in which music inserts a kind of pressing aesthetic note into the political and juridical process. And it would have to think the aesthetic, the legal, and the political in connection with one another.

These propositions are explored through a case study of the trial of Pussy Riot in Moscow during 2012. While the prosecution chose to present the group’s actions as a species of ‘religious hatred,’ the defense characterized them as engaging in ‘political dissent.’ But neither adequately capture the role and meaning of the music and aesthetic elements of the performance of the three women. Yet these were integral to Pussy Riot’s actions. While the trial achieved some recognition as a political trial it deserves recognition rather as one of the great trials of modern art.


Desmond Manderson is jointly appointed in the ANU Colleges of Law and of Arts & Social Sciences at the Australian National University where he directs the Centre for Law, Arts and the Humanities. His books include Songs Without Music: Aesthetic dimensions of law and justice (2000); Proximity, Levinas, and the Soul of Law (2006); and Kangaroo Courts and the Rule of Law (2012). After fifteen years at McGill University, where he held the Canada Research Chair in Law and Discourse and was foundation Director of the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas, he returned to Australia in 2012.  With the support of an ARC Future Fellowship, his recent work includes Law and the Visual: Representations, Technologies and Critique; and Temporalities of Law in the Visual Arts, which will be published by Cambridge University Press in 2017.

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