"E proboscis unum: Law, literature, love, and the limits of sovereignty"

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The phrase "e proboscis unum," a parody on the more familiar Latin phrase that means "out of many one" is taken from the courtroom scene of the 1964 Broadway musical Hello, Dolly! In this scene, the entire cast is under arrest for disturbing the peace, but the young impoverished clerk Cornelius Hackl takes the opportunity to proclaim his love for the milliner Irene Molloy in the song "It only takes a moment." The matchmaker Dolly pokes fun at the judge, the figure of authority, by commenting on the appearance of his nose, which she characterizes as "a flaming beacon of justice" and "living symbol of the motto of this great land," "e proboscis unum." The bickering, fighting crowd, however, in spite of the parody, are transformed into a community as they witness the young man's declaration. As this episode shows, popular culture reads the law and the courts as making possible a space for personal transformation and transformative sociality. The recent debate about same-sex marriage in Massachusetts shows that both individual persons and the law itself are open to a process of mutual transformation. The chapter uses Hello, Dolly!, the 2003 Massachusetts Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, and Shoshana Felman's The Juridical Unconscious to argue that the study of law and literature is crucial in the current academic environment in which many critics, influenced by Giorgio Agamben, argue that law and the courts are merely the space for the exercise of the state's sovereign power to carry out punishment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationLaw and Literature Reconsidered
EditorsAustin Sarat
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameStudies in Law Politics and Society
ISSN (Print)1059-4337

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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