DRUCILLA L. CORNELL
Drucilla Cornell is a professor of law, women's studies and political science at Rutgers University. Prior to beginning her academic life, she was a union organizer for a number of years, working for the U.A.W., the U.E., and the I.U.E. in California, New Jersey, and New York. Cornell played a key role in organizing the conferences on Deconstruction and Justice with Jacques Derrida, held at Cardozo Law School in 1989, 1990 and 1993. In addition, she has worked to coordinate the Law and Humanism Speakers Series with the Jacob Burns Institute for Advanced Legal Studies and the Committee on Liberal Studies at the New School for Social Research. Cornell was porfessor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law from 1989-1994 and spend the 1991-1992 academic year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton. She has authored several books and numerous articles on critical theory, feminism and postmodern theories of ethics. She is also a produced playwright -- productions of her plays The Dream Cure and Background Interference have been performed in New York and Los Angeles.
The Interview with Drucilla Cornell was conducted in November 2004 in New York City.
Felicia Herrschaft: If you were reading ďthe Force of LawĒ from Derrida, where do you see the relation between Derrida's critique on the ďforce of lawĒ? Is it a critique on ďKritik der GewaltĒ from Benjamin and what is the relationship between both laws?
Drucilla Cornell: This has a lot to do with how I read Derrida's famous statement: ďDeconstruction is justice.Ē So let me kind of move through that. What I interpret Derrida to mean by that is first of all, he is taking himself very seriously on that point: deconstruction is justice and that keeps open, the demand on us at every moment to be just. So he is returning the notion of justice as a relationship which he sees as implicit in a kind of commonsense notion of doing justice of being just. If you want to get very popular, think of Clint Eastwood's movies in which Clint Eastwood is always trying to do justice at the same time be a just man. In that sense Derrida is actually working off that notion, one that weíve lost being just, doing justice as something that is an actual relationship and a demand on us now.
That is why for Derrida justice is now reducible to a horizon in an ideal sense like Kant, because it is a demand that I be just and do justice to you. Now at the same time, Derrida realizes that - being just and doing justice to you - has to proceed through some kind of field of significance that you and I can both understand. That field of significance is law. Some of the time not all of the time, but some of the time and since the force of law is talking about law and Derrida is also saying that, part of being just and doing justice is actually making that field of significance as closed to justice is possible as its actually being articulated as a set of ideals. Though other people read when Derrida says it is irreducible to horizon, they often read him as dismissing the ideal. That is not at all what he is doing. It is being just and doing justice in an actual legal system that is going to involve you in interpreting, and if you will, bringing into a material existence. That material demand on you through a reinterpretation of a law. In the philosophy of the limits for example I use Justice Blackman in his famous Roe vs. Wade decision, as an example of someone who as a judge feels the demand, be just to women - do justice for women and give them the right to abortion, because what is the demand there of being just, is to give a law that grants a right to women.
The time within law Blackman didnít have the jurisprudential resources to do that. It canít be equality. Men donít get pregnant under US-principles at that time it canít be freedom, because it is a right to and our notion of freedom in the US-principles is negative and you have to fear. Now with abortion you have to go to the hospital and you have to see a doctor.
We donít have any ability to make jurisprudential sense of the right to. In other countries and under other constitutions you do.
So Derrida is actually in my interpretation of his work in the Force of Law coming back to that very old, but formidable sense, be just - do justice.
When you are working within a legal system and say you are a judge that is going to be giving the interpretation of law Ė that brings you closest to justice. So in that way, yes, Blackman is going to proceed through the ideals of freedom, through the ideals of equality, which in our own jurisprudence, he ultimately ends up not using.
For me this is a classical example of a judge saying I must do justice even when a law canít signify it for me. That part of the work I try to show if you read Derrida and all his richness and complexity is be just to justice, do justice, be just, do justice to the other, will demand you actually take responsibility for the Mormon a common signifiers of ideology within your own legal system. We have that background and that is a very different way of thinking for example than readers of deconstruction who I think have misunderstood that particular essay as if saying well justice just generates aporias so therefore there is not work of justice not at all. The work of justice has to proceed on a level in a legal system of interpreting ideals within a legal system and if you have a jurisprudential back and an ability to meet certain ideals to reinterpret what those ideals might mean. There is actually a call upon a judge a call upon a lawyer take responsibility for that Mormons, and to make it just. Derrida is then saying law and justice have always been separable? No, he says in every minute there is a commonsense way in what he is saying: I have to be just, I have to do you justice. I have to bring the legal system as close as I can, to delivering justice to you and so yes, it is an Aporia.
