Law and literature
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The law and literature movement focuses on the interdisciplinary connection between law and literature. This field has roots in two major developments in the intellectual history of law—first, the growing doubt about whether law in isolation is a source of value and meaning, or whether it must be plugged into a large cultural or philosophical or social-science context to give it value and meaning; and, second, the growing focus on the mutability of meaning in all texts, whether literary or legal. Those who work in the field stress one or the other of two complementary perspectives: Law in literature (understanding enduring issues as they are explored in great literary texts) and law as literature (understanding legal texts by reference to methods of literary interpretation, analysis, and critique).
This movement has broad and potentially far reaching implications with regards to future teaching methods, scholarship, and interpretations of legal texts. Combining literature's ability to provide unique insight into the human condition through text with the legal framework that regulates those human experiences in reality gives a democratic judiciary a new and dynamic approach to reaching the aims of providing a just and moral society. It is necessary, in practical thought and discussion about the use of legal rhetoric, to understand text's role in defining human experience.
- 1 History of the movement
- 2 Law in literature
- 3 Law as literature
- 4 Law and Literature in Europe
- 5 Significant contributions to the movement
- 6 Criticisms of law and literature
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links and resources
History of the movement
Perhaps first to envision the movement were John Wigmore and Benjamin Cardozo, who acknowledged "novelists and poets" as the principal teachers of law in the first half of the 20th century. Most scholars, however, credit James Boyd White as the founder of the law and literature movement because of the dedicated research and distinguished publications he has contributed to this rapidly growing field. Among his many literary books and articles, White's most renowned publication, The Legal Imagination, is often credited with initiating the law and literature movement. This book, first published in 1973, is a fusion of anthology and critique, superficially resembling a traditional legal casebook but drawing on a much wider and more diverse range of sources, with headnotes and questions emphasizing the relationship of legal texts to literary analysis and literary texts to the legal issues that they explore.
The movement began attracting attention in the 1970s and by the 1980s had gained substantial ground in academia. The proponents of the law-in-literature theory, such as Richard Weisberg and Robert Weisberg, believe that literary works, especially narratives centered on a legal conflict, will offer lawyers and judges insight into the "nature of law" that would otherwise go missing in the traditionally strict study of legal rhetoric.
In its early stages, the law and literature movement focused strictly on the law in literature theory; however, beginning in the late 1970s the law as literature perspective began to gain popularity. This perspective seeks to enhance legal studies by examining and interpreting legal texts using the techniques of literary critics. Scholars such as White and Ronald Dworkin find greater relevance in law as literature because it maintains that the meaning of legal texts, such as written law, like any other genre of literature, can only be discovered through interpretation. Although legal scholars have long considered both literary and legal texts in their study of the legal process, the recent degree to which the two seemingly separate genres interact has sparked great debates among scholars.
Law in literature
The law in literature view is specifically concerned with the way in which legal situations are presented in literature. Generally, they place a high value on the "independent" view from which literary writers are able to see the law. They believe that such authors have a lesson to teach legal scholars and lawyers alike about the human condition, and the law's effect on it. Such scholars tend to cite authors like Franz Kafka, Albert Camus, Herman Melville, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Charles Dickens. The fictional situations presented in literature, these scholars assert, can tell a great deal about political and social situations, and the individual that often find themselves before the court. For example, Robert Weisberg believes that the law in literature offers fertile possibilities. He suggests that even though some literature cannot instruct its readers about legal situations, they can still educate law students about the human condition.
Richard H. Weisberg, professor at Cardozo School of Law is another leading scholar of law and literature. Following the lead of James Boyd White, he sees an intrinsic value in the use of literature as a means of discussing legal topics. Unlike White however, who places value on literature for its ability to stimulate critical thought and theory, Weisberg believes that literature should be valued for its ability to cause one to relate to others, and for the political and social contexts that novels, particularly those dealing with the law, grapple with. For Weisberg, this is reason enough for its justification in the legal arena because such novels cause their students to reach conclusions regarding human understanding. In his study Poethics, Weisberg states that:
- "Poethics in its attention to legal communication and to the plight of those who are 'other', seeks to revitalize the ethical component of the law."
