Publication details [#7858]

Mele, Kate. 2001. Legal subjects: The tropological construction of "woman" in legal narratives. Kingston, R.I.. 237 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


This dissertation examines the legal narrative as a contemporary discursive structure whose patriarchal operations depend upon the tropological construction of "woman." As gender categories break down, the legal narrative of the 1980s and 1990s provides a forum within which various ideological constituencies encounter, resist, and assimilate one another - in other words, where feminisms meet patriarchy. I argue that "woman" emerges as the material of production through which patriarchal ideology perpetuates itself in the legal narrative. According to Althusser, ideology operates so as to obscure its own operations. If we read his theory through the lens of rhetoricality, where the shifting ground of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony make up the general condition of existence, the "system of real relations" is a tropological system. However, since that system is produced to appear to have coherence and continuity, the individual accesses only the appearance and thus has an imaginary relation to the real means of production. In a doubling up of this imaginary relation, the individual emerges as a subject the moment he or she is interpolated. In other words, he or she is sutured into the tropological system and in imagination believes him or herself to its discursive origin. Together, the narrative and the tropology that comprises it provide those moments of suture for the reader or viewer. Just as in cinema where one is sutured into interlocking shots, one is sutured into interlocking tropes so the story will make ideological sense and the reader/viewer, in turn, will accept the hail of interpolation. I illustrate how metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony interconnect to produce patriarchy's "woman" in law and potentially create subjects that participate in that production. I conclude that with the continued proliferation of the legal narrative in 2000 and 2001, feminist rhetoricians are offered opportunities to resist assimilation into patriarchal discursive structures. As I demonstrate, tropological analyses can lead feminist rhetoricians to uncover the shadow of suture in the real relations of production and then from these suture points produce texts in which re-vision becomes vision, in which stories of a particular sort are imbued with the particularities and multiplicities of women, who inevitably find themselves within the law. (LLBA, Accession Number 200300481)