If I come to Rawls, I havenít decided, because in order to do justice, I have to decide what is just in every moment but I do this for the signifiers. There are layers and layers and layers in which Derrida's giving us a call to responsibility to always make our legal system as close to justice as possible. Now wonít you read it this way and I think this is actually one of the richest texts we have: a kind of deep thinking about what, like I said on Clint Eastwood movies. Clint Eastwood is always trying to do justice and be just. And at the end getting all angry with the law, because it doesnít allow it.
You can see that he is not saying the legal system that there is no need, no demand to work within a legal system that you just say all ideals are equal that there is no way to judging them that is exactly what he isnít saying. The command on you to judge is never going to be one that you can rest after youíve said, ďoh well I interpret for instance the right of abortion through the ideal of bodily integrity which is how I defendedĒ, yes I am call to do that I must do that work, but that work itself was never simply be justice. I try to correct the misunderstandings defended so I am call to do that but I must do that work. This work itself was never simply justice. I try to correct for misunderstandings is a call to responsibility for those of us who live in a legal system to do to work with those ideas and this takes me to Rawls. Rawls in a sense is the greatest thinker of the ideals and it is a very American quote and quote thinker in the end and that make us a significant limitation. But to work within in the ideals of US Constitutionalism what he calls the US-Constitution, is a constitutional essentials but although within the International I use Rawls is that again he is using an a hypothetical experiment in the imagination, to help us layout our significance of our ideology in which we might begin to shape what peoples could do if they were able to come out of the state of nature. Now I see nothing incompatible with deconstruction as justice and those kinds of hypothetical experiments of the imagination if they are understood as aesthetic ideas and only as aesthetic ideas.
Felicia Herrschaft: Aesthetic ideas?
Drucilla Cornell: There is nothing in deconstruction that says that we donít have to lay out this field of ideology instead I am saying it is a demand on us, but it does mean that we no longer claim any kind of strong metaphysical ground for those aesthetic ideas they are experiments in the imagination. And Derrida always hesitated before saying much about the imagination but in places in his last writing he was clearly aware of what he called negotiations which is how does one actually materialize work through this relation on demand be just do justice be just do justice to the other though that it comes to be for us that we have to negotiate. The law of the people is for me a brilliant experiment in the imagination in which Rawls is engaging in that kind of negotiation. Rawls of course were never put it that way. Rawls told us at the end of his life does start to realize that the veil of ignorance is just a representational device a great metaphor if you will. So in a sense part of my work has been to show the thinkers seems to be so different once we really read them in a different field of significance and we always remember the most profound lesson of deconstruction which is you donít rest with any aesthetic idea and may be the best configuration you can give in the demand of justice within the international law or human rights or within a constitution to give women a seemingly incomprehensible right to battle the integrity but you know since in its an aesthetic idea that the law is making more more demands on you put by that other, because that other is something you can never imagine and all their demand on you in advance.
Felicia Herrschaft: What has this to do with the structural change and transformation of the public sphere in relation of what Rawls could say on the field of negotiation and Derrida's doing justice? How is it possible or how would you say is the public sphere in a transformation process getting more reflexive because of these two dimensions probably is that of kind of transcending the horizon, if we have really a structural and reflexive public sphere?
Drucilla Cornell: Letís start again with Derrida and this very rich notion of negotiations - again - I think so much of shocks last years and the last ten years was spent thinking about materializing this demand on the other, right?
But Levinas calls it the demand for some kind of third to signify and be just do justice, negotiation is definitely about for Derrida keeping alive a self-reflective public-sphere so the demand that I told you that deconstruction if it was misread and I in 1992 when I wrote the Philosophy of the Limit, this was a very controversially point that I made and I think Derridaís sense has been very clear, where he stands as he stands as he sees deconstruction is justice. It is a demand on you for, infinite responsibility to the other and that means that you have to negotiate because you have to make a public-sphere, you have to make a debate the debates taking place in France on gay and lesbian marriage. It is not true that each position is equally as good no that is Derrida definitely wanted to clear that misunderstanding of deconstruction. That literally undermined all basis of either the interminal judgment or a common sense practical judgment, not at all; we have to negotiate the ideology we understand as aesthetic ideas. We have to put it to play in a field which materializes through the signifiers we give it, so to say gays and lesbians have the right to get married as I would defended to the imaginary domain.
