Satirical Legal Studies: From the Legists to the Lizard

In Part I, I expand on the distinction between the Horatian and the Menippean forms of satire and then suggest that a similarly bold division can be used to map satirical legal studies. In support of that argument, I use the example of the earliest surviving satirical legal poem within the Western tradition. My analysis of this exemplary satirical legal artifact delineates four principal modes of legal satire that will organize the ensuing discussion of more contemporary examples of the genre. In Part II, I will address the currently popular and yet somewhat novel mode of ad hominem or nominate legal satire. I will argue that the last century was witness to a change in the prevalence and the significance of satirical legal studies and that we are only currently coming to appreciate the implications of those changes. The ad hominem satirical sally engages authors in a much more direct manner than is usual in academic discourse. It calls to account, it names and exposes, it removes the mask of abstracted prose from the face of tellurian legal studies. That leads very neatly into Part III where I will examine the theatrical forms of legal satire and particularly the increased use of dialogue, fiction, and drama in the critique of legal studies. Satire has generally been a force for formal innovation and the style of contemporary satirical legal studies bears this out. Whether maintaining boundaries or overturning the norm, satirical legal studies plays upon the law of genre as it governs the genre of law. Part IV looks to the combination of the ad hominem and the thespian or dramatic in the genre of trashing. Part V elaborates the theme of satirical advocacy by taking up one surprising but persistent figure of critique both ancient and modem. Part V elaborates the theme of satirical advocacy by taking up one surprising but persistent figure of critique both ancient and modem. It is that of the bad man – Moriarty, as it were, to Sherlock, I mean Oliver Wendell Holmes, the judge. The various possibilities and permutations upon the bad in contemporary legal studies are explored and dissected. The bad man or, in more contemporary work, the bad woman, or for that matter the bad hermaphrodite, is a marker of the incursion of difference, of body, voice, and diversity of experience into the cloistered domain of law. It is a dangerous and fertile theme, so in Part VI, I outline the philosophical significance of the bad man, of the body and satirical laughter, by reference to traditions of anomaly and upbeat cynicism. From the earliest satirical poems, through the gay science of the fifteenth century, through Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud – the unholy trinity – to postmodern and retro-legal studies, law and economics, and complaint jurisprudence, there is a theme of humor, playfulness, and provocation. The Conclusion retraces the path of the argument and intimates that conclusions are either futile or funny because all good things, even a satire, have to come to an end, whatever their author intends.