Make it so.
Or so we all heard for a good 7 years in the late 80s and early 90s. More of an imperative than an performative utterance, it gets us a little closer to the bull’s eye. Recently, a judge in France ruled the auction of Hopi masks legal, as the previous owner had obtained them legally. That seems logical.
Yet, the complication is in the role the masks play for the Hopi, who view them as living things, sacred beings. Naturally, money and collecting are involved (un passe-temps du 19e siècle), so the dispute over the masks’–scratch that. The dispute over the legality of the sale was hauled before a judge, who subsequently ruled that since the current owner had obtained them legally, years before, the masks could be legally auctioned.
The most frightening part, I think is the power that the law wielded here and invested in others:
Before starting, the auctioneer, Gilles Néret-Minet, told the crowd that the sale had been found by a judge to be perfectly legal, and that the objects were no longer sacred but had become “important works of art.”
The ability of language to perform is powerful indeed. Big magic. In one deft tongue maneuver, Néret-Minet changed the status of the masks from sacred beings to important objects all because of another performative utterance, the legal ruling.
The irony, perhaps, is in this line:
[Néret-Minet] added, “In France you cannot just up and seize the property of a person that is lawfully his.”
Whew, well I sure feel better now.
Suddenly, Judith Butler, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Eve Kosofsky Sedgewick surge out of the dry pages of theory and into the consequence-filled world of practice.