An ideal that Derrida found very compatible to him - the imaginary domain- so I say Gays and Lesbianmust have the right to get married through the imaginary domains the moral and psychic space we must have. At that moment the imaginary domain is operating to open up the public sphere in two senses:
1. Itís a psychic and moral space that has to be there, it demands self-reflection in a sense for instance I am Ė homophobic, I will never sit next to a gay couple next to in a restaurant well they have to have to be granted that right because they have this right to express who they are and actually I have the right to have that same right. Kantís notion of negative freedom has this internal relationship against each other I have to reflect on my homophobia. I have to live in an society in which I donít get Ė I am offended by gay people in my offence this is going to govern - no I have to reflect there is a way in which those in a imaginary public space thatís already there and the tension that defences the right of the imaginary domain demand, it keeps people from themselves out of the hook, they are defended.
2. In a second way Derrida was really very serious about negotiation and it opens up by materializing signifiers, an actual space of debate. In another way the public sphere for us can never just be literalize. I do think we need churches, God only knows, we need bookstores and we are loosing those kinds of public spaces to advance capitalism in New York City. But we also need the kind of we are talking about here almost like an imaginary critical self-reflective space thatís with us everywhere to people sit down and this is what I think Derrida was really very much about negotiations.
So we are always trying to materialize, to use fancy words for a minute, the signifiers that give meaning to our debate you know are you for gay and lesbian marriage he came up very strongly for gay and lesbian supper unions in France, you know, are you for the people who are holding out places to live for those who were sans papiere without papers and who were Derrida said committing the crime of hospitality. Derrida came out and said there can be no crime of hospitality and then he is working that ideal of hospitality. I mean so by so doing, he is trying to open up exactly like I gave the example of the imaginary domain Ė what does it mean to be hospitable to the other in France now to someone who doesnít have papers what is your responsibility to that person - so but he was doing be actually putting into play you know the crime of hospitality that the taking that word hospitality and in reworking its meaning in a sense is an ideal.
Felicia Herrschaft: And the next step is and I think this is another dimension in the way he describes the ability to accept that the other would not excuse torture or in relation to the Truth Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, what has this to do with doing justice if this is something else than having the possibility or this potentiality approach of saying we donít forgive?
Drucilla Cornell: It is very complicated and I have been actually working for the last several years on a project in South-Africa. There are layers and layers in which Ė it is not simply a matter of we donít excuse as you know, one of the most controversial things that the Truth reconciliation Commission did, that they gave amnesty, so they did excuse. If you came forward and that you committed these horrific crimes against humanity you were given amnesty and so here Derrida in his work on forgiveness is talking about two things: Is it a demand on South-Africa in constituting itself as a new nation, in a sense, was to do the impossible to forgive on both sides, acts that any of us would find so horrific that in there is no way to do justice through it but how can you do justice to a mother whoís son was tortured, murdered and than was put on a stewing, whatever thatís called and burned as a pig? Yes, they went out and she wanted her sons bones back and the man who murdered and tortured her son had to dig up her sons bones and give them back to her.
It is a beautiful dramatic example on the impossibility of justice in that moment and the demand: do what you can to be with me in this impossible situation, in which I am being asked to forgive you and this woman actually did forgive him and actually have met over and over again people in South-Africa who clearly had the capacity to do the impossible that I donít think I have. I would like to work for it but I do not have it and so Derrida is talking here about the way when amnesty was granted, there is a sense in which justice could no longer be but the demand was in South-Africa to admit that things had been done for which there was no reparation, not even revenge, nothing can make it right be justice. Do justice collapses here and I do agree, there is no reconciliation in the end without justice.
