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Reading: On law’s originDerrida reading Freud, Kafka and Lévi-Strauss


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On law’s origin
Derrida reading Freud, Kafka and Lévi-Strauss


Jacques de Ville


This article's main focus is 'Before the Law', a text by Derrida on Kafka's Before the Law, in which Derrida also comments on Freud's Totem and Taboo. Freud, in this text, enquires into the origins of religion, morality, social institutions and law. He contends that this origin is to be found in a crime, the killing of the primal father by a band of brothers, followed by the institution of totemism and the incest prohibition. Freud's psychoanalytical account of the origins of the totem and the prohibition of incest has been challenged from various quarters. The article enquires whether Freud's Totem and Taboo and its theory of the primal horde in relation to the origins of law should be dismissed in light of these challenges, or whether some insight can still be gained from it. The second option is affirmed, with Derrida's 'Before the Law' pointing to the importance of reading Freud in a way analogous to Kafka's Before the Law, and more specifically to the need for a reconsideration of the originary nature of the Oedipus complex, so as to arrive eventually at a kind of 'pre-origin' of law.
How to Cite: de Ville, J., 2011. On law’s origin
Derrida reading Freud, Kafka and Lévi-Strauss. Utrecht Law Review, 7(2), pp.77–92. DOI:
Published on 14 Apr 2011.
Peer Reviewed


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