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Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Law and Literature


Richard Sherwin

Professor Richard Sherwin

Professor of Law, Director of the Visual Persuasion Project
New York Law School

Professor Richard Sherwin was in residence January to April 2014. The Fulbright Chair is co-sponsored by the Faculties of Arts and Law at McGill.

My scholarship explores the two-way street between law and culture. In recent works, drawing from a variety of sources, including  film, literature, performance studies, cognitive psychology and philosophy, I have been investigating how new visual technologies, particularly the proliferation of screen-based images, are changing the theory and practice of law. What happens, for example, when trial witnesses give way to videos and digital animations of accidents and crimes? Does watching turn the viewer into an “eyewitness”? How does one cross-examine an image? Is anything essential lost in the shift from live testimony to teleconferencing? Is there presence in a digital animation? What is real, and what is simulation? These are high stakes challenges when it comes to the search for truth and justice inside the courtroom. We need to cultivate visual prudence together with a new metaphysical resolve to help meet the legitimation demands of law in the era of the "digital baroque."

Prior to joining the faculty at New York Law School, Professor Sherwin was an Assistant District Attorney for New York County where he worked on New York v. Ferber, a path breaking child pornography case that was argued before the United States Supreme Court.


Virtual and Actual Performance: Film, Theatre, and Digital Media

 Friday, 7 February 2014 | McGill University, Ferrier 456 | 4:30pm

In contemporary legal practice, lawyers, judges, and lay jurors face a vast array of visual evidence and visual argument both inside the courtroom and in the court of public opinion. From videos documenting crimes and accidents to computer displays of their digital simulation, increasingly, the search for fact-based justice is becoming an offshoot of visual meaning making. But when law migrates to the screen it lives there as other images do, motivating belief and judgment on the basis of visual delight and unconscious fantasies and desires as well as actualities.

Law as image also shares broader cultural anxieties concerning not only the truth of the image but also the mimetic capacity itself, the human ability to represent reality. What is real, and what is simulation? This is the hallmark of the baroque, when dreams fold into dreams, like immersion in a seemingly endless matrix of digital appearances.

In this presentation, I want to explore what jurists can learn from contemporary theater about intermediation (or “inter[in]animation”). What happens when live performance mixes with screen-based reproduction? How is the past (the crime, the civil wrong, the origin of law’s search for redress) reproduced in the now time of trial? What is the difference between physical and electronic presence? Does the “now” happen in the virtual world? Is Being there? Upon entering the virtual do we risk the loss of the real? This metaphysical, neo-baroque quandary is shared by contemporary theater and contemporary trials alike – though the stakes for the latter take us well beyond the realm of play.


Law in the Flesh: Feelings, Publics, Popular Culture

Richard K. Sherwin | Mark Antaki | Amelia Jones | Paul Yachnin

Wednesday, 2 April 2014 | Coach House, 3715 Peel St. | 3:00pm

Join Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Law and Literature Richard K. Sherwin (Professor of Law and Director of the Visual persuasion Project, New York Law School) and McGill faculty colleagues for a roundtable on the flow o desire and the play of emotions in the quest for justice. Participants will consider the place of the body in law, the place of law in the life of publics, and the bonding force of belief as it takes shape (or frays) in a variety of cultural productions ranging from film (such as The Act of Killing) to plays (such as The Tempest) and performance art (such as the radical S/M work of Ron Athey). What does it mean to encounter 'law in the flesh?' In addressing this question members of the roundtable will explore contemporary cultural conditions that impel and impede ongoing aspirations of justice in public life.


rsherwin [at] nyls [dot] edu (Contact Professor Sherwin)

Professor Sherwin's Faculty Webpage

Visual Persuasion Project