This also has to be these horrible moments where there is no justice possible and yet something else some other relationality through the work of that impossibility which Derrida beautifully calls forgiveness has to be at work fair, if there is to be something that is not reconciliation as an achievement that reconciliation is an endless process of admitting committing, before certain horrific crimes committing on both sides white Africans were giving amnesty. And STE (Ö) members were also given amnesty for engaging and things like neck lacing which is burning somebody alive mistakenly thinking someone was an informer. So again, how do you say to the mother of the son or the daughter who was neck laced, here are the bones of your dead child, we thought this individual was informing, there is no anyway of making that right and so what fascinated Derrida about South-Africa is the moving within this impossibility, because so amnesty becomes a form of excuse, but one that demands that everyone recognize. This is what Abuneto was about the shared humanity of South-Africans had been physically almost drained because Abuneto has this physicality to it, drained out the people. So the movement of restoration could not be brought out by revenge or any of our traditional notions of doing justice so you have then work the impossibility to find some way to forgive and that is what Derrida says it is the beautiful, tragic, horrifying, overwhelming, example of people being asked in the name of something to be newly constituted the new South Africa to do the impossible.
Felicia Herrschaft: There should come Rawls into the play?
Drucilla Cornell: But see what I early said, Rawls is an American thinker and getting back to a public sphere question. He was very American in a good way, he was terrified about the future of the United States towards the end of his life the last conference on his work before he became ill he actually questioned whether in a democracy was kind of being safe in the united states, he was honest enough in the the law of the peopleto point out to the problem, he never used the word capitalism, but he called it all oligarchy. Financial interest dominating the United States and taking the United States into a position of seeking what we would call hegemonic power that is very much on Rawlsís mind so he was frightened by the spector of the United States and non complaints, because he did live to see what we have seen in the last four years: the horrific and hubris of the United States before international law, lets say, he saw it coming and think about it, the law of the people dares to a great level of the Imagination. And then you have Mamdamis book ďGood Muslim, Bad MuslimĒ and here was Rawls demanding, because this is a book written for American, demanding, they face can even imagine that reasonable Muslim, but of course we should be able to imagine it, that they can be law biding citizens or international law in the way we can. The other thing that he feared was the religious right in this country and thatĎs why he became so. Some would say anti- a certain kind of politics with this notion of public reason - no he did not want people to get up and say I am against the right of abortion, because Jesus Christ was by my bed last night and he said any woman who has an abortion is a sinner, Rawls didnít want that kind of argument. We are having that kind of argument in the Congress of the United States. Rawls wanted somebody to say, no when we are talking about abortion, we are talking about constitutional essentials like the first amendment with its right to bodily integrity with its right to due process we want to talk that way. Because I canít tell you whether Jesus was standing by my bed last night or not and you canít tell me that Jesus was so. You and I canít talk then you know, so there has to be a way to talk to each other. Rawls became obsessed with. You have your general comprehensive world overview and it is Muslim, and actually I have mine I am actually very involved in African spirituality someone else is an atheist. But there should be a way that you and I can debate something like abortion I would having to appeal that something that is completely unshareable and he saw that. And if you look at the last election you see exactly what Rawls was scared about. So when people say that Rawls is a Liberalism of fear, ja, he was very frightened of the oligarchic financial interest in the United States he was very frightened of the religious right in the United States, who are in one a politics of revelation based on their given truth which for him is a scary Stalinism. So there is a way in which one understand Rawls in that sense, that he is prophetic in both ways so the religious crusading there is no such thing as a good Muslim a grabbing hold of the US populis and he saw the ability of oligarchic financial interests to appeal out of fear to peopleís need for some sort of sense of revealed truth and so that the political argument becomes bogged down and things that you and I canít share. I literally can not tell you that you didnít see Jesus Christ last night so then there is no space in. That Ďs what I talk about the imaginary moment of public space, about the imaginary moment in public space there is nothing for you and I to talk about you say that Jesus Christ said it and I say well I wasnít there I didnít see Jesus Christ for how can we talk about abortion together? So for Rawls creating public reason is part of creating that imaginary space what I like more in terms of the richness of Derrida's notion of negotiation is Ė it also, like Rawls sees. You got to get in there, take a position make judgements, defend your judgements as better or worse and you can do it within a field of ideology, but you are not going to try. Or sometimes Rawls desperately wanted to do, you know it is almost like build walls, you can say this reason but not that reason and yes it is going to be a bleeding over of general and comprehensive world views, yes fine, but one you see Rawls like I see Rawls well you also see the need to say well we need these ideals but you and may be can agree that we share so we that we can talk about these burning issues and that is what Derrida would call the demand on me to negotiate but you and I find some shared language and the word I used in my public lecture I see Rawls reaching for something like that and his notion of conjectural reasoning where you and I work at this rather than just me coming in and saying ok: here is the ideal you can put yourself behind the veil of ignorance now and you going to do it this way and the person says well I doní t want to do it that way no though I am going to am this through some other imaginative advice or do it through speaking to my god but once IĎve spoken to my god I am willing to negotiate with you how we are going to put together a way of thinking about something like gay and lesbian marriage so conjectural reasoning carries that work between you and me as it is not just going to be from Rawls gets criticized for asthetizising politics I think thatís way too simple a criticism of him because it seem like Ok this is the device this is would you use this is what I use this is how you going to use it but then you are not risking the negotiation and Derridaís saying you have to risk the negotiation otherwise the ideology will freeze and it woní t serve the work of actually keeping that space of debate open.