Richard Weisberg's interest in the law and literature movement might be seen as slightly different than that of White, who places emphasis on the rhetorical techniques and abilities that literature utilizes. Weisberg rather wishes to use literature as a way of critiquing social institutions and legal norms. For him it is the subject matter of novels and not their rhetorical tools that make them important in instructing law students, as well as furthering understanding of legal matters for the independent law scholar.
One example of his attempting to validate his stance of the effect of novels onto legal minds, is one where Weisberg cites a real life French lawyer living in France during the beginning of the deportation of French Jews to concentration camps. The lawyer was attempting to assign the duty of determining Jewry of an individual with only two Jewish grandparents to the state, then controlled by the Nazis and collaborators. In describing the words chosen by the lawyer, Weisberg believes that the "masking of a moral crime" is a direct descendant of Nietzschean ressentiment, which is widely believed to be a philosophical outlook that permeates through the writings of Albert Camus and Kafka-literary authors whose works law and literature proponents cite often, including Weisberg. His belief that ressentiment makes its way into the writings of lawyers, such as this Frenchman, is seen as enough of a reason for him to view legal novels as compelling arguments of the human condition and thus their validity towards legal debate.
Law as literature
Law as literature scholars see value in the techniques employed by literary scholars. Generally speaking, these scholars may see legal text as a form of literature thus making literary critique and analysis of it possible. Unlike the law in literature scholars, these minds only see possibilities in the tools of literary theory, and not really the subject of the great novel that law students often find themselves reading, although most might agree that literature serves a purpose that allows for ethical development and growth within the student.
Benjamin N. Cardozo was a proponent of law as literature. "The success of Cardozo's books was also due in part to their distinction as literature. Convinced that style could not be separated from substance, Cardozo brought the Judicial process to life in lucid, eloquent prose sprinkled with humor, anecdotes, and practical allusions." (enotes.com, Benjamin Nathan Cardozo 1870-1938)
While James Boyd White acknowledges the relevance of the law-in-literature perspective, he finds law-as-literature more tenable because of the position's ability to combine the two seemingly disparate disciplines and allow for text to fulfill its role of defining culture and creating relationships. According to White, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice
- "is meant to teach the reader how to read his way into becoming a member of an audience it defines-into becoming one who understands each shift of tone, who shares the perceptions and judgments the text invites him to make, and who feels the sentiments proper to the circumstances. Both for its characters and readers, this novel is in a sense about reading and what reading means".
Ronald Dworkin also supports the arguments in favor of the use of literature to improve legal understanding. In his article, Law as Interpretation, Dworkin stated, "I propose that we can improve our understanding of law by comparing legal interpretation with interpretation in other fields of knowledge, particularly literature." He believes that our interpretations of literary works may help us to an improved understanding of our cultural environment, which in turn helps us to come to a better understanding and interpretation of the law.
Law and Literature in Europe
The Law and Literature movement in Europe is wide-ranging and fruitful and a number of networks in Europe are significant to the movement. There is for example a European Network for Law and Literature Scholarship run by Jeanne Gaakeer, Professor at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, and Greta Olson, Professor at the Justus-Liebig Universität Giessen. Gaakeer’s influence is also reflected in her publications, for example Hope Springs Eternal: An Introduction to the Work of James Boyd White (University of Michigan, 1998), and she is co-editor of Crossing Borders: law, language and Literature, Wolf Legal Publishers The Netherlands, 2008. Greta Olsen has edited a number of books including 9/11 Ten Years On(2011) Current Trends in Narratology. Berlin and New York: De Gruyter, 2011 and In the Grip of the Law: Trials, Prisons and the Space Between. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 2004a. There is also a Nordic Network for Law and Literature and two Italian Networks for Law and Literature, AIDEL and ISLL. In Norway: The Bergen School of Law and Literature, directed by Professor Arild Linneberg, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Linguistic, Literary and Aesthetic Studies, University of Bergen. Law and Literature in Europe is energetic but at times less self-promoting than its American counterpart. Greta Olson’s article ‘De-Americanising Law and Literature Narratives: Opening Up the Story’ in the journal ‘Law and Literature’ 2010 (published by Cardozo in the USA) provides a reminder of scholarly activity in Europe as well as warning against a ‘tendency to universalise our scholarly narratives’ where some debates are particular to the American setting. She calls upon European scholars to ‘remember that the peculiarities of our own legal systems and legal histories need to be kept in mind as we contest law with the aesthetic and use law to query the literary’.
