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Umphrey, M.M. (2007). Law's Bonds: Eros and Identification in Billy Budd. Am. Imago, 64(3):413-431.
  

(2007). American Imago, 64(3):413-431

Law's Bonds: Eros and Identification in Billy Budd

Martha Merrill Umphrey

This essay offers an interpretation of Herman Melville's novella, Billy Budd, Sailor (an inside narrative), that contests and supplements canonical accounts in legal theory emphasizing the relation between law and violence. Melville's narrative illustrates the ways in which subjects are bound even to an unjust law not only by fear but also by love. The judgment against and execution of Billy Budd, a signal enactment of legal violence, require the repression of powerful erotic bonds between Captain Vere and Billy; and Billy's execution is legitimated by the reassertion of those bonds via a chain of homoerotic identifications at the moment of his death. Melville's novella shows the relation between subjects and the law to be constituted and maintained by an ambivalent fusion of violence and love.

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