Felicia Herrschaft: Kyra Holland is working for a politician here in the community for the 14th street in East Village. For every decision they have to make, they have to go as politicians to community groups to explain and to fight for what they think is the best way for the community. Isn't this is a specific understanding of democracy in America? But she is really afraid after the election that there will be more Fascism here - what is going on?
Drucilla Cornell: You know what is very interesting you said something and I think it is true of the United States which is the United States always had a very strong history of grassroots organizing, you know it is not just, you see in Vietnam and you see it in the Civil rights movement you see it in the great union movements in this country. I was a union organizer for many, many years. You see it in the populous movements that swept the mid-west in the early 20th Century. We really have that town hall meeting tradition. And we had it in New York City were the group I am part of taped out the future and defend the bill of rights works hard as many people in the United States did, to have Cities actually vote down the USA- Patriot Act. This is unheard of, but the idea was that a City could say we wonít follow what we see is an unconstitutional law and of course under a federal system, if a federal law is supposed to be applied by every City, so itís Cities rebelling against the federal Government and although unfortunately New York City has yet to pass that Ė twenty seven cities in the United States did so that is thatís the kind of democratic tradition you are talking about. Thatís a City Council basically rebel against the way we set up our whole legal system by saying no we wonít apply for a law it is unjust it is unconstitutional. But unfortunately I agree with your friend um that is a very proud and powerful and important tradition in the United States and interestingly enough it is one that very much impressed Derrida. I was very impressed with it and very impressed with the way you know an organisation takes back the Future could just go out on the Streets without a permit and pass out leaflets thatís attacking the USA Patriot Act you know and just say the streets are ours. But the USA Patriot Act is a disaster for that kind of democracy you know it attacks it at all levels by heightening security. Now it hasnít been used that much against US-Citizens yet but it can because it has a very extensive definition of what it means to engaged in activity you that might undermine our security. And the other part that is happening is that we are loosing our literal public spaces. New York City used to be filled with bookstores where poets read, or discussions took place progressive leftwing churches many of them had not been able to sustain themselves so a lot of that kind of local organizing turned on those literal spaces and one of those is still around, Judson Church, which is where Take back the Future was formed. But the Methodist Church right around the corner from me is now broke. You know Barnes and Nobles we donít have many of these alternative bookstores but the reality this notion that Bush has and that Cheney has where you donít have any public support of public space from Public Radio from public financing for the arts makes this kind of day to day street democracy harder and harder and harder.
