The visial line on the prehistory of law and film

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The Visial Line: On the Prehistory of Law and Film
Peter Goodrich

To cite this Article Goodrich, Peter(2008) 'The Visial Line: On the Prehistory of Law and Film', Parallax, 14: 4, 55 — 76 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/13534640802416850 URL:

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parallax, 2008, vol. 14, no. 4, 55–76

The Visial Line: On the Prehistory of Law and Film
Peter Goodrich

Downloaded By: [European University Institute] At: 14:38 29 September 2010

A minor instance. A little eruption of images culled from a foundational common law text. Sir Edward Coke, early seventeenth century sage and father of adistinctively English legal tradition devotes the preface of The First Part of the Institutes of the Lawes of England to a graphic depiction of England’s Justinian, the author Littleton whose book of Tenures is the subject of Coke’s learned translation and glosses.1 Coke is writing a book that will guide the profession, students and practitioners in the complex art of pleading as well as in theinfinite particulars, the technical intricacies and linguistic antiquities, of the English law of property. This, in other words, as its title states, is an institutional work, a treatise on law, an exercise in written reason and if not scripture at least heavy writing. Start then with the first incident of an extended image within the text. The Bodie of our Author is honourably interred in theCathedrall Church of Worcester, under a fair Tombe of Marble, with his statue or portrature upon it […] and out of the mouth of his statue proceedeth this prayer, Fili Dei miserere mei [son of God have mercy upon me]. A short paragraph further on Coke returns to this question of corporeal figure or image of the deceased, and continues to state that Hee that is desirous to see his picture, may in theChurches of Frankley & Hales Owen see the grave and learned countenance of our Author, the outward man, but hee hath left this Booke, as a figure of that higher and nobler part (that is) of the excellent and rare endowments of his minde […]. He that diligently reads this his excellent work, shall behold the child and figure of his mind, which the more often he beholds in the visial line, and wellobserves him, the more shall he justly admire the judgement of our author, and increase his own.2 Intima non extima as Coke’s philosophically minded contemporaries were wont to say, meaning simply that the interior and not the exterior is what law seeks to control. Observing the ‘visial line’, from the Latin visio refers here not to direct vision but to seeing an image, an apparition or phantasm...
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