Post-conference productions such as the Oxford University Press collection Law and Literature: Current Legal Issues Volume 2: Law and (1999) edited by Michael Freeman and Andrew Lewis are testament to the number of approaches opened up by this interdisciplinary approach. In the United Kingdom, scholars of note include Maria Aristodemou, with her Law and Literature from her to eternity, which looks at a number of texts from ancient Greek to modern day novels from a feminist and postmodern perspective. Adam Gearey’s Law and Aesthetics provides a discussion of aesthetics and ethics relevant to contemporary law and literature scholarship, and to the development of postmodern jurisprudence, using a range of reference points from classical literature, from Sophocles to Shelley to Nietzsche. Professor Ian Ward, Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives which considers a range of texts from Shakespeare, to children’s literature, to Ivan Klima and Umberto Eco and, more recently Ward’s Law, Text, Terror, looking at the phenomena of terror and the rhetoric of terrorism tracing back through literature, popular culture and politics. Professor Melanie Williams’ book Empty Justice: One Hundred Years of Law, Literature and Philosophy explores in particular feminist and existential questions as well as genre movements relating to caselaw combined with works by, for example, Thomas Hardy, J. G. Ballard, John Fowles, J. M. Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Iris Murdoch, whilst her Secrets and Laws provides a range of essays on legal and political issues of note, from ethics, terrorism and identity to notions of obscenity, rape, sex and violence, through the prism of poetry, W. H. Auden and R. S. Thomas as well as 19th and 20th century works of fiction. Kieran Dolin’s A Critical Introduction to Law and Literature takes in a wide range of historical periods from Renaissance literature to Victorian literature and modern texts, exploring a number of topical approaches to crime, feminism, race and colonialism, whilst Paul Raffield’s Shakespeare's Imaginary Constitution : late Elizabethan politics and the theatre of law (Hart, 2010) is an addition to the critical work available on Shakespeare and the Law. The Italian law and literature scholar Daniela Carpi has also written a book on Shakespeare and the Law as well as an interesting text discussing Plato’s relevance to 20th century English Literature.
These instances of European outputs in the Law and Literature movement are in no way representative of the large literature to be found in articles written by the above named scholars as well as others in the field.
Significant contributions to the movement
Jack Balkin is a professor of constitutional law at Yale Law School. While his work in legal rhetoric draws on literary theory, he contends that law is best analogized to the performing arts such as music and drama, rather than to literature. For this reason, there is little to no work in which Balkin analyzes literature's relevance to the law, but his applications of the argument through other artistic mediums gain him admission to this discussion, as well.
In his views on politics and its effect on legal standards, Balkin adheres to what is known as "partisan entrenchment". This theory states that the party that controls the White House can place in the federal courts judges and justices that share the President's political views. This in turn affects Supreme Court justices and, ultimately, constitutional doctrine.