I think the problem is what Cheney is, we are bankrupting the Federal Government basically, we have a 3 Trillion-Dollar deficit, and it depends on how you count the numbers. So the cities are in deep trouble, the public schools are in deep trouble, so you see in a certain sense, if you push to privatize everything, this notion of public interest and social choice becomes increasingly undermined and I think that is what your friend is talking about. Now if you are a rational choice theorist, you would say, in a certain sense, at a certain point that you can so undermine any notion of a publicly funded space that everybodyís interest becomes so individualized. There isnít any rational social choice for those individuals to make together and thatís, that really undermines this kind of democracy. (Ö)ÖThis kind of democracy turns on the notion that you and I share something in common, we want a really good public schools for our kids. But once that public school is completely lacking in funds, you canít get pencils, you canít get books, because that isnít being funded and in this program No Child Left Behind, one of the horrible things it does is if the kids donít test up to a certain level theyíll shut the school down, so and thatís done from the top down, you see. One of the terrible ironies for all the so called no-big government, itís a big government move to shut the public schools down as opposed to saying, what we really going to do is this teacher who has a hundred of students and sixty books and 40 pencils was trying to teach algebra. Well of course she didnít succeed in teaching algebra, so letís get her the books, letís get her the pencils, lets keep the community in charge of that school but no, the federal government and the state government they come in and they give these standardized tests and the school can get shut down which is holding the teachers responsible. That teacher canít teach under these conditions so you see what is really happening with this so called society of owners, everything is in your own private pocket, you are undermining at the deepest level notion of those spaces, where people have interests in common, because there is a public funded space, like a public school, where everybody has the same interests and now you know we are going to have voucher systems and all these ways for people to get out of the public schools in New York City they are just in shambles, just shambles, because there isnít enough funding for them. So thatí s the insidious part, the privatization takes away those public spaces where people share and this is very much part of what you are calling the best democratic tradition, that freedom meant coming together working with the teachers building a community and getting a good school together. Freedom did not mean being able to keep this much money for yourself so you may be your children are now in college so you donít want to pay taxes to that public school anymore. No it always turns on actually believing there is something called a public interest or if you want to use this modern economic terms this rational social choice for us to make together and this whole bankrupting of the public funding of public institutions which is going on systematically and the privatization of everything is going to really hurt those democratic struggles and it is an interesting question to me and we can debate it, many of my friends would say that this country is now Fascist, many would say it is moving towards fascism it is moving towards something that is fundamentally at itís core anti-democratic and breaking down at the level of the federal government our (Ö) constitutional protections and at the level of this local struggle which is were democracy always flourished in the United States, the notion of shared interest. Is that it is a form of US reaction and right-winged control, I think it is an interesting question whether it is fascist or not, itís certainly is the end of democracy and constitutionalism as I have grown up with it. We are in a serious constitutional crisis but I am with your friend, the more serious, well I donít want to say more serious, both are very serious, but is the privatization of everything but the way it getís formed in the election why people vote against their class interest. Well if you privatize everything then you undermine the notion of shared interests and so you leave a society in a kind of shambles and now the only place the Bush Administration wants you to go to get your social services is a Christian fundamentalist church. So you get some money and you also get youíre a ..
Felicia Herrschaft: A lot of immigrants who come here found a new existence in this form of privatization. They have their shops and with the shops and with this kind of economy, they change the city as well, but if they are then part of a neighbourhood and a community and work with there economic power for the community where is then the difference between this kind of privatization and having this economic power from the immigrants? New York is always in the state that everybody can become a New Yorker, in the way you use economic power. What is the difference and when is it really becoming a dangerous situation in what fascism can be if you have privatization and economic power from immigrants?
Drucilla Cornell: Immigrants have not the economic power in New York City. Let me point you out my window, there are many, many small stores, maybe nine within a two block radius of here run by immigrants that have gone bankrupt in the last six weeks. One restaurant run by Greek immigrant called Gus, who ran a neighbourhood restaurant for twenty-three years and was forced out. Manhattan is owned by a handful of very, very, very, very rich landlords. So right across the street from me, Alfi and Siko, Thai and Egyptian immigrants are trying desperately to keep a small restaurant open in New York City. Now that is a New York City used to be describing that New York City had rent control as a matter of law so no new landlord can come in and buy up your place and say your rent is 15,000 dollars yesterday it is 30,000 dollars today. But they can now! So what is happening if you look at my neighbourhood, we have Duane Read, we have Starbucks, we have Super Cuts, we have Barnes and Noble, that is not the New York that you are describing of that kind of immigrant power. With that immigrant power turned on the city having very progressive laws to control the rich landlords and weíve lost those laws. Well Alfi, Italian immigrant, Siko, Egyptian immigrant, maintains their dream of that restaurant across the street from here? Well they are up against a major challenge and Gus, a Greek immigrant who runs a neighbourhood restaurant for twenty-three years that my daughter grew up in, is now bankrupt and what are they going to put there? They are going to put there one of these chain video stores. So the New York City that you are talking about has actually been really undermined and you see this is how Bush works, the way you know what Rawls calls all oligarchy interest and I would just so unregulated capitalist interests of the rich landlords, is that they make money by putting small business out of work and this is a kind of thing that a small businessman who might meet Bush and say, ďoh my goodness we are going to get tax cuts as small businessmanĒ. Well youíre tiny little tax cut isnít going to matter. Whatís going to matter it is that you canít pay your rent in New York City, because the Landlords control the City. In that way I think one of the things we have to do in New York is really make New Yorkers, in just on that Level of the City. Make New Yorkers aware including immigrants and non-immigrants that we always cherish this City that made possible many different people coming and bringing in their cultural difference and their ethnic difference and making it a reality into some kind of start. We are loosing that and this is part of theÖ you know who doesnít get regulated? Capitalists. Everybody else gets regulated in the Bush Administration. The super rich, they can do whatever they want. All the rest of us we are going to be regulated to the level of our rights. We are going to have to face rents that are just insurmountable.
