Reading List: Mengele’s Skull – The Advent of Forensic Aesthetics. Thomas Keenan & Eyal Weizman (2012), Sternberg Press

I am writing about this book now first of all because I love it, and second of all because I have lost it. Or rather, I attended a book-swap and, in a fit of foolish generosity, gave it away.

It is shorter and far more beautiful than you would ever believe that a book essentially about court processes could ever be.

Beginning from the case of Joseph Mengele, the Nazi leader whom was captured and trialed only posthumously, the authors work towards the hypothesis that dead bodies and other objects (including damaged buildings) have been increasingly utilised in courtrooms over the last few decades. Though often inserted, as objective, passive props for the proofs of scientific experts, Keenan & Weizman declare a more hopeful and open-minded trend towards viewing these things as occupying an uncertain identity between objective truth or evidence on the one hand, and the speaking testimony of a witness on the other.

In this sense, they envision a way of re-making a space of interpretation and performance for the law, thus ungrounding the technocratic, non-political, unbiased portrayal it is sometimes given. The law is, after all, about persuasion, and even objects; dead bodies; concrete structures, can persuade, negotiate, and lie.

This book, as well as having a great theoretical relevance to arguments of legal accountability which surround drone warfare as well as numerous other issues, is also directly relevant to current practice. For one, Eyal Weizman, as head of the organisation ‘Forensic Architecture’ at Goldsmiths University of London, is heavily involved in an ongoing UN inquiry into civilian casualties caused by drones.

 

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