Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Epigraphic Rituals and Legal Authority: A Visual Epistemology of Laws in Modern Japan

Thursday, March 22
7:30 PM - 9:30 PM
Location: Maryland Suite C, Lobby Level

Laws signed by heads of state sit at the apex of national legal systems. The printed collections in which they are compiled are concerned with the semantic content of the law rather than with its appearance. Yet a look at the manuscripts of these laws reveals a tapestry of scripts, stamps, letterheads, and signatures written with a plethora of instruments on a variety of papers. Recovering the materiality of these laws provides a new approach to understanding the rituals that participate in producing legal authority. This presentation looks at more than fifty-thousand laws signed by Japan’s head of state, the emperor, from 1886 to today. The epigraphic practices involved in producing these laws played a role in channeling their authority. The first three or four pages include everything from the signature of the emperor to the imperial seal, the names of the relevant ministers, and a short proclamation of the law, all of which were handwritten. From the early 1920s, however, the second half of the law is typewritten. While printed collections of these laws hid these epigraphic practices, and in so doing the authority that they channeled, the online archive of the National Archive of Japan allows us to recuperate these expressions of authority. In so doing, it allows us to think about how a visual epistemology of written documents can serve to understand the material aesthetics of written texts as inherent to their discursive function.

Raja Adal

University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

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2 - Epigraphic Rituals and Legal Authority: A Visual Epistemology of Laws in Modern Japan



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