Objective Correlative Watch

A new occasional series in which the inanimate world comments on human folly.


The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an “objective correlative”; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.—T.S. Eliot, “ Hamlet and His Problems

In a not-quite-off-the-record chat last week with Time Warner big shots, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said the court decided to rule on the disputed 2000 election because it didn’t want to “give the Florida Supreme Court another couple of weeks in which the United States could look ridiculous.” As Al Kamen of the Washington Post pointed out, “appearance-of-ridiculousness” is not a constitutional standard heretofore recognized by legal scholars. According to Lloyd Grove of the New York Daily News (who in writing about Scalia’s remarks put Time Warner’s senior management into a status-anxious tizzy), Scalia also expressed disagreement with the court’s “actual malice” standard for libel (he’d prefer the tripwire be mere “negligence”) and called Roe v. Wade an “absurd” opinion.

Mere days later, a large piece of marble fell off the molding of the Supreme Court’s 70-year-old facade. According to Reuters, the marble chunk had been positioned above the inscription “Equal Justice Under the Law” and an allegorical figure representing Order.

[Update, 11:30 p.m.: It appears that Reuters had it wrong. If you compare this photograph  with this guide to the Supreme Court’s exterior statuary, the relevant allegorical figure is Authority, not Order. The larger point still holds.]