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The Legal Aesthetics of Thomas Bernhard’s The Lime Works

Casey Servais’s “‘A Certain Light, But Only a Juridical Light’: The Legal Aesthetics of Thomas Bernhard’s The Lime Works” appears in Telos 159 (Summer 2012). Read the full version online at the Telos Online website, or purchase a print copy of the issue here.

Taking Thomas Bernhard’s 1970 novel The Lime Works as an exemplar of a group of post-World War II German and Austrian literary works that mimic identifiable genres of legal writing, this article offers two alternative theoretical models for making sense of the prevalence of legal-literary genre-mixing in postwar German-language literature. Viewed through the lens of Theodor W. Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, the literary imitation of legal styles appears as an instance of “mimesis of the lethal,” the process by which artworks both adapt to and resist what Adorno calls “reification.” Viewed through the alternative lens of Jürgen Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action, the literary use of legal styles can be seen as a way of partially reconciling modernity’s specialized discourses (such as science, art, and law) by uncovering the “tortuous routes” along which these discourses communicate with one another. Through a mixture of theory and formal analysis, the article offers both a new reading of Bernhard’s work and a new set of theoretical approaches that may prove fruitful to the study of “law and literature.”

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