Felicia Herrschaft: OK thatís really another dimensionÖ
Drucilla Cornell: That allows hopefully that famous petty bourgeoisie who can be right wing, to see that their interests are not against the working class interests or against those who are for the public schools. In a sense, we are all fighting right now to keep fundamental access to our city available to all of us and the fight for public schools and the fight to get back rent control so that you can have security that your rent wonít be changed over night, double, triple, quadruple, this happened to Gus. People sat outside that restaurant and cried. Itís right down the street form here. There is a deep way and I see this is the big lie politics of the Bush Administration, it is a defence that the wealthy control this country with no regulation and the rest of us have to submit to what thatís going to mean for our public institutions, and for our chance to realize even the dream of being a small businessman. But, it doesnít get put that way of course.
Felicia Herrschaft: The gender hierarchy is probably part of how you define the imaginary domain, and is that a kind of domain where you have this as an example for the problems probably the difficulties in working this out, this field of negotiation and community. Because if we really consider what gender hierarchies are, then we can always see that the other is not really the one who is considering his privileges as being a man being on the other side being a male. This privileges which women still not have. Would you say this can, this should be a kind of example for the imaginary domain to change probably situations? What is an imaginary communities or in a society where we have this double structure?
Drucilla Cornell: The imaginary domain is meant as law and as a law it is meant to be universalizable so in a sense at the level of the articulation of the ideal it doesnít recognize the existence of hierarchy. I mean it is not meant to be tailored since it is an ideal to what is. However if you demand for women their right to their imaginary domain and the right to articulate who and how they live with their sexual differences that is going to mean all sorts of things that are going to break down the gender hierarchy. This for me was a way of trying to deal with the endless debates about essentialism you know and the danger of re-inscribing actual gender hierarchies whenever you try to define, any law based on gender as you now imagine it actually is. So what I wanted to say for instance, the right to abortion, you know the right to abortion under the imaginary domain is that each human being needs to imagine that they have bodily coherence: men and women. Now men donít get pregnant so they donít have that particular imaginary struggle but we do, but you have, man. Men have their imaginary struggles and we have ours. We have to be given the right to be able to imagine our bodies and our uteruses as part of who we are and not the state taking over our uteruses. So in that way the imaginary domain just granting women the right to the imaginary domain means the right to abortion and it means the right to abortion.
Felicia Herrschaft: Is this the veil of ignorance from Rawls? Do you think there is a connection to this imaginary domain that it has the same status?
Drucilla Cornell: No, it can have that status, thatís right. It could have the same status. It could serve actually at the level of a hypothetical level as an experiment of the imagination also can function as what I am calling an actual aesthetic idea and in the way I am argued in my first book, The Imaginary Domain, to use the phrase, is that you can put you can see behind the veil of ignorance you would want the ideal in the imaginary domain so you could actually use the veil of ignorance as a way of imagining why you would imagine that you would need this idea. The other way I would think about the imaginary domain is exactly your way and some South-African writers have used it this way, the imaginary domain is actually the aesthetic place where negotiations and reconciliation take place. And itís that is therefore more fruitful to think about, you know, how we imagine an ethnic reconciliation in South-Africa to think of it as something that we negotiate and idealize conditions in the Imaginary Domain as opposed to the veil of ignorance, so theyíve actually defended it at that level and I think you could go many different ways with this. You also, in the way Derrida himself always preferred to think of it was this imaginary domain was this materialization through attempts to negotiate the period of identity what IĎve called identity, identification and position and not come up with the simply anti-identity politics, politics old fashion affirmation some kind of blood based identity politics and so, I think Derrida preferred to think the imaginary domain much more as a space in which we actually try to negotiate a different kind of politics around these complex relationships between identity and identification and position.
