Publication Details

Mohr, R. (2012). Signature and illusion: lessons from the baroque for 'truth' in law, arts and humanities. The Australian Feminist Law Journal, 36 (June), 45-63.


Basic to contemporary problems in the disciplines of representation and interpretation is a split between a naïve acceptance of bare facts, presumed to exist in their own ‘objective’ world of objects, and the actions of subjects who interpret an intersubjective world. The solution is sought in some ‘new’ epistemologies: Martín Alcoff, Grosz, Kristeva, Butler, as well as in Benjamin and Gadamer, who look back to older ways of knowing. The methodology is an archaeology of these ways of knowing, focussed on a crucial transition in the understanding of representation between the renaissance and the baroque. It uses quintessential methods of the humanities: narrative, keywords and critique. The narrative tracks two keywords of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, signature and illusion (inganno), through their uses in renaissance science and baroque arts and philosophy. Following the enlightenment split between the understanding of the arts or humanities and sciences, the keywords re-emerge in familiar contemporary legal forms: the signature as an efficacious performative; illusion as ideology and repression. The truth in law, as in the arts and humanities, is built up from interrogation of representations, prior understanding, and comprehension of human motivation. For this it needs a hermeneutics based in tradition and memory. Since representations and interpretations can be vehicles for rationalisation and repression, there is also need for a critical hermeneutics, which may find truth in unexpected places, such as the repressed memory uncovered in an old ritual or image.