Daniela Carpi is Professor of English Literature at the Department of Foreign Literatures and Languages of the University of Verona. She started her career at the University of Bologna. Her fields of research are: Renaissance theatre, Postmodern fiction, literature and visual arts, the influence of Plato on twentieth-century English literature, law and literature. She started working on law and literature in the 1990s and introduced the topic in Italy. In 2008 she founded AIDEL Associazione Italiana di Diritto e Letteratura http://www.aidel.it , which she presides, and which gathers a large number of members from all over the world. In 2007 she founded the journal Pólemos, a Journal of Law Literature and culture, now published by DeGruyter (Berlin/Boston) http://www.degruyter.com/view/j/pol . Together with professor Klaus Stierstorfer from the University of Muenster she edits the series “Law and Literature” for DeGruyter http://www.degruyter.com/view/serial/129192. She also edits two series with an Italian publisher (Ombre Corte in Verona), “Culture” and “Agon”. She has directed several international projects on “Law and the Image”, “Human Rights”, “Bioethics, biolaw and literature”, “Law and Culture”, and in particular one on “Law and equity” which was financed by the Italian Ministry for Culture MIUR. Among her latest publications: Daniela Carpi ed., Bioethics and Biolaw Through Literature, DeGruyter 2011; Daniela Carpi and Jeanne Gaakeer eds., Liminal Discourses. Sublime Tensions in Law and Literature, DeGruyter, 2013; Daniela Carpi ed., The Concept of Equity in Law and Literature: An Interdisciplinary Assessment, Winter, 2007; Practising Equity, Addressing Law: Equity in Law and Literature, Winter, 2008; Why Plato? The Influence of Plato on twentieth-century English Literature, Winter, 2005.
Dr Adam Gearey is Reader in Law at Birkbeck School of Law, University of London. He has a BA (Hons-English/History) (University of York), M.A. Socio-Legal Studies (University of Sheffield), CPE/LSF (Manchester Polytechnic), PhD (Birkbeck College, University of London). He was appointed as a lecturer at Kent Law School in 1996, moving to the School of Law at Birkbeck in 1998. In 2001-2002, he was a visiting professor in the Faculty of Law at Makerere University, Uganda; and in 2003 a visiting professor at the University of Pretoria. He is currently a visiting scholar at The Center for Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley and a visiting professor at the University of Peace, Costa Rica. His present project concerns political justice.
In The Times Higher Education, Dr Gearey commented on his work on James Joyce's chaotic novel, Finnegan's Wake, and ideas of law, stating I tried to trace the ways the account of the giving of the law in the Bible fed into the narratives of Finnegans Wake. Just as the Bible appropriated the Jewish Old Test-ament account of the law, Joyce's novel, in its turn, rewrote the Gospel narratives, to become a messianic announcement of the female messiah and a new law of love. These ideas could not have been thought without the encouragement of the "critical legal theory" scene. ..But it would be wrong to see this as a "movement". It is an impossible community of those who disagree as much as they agree. Leaning to broadly continental traditions of thought, to psychoanalysis, post-Marxism and feminism, there is a strong sense of sustained and creative dialogue in "critical" circles. The revolution in legal thought is still to come’.
Eric Heinze is Professor of Law & Humanities at the School of Law, Queen Mary, University of London. In The Concept of Injustice he presents a literary approach to reasoning about justice. He calls that standpoint ‘post-classical’, in contrast to a ‘classical’ Western tradition, dating back to Plato’s Republic, which assumes a static, logical opposition between the concepts of ‘justice’ and ‘injustice’. Heinze’s ‘post-classical’ approach recognises the impossibility of theorising justice and injustice as mutually exclusive categories.
Central to Heinze’s research is the thesis that law is constantly underpinned by necessary, yet conflicting and irreconcilable theories of its own legitimacy. Some of his research focuses on the problem of legitimacy with particular reference to concepts of ‘imperialism’ and ‘nationalism’, concepts which he presents not as fixed, but as malleable and often overlapping. His approach further examines language as both the defining yet also infinitely manipulated tool of law as the institution and justification of political power. Examining ancient and early modern literature, Heinze traces the demise of what he calls ‘unity’ theories of justice, and their progressive displacement by ‘measurement’ theories, which, he argues, become paramount within Western modernity.
Allan Hutchinson is a professor at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School and served as associate dean from 1994 to 1996. Hutchinson is a legal theorist and has devoted a lot of time to examining the failure of law. He also believes there is no central or primary foundational interpretive method for interpreting the law. The main point of his work is the judging of "an engaged game of rhetorical justification" which the judge must interpret, such as a statute, a line of precedents, or the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. He has a nonfoundationalist perspective which searches for the truth that forms reality. Hutchinson says that method and medium must change, so self-creation becomes the engine and energy of social change. You can grasp life by living and this task cannot be completed by outside language or through language. Hutchinson argues that politically charged and unstable context shapes our understanding of legal rules. Hutchinson's understanding of truth confirms that law is politics. A nonfoundationalist account of law is compatible with a diverse range of political results. A definitive account of Hutchinson's legacy was published in The Journal Jurisprudence, Vol 7, in the summer of 2010.
