Law Text Culture


Contemporary French libel law explicitly proposes to adjudicate matters of “honour”. In so doing, it deploys terms and techniques crafted in the 19th century, at a time when law’s jurisdiction over matters of honour was strongly disputed by an alternative quasi-legal institution: the duelling code. This article returns to that historical moment from a legal materiality perspective to examine the ways in which duelling and libel law borrowed from each other’s materials in order to make honour matter. It argues that the history of libel law cannot be cast as a straightforward instance of the legal 'formalisation' of a mere social code, as traditional modernization narratives might lead us to expect. Rather, it shows the ways in which libel law came to be haunted by the material traces of duelling, and explains why honour remains, to this day, a recalcitrant matter for French law.