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It is a founding premise of legal inquiry that one does not waste words: words one has gone to the trouble of inserting, one must mean something by.

Counter-examples are legion, of course, but of all the vacuities a legal eagle can commit to a page, none is quite so pointless as this:

This page is intentionally left blank.”

Beyond dispensing with the concern that there might be writing on it that you just can’t see, what could this mean?

Does it distinguish a wantonly blank page from one whose lack of content came about from a feebler conviction (recklessness,[1] for example, or negligence)?[2] Could the redundant page have been overlooked through no cognitive operation, actual or constructive, on the author’s part at all?

Agonising over the writer’s mens rea obscures a better question: WHO CARES? What difference does it make why the page is blank? It is blank: that is a brute existential fact.[3]

A diligent student pipes up from the back: “But, why, can’t you see? A blank page is an omission. It is a failure to say something. A fellow can infringe her neighbour’s rights by omission just as well as she can by action.”

Just so. But the semantic content of an empty page is null. It is neither action not omission, but a formless void. It is inert. It is neither alpha nor omega, nor anything between. It lacks the divine breath of a creator. It conveys no premise and permits no conclusion of any type, kind or nature. An omission to say this or that cannot be imprisoned within the margins of an empty page but is universal, inhabiting every page, however densely entexted, on which that thing is not said; riding every honeyed breath upon which that utterance does not pass.

To paraphrase a British Prime Minister, “a blank page means a blank page”. So be in no doubt, dear reader: This statement, like the page it decorates, is joyously, wilfully, defiantly —and with the publisher’s unequivocal endorsement — blank. For the avoidance of doubt.

Except — and it brings no pleasure to point the glaringly obvious out, but here goes — as soon as one dollops a great wodge of italicised, square-bracketed text right in the middle of a page, IT IS NOT BLANK.

This puts us in a fine old pickle. If the only way we can be certain a page is blank is by writing on it, can we ever be sure of anything ever again? Have we hit a kind of Russell’s paradox[4] of the law? Is this some kind of legal quantum indeterminacy, or can we rescue ourselves with some vain appeal to asymptotic safety? What would Descartes think?[5] Or Gödel? Can’t you just imagine Schrödinger, sitting on his chair, stroking his cat?




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References

  1. in that the author apprehended the risk the page would be bare and took it anyway.
  2. In that a reasonable person in the author’s position would have realised there was a risk the page would be blank
  3. Or would be, had you not written that very thing on the page to contradict yourself. See below.
  4. Let R be the set of all sets that are not members of themselves. If R is itself not a member of itself, then it must contain itself. If it contains itself, then it cannot be a member of the set of all sets that are not members of themselves
  5. scribo non ergo non scribo”, most likely.