Ian Ward is a professor of law and degree programme director at Newcastle University Law School. He is also on the editorial board for Studies in Law and Literature. Ward received a BA from University of Keele in 1986, a Ph. D from University of Cambridge in 1989, an LLM from the University of Toronto in 1990 and a MSc from University of Leicester in 2010. Ward believes that students in both fields, law and literature, can benefit from studying rhetoric alongside law. His research lies in legal theory and public law among others. Ward has published numerous works dealing with law and literature and legal theory.
In his publication Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives, Ward discusses the future goals of the law and literature movement while exploring elements of law in famous pieces of literature. In chapter 1 of this publication, Ward describes law in literature as the process of examining "the possible relevance of literary text, particularly those which present themselves as telling a legal story, as texts appropriate for study by legal scholars." He then sees law as literature as the process of seeking "to apply the techniques of literary criticism to legal texts." He believes that the relationship between the two are complimentary. He states discussing the debate about the importance of the Law and Literature Movement shows "its enduring strength."
Another advocate for the integration of legal studies with the serious examination of literary texts, Robin West has frequently turned to Kafka's The Trial to discuss the rule of law. As a critic of Richard Posner's more economic take on the law, she does not dismiss the implications made by authors in legal fictional texts. For example when discussing Kafka, West asserts that:
- "Obedience to legal rules to which we would have consented relieves us of the task of evaluating the morality and prudence of our actions."
Comments such as these show West's ideological stand on the power of literature as well as her personal philosophy of law. West's arguments tend to focus on the human condition as read in books as well as the individual submission to authority, and what she believes to be an apparent contradiction. She calls for scholars to interpret, create and critique narrative texts in order to broaden their understanding of the human condition, and the law's effect on it and the community as a whole. West believes in a so-called 'political, communal and ethical re-constitution', a mode of thinking that one might engage in when reading and critiquing texts, both fictional and legal. Because of this duality, West asserts, law and literature become more related and thus more valid in discussion when debating the implications of one or the other.
These views have caused her to be seen as in the same camp as James Boyd White, although some argue that she goes even further, by becoming more of a political writer than a legal and literary critic. In her book, Narrative, Authority and the Law, West notably diverges from thinkers like Richard Weisberg and James Boyd White by stating that there should be less focus on the debate within the texts and instead a 'truly radical critique of power'. She expands by stating:
- "By focusing on the distinctively imperative core of adjudication, instead of its interpretive gloss, we free up meaningful criticism of law."
Such assertions lead some to believe her goals are more political than scholarly in nature. West may be seen not only as a scholar of law and literature, but also as a member of the critical legal studies movement (CLS).
Melanie Williams read Law at the University of Cambridge, graduating with a BA Hons in Law in 1988 (MA 1991). She has a PGCE and an MA in English Literature from the University of Sussex and is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is Professor of Law at the School of Law, University of Exeter. Formerly, she was Professor and Reader of Law at Swansea University and prior to that Lecturer in Law at the University of Aberystwyth until 2003. Professor Williams’ research interests include Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Law and Literature, Law and Culture; approaches to Law and Ethics, Feminist and Socio-legal studies. She is an editorial board member with Law and Humanities (Hart); International Journal of Law in Context (CUP); Law, Culture and Humanities (Sage); Jurisprudence (Hart);‘Law and Literature’ series, DeGruyter, Berlin and New York.
A review of Professor Williams book Empty Justice in the Entertainment and Sports Law Journal  reads: ‘Melanie Williams’s book is in part what its sub-title declares: a series of case studies dating from the end of the nineteenth century to the end of the twentieth, linking literary and philosophical texts to legal issues. It is also in part what its title declares: a peroration on the jurisprudential idea of ‘empