In a 1999 essay, J.M. Balkin and Sanford Levinson called for law to be considered as a performing art. Against or perhaps going further than Balkin and Levinson, this commentary claims that while engagement with performance practices in the arts, such as music, is of the utmost value to law and legal theory, we must not take for granted what it means to ‘‘perform’’. Uniting Jacques Derrida’s la Villette performance (with jazz legend, Ornette Coleman) with his writings on performativity in law, this commentary looks to the musical practice of improvisation to trouble the notion of performance as immediate and singular and to question taken for granted distinctions between text and performance, writing and music, composition and improvisation. The consequence of this refined understanding of the performative on legal theory and the actual practice of law is a reconceptualization of law as improvisation, that is, both singular and general, pre-existent and immediate, and a refocusing on the creativity that lies at the heart of law’s conservativism.
- Jacques Derrida, improvisation, performativity, jazz, Balkin and Levinson