FH: To come to probably another point, you said you were as a multicultural family, which is really normal here in New York to be a multicultural family, in South Africa. What was your experience being there as a multicultural family and has this to do with how you live with this kind of multiculturality is there a connection to how we can fill the imaginary domain?
Drucilla Cornell: I think what happens when you are in a multicultural family in the United States or in South Africa is you are always confronted with all the many imaginaries that dominate what we think of as racialialization and colourization of human beings and so in a sense itís making you confront as the imaginaries of others and you begin to see how imaginary race is at the same time that it is only too real. So I think living in a multicultural family interestingly enough is one of the things that prompted me to think there is a difference between identity and identification and position. ďI am whiteĒ is my position and my daughter is not and this means things like if my daughter is with a very dear friend of mine we are going to the movies with tonight who is black, she and my daughter canít get a taxi, add me to the picture and the three of us will be able to get a taxi and thatís when I started to see the position that I am in, is that different at that moment if L. and Ch. And her daughter, the friends we are going to the movies with tonight try to get a taxi they will not be picked up.
Felicia Herrschaft: In New York?
Drucilla Cornell: In New York, I have to get the Taxis for them, because taxi drivers donít want to pick up even a black mother with her black daughter. Now M. her son, whoís black and who was in South Africa with me brings out these pop able imaginaries. And I will give a funny story, I was sitting on a bench with him, he is my daughterís math-tutor, discussing, I am in the Park and he was going over, you know, how she had been progressing, and a professor friend of mine thought may be I was in trouble and came up and said: ďDrucilla are you ok?Ē And I was so stunned, you know I didnít know what he was talking about and I said: Yes I am okay, I am just talking to my daughterís math-teacher, And he said: ďthat is your daughters math-teacher?Ē There you get all this: Drucilla is sitting too close to a black man may be he is threatening her ďwhat that black man with the durag is a math-tutor, they do math?Ē I didnít know all this racism is just consolidated now in this little incident and then again I start to see I can never be in M shoes. As a black man, he is living with systematic racism day in and day out that I canít even imagine but because I am with him itís now in my face too. You might say, I was called to begin to negotiate and say you know well the critiques of identity-politics are a way too simple, because I am positioned in white skin privilege letís use an old fashioned phrase, he is on some other side, some other whole materialized existence where he has to bear that all the time and it has to do with the way police threat you. You know being a black man in this society is a nightmare, now I have access to that it is a nightmare. So I think, what it made me do in this sense the idea the imaginary domain came to me in part because of how people need to be able to come to terms with that in their own way and it is easy for us to say: well you know, we can put words or images into circulation like the ĎNí word that I certainly would never pronounce but, who are we, meaning white people are putting it into circulation so I became very aware that the need for instance to affirm your identity as a black man may be something that you need the space to do in your own way and thatís not for me to tell you how to come to terms with what that means. And the imaginary domain in that way, is kind of a humble idea. It all came out and my daughterís endurance of racism that I couldnít imagine and me not being able to braid her hair, just all these little day to day things we go through in a multicultural family made me very aware of the need for the imaginary domain and how hard it is for people to come to terms, particular white people, but they may not identify as white. I certainly donít, but we donít just get to say ďoh I donít identify as whiteĒ and leap out of our whiteness as long as we live institutional racism and in South-Africa because there is so much attention to race, a multicultural family sticks out, but the difference of South Africa here is, everybody is going to ask you about it and so race is verbalized, struggle around race is verbalized. There is a lot more in your face contest about race than there is in the United States.
Felicia Herrschaft: You have to say who you are?
Drucilla Cornell: M. was very struck by that waitress, that is a very good friend of ours were just refuse to speak Afrikaans to a customer, you know, it was just like I wonít speak your language because Afrikaans is the language of the oppressor. Speak to me in English or I wonít get you a cup of coffee. He has been so used like many black man you have to endure a certain amount on this racism, because there is no in a palpable struggle about it, and if you try to struggle about it as an individual black man, you may end up in deep shit if youíll forgive my language. So there is a politization of race that he found very freeing. Because it is right there and people are going to call you on it, talk to you about it, may get a little contentious about it. I think we had that much more at the time of the Civil Rights Movement, you know racist jokes werenít ok, you know, what got called politically correct, and people would confront each other much more about that type of thing. Now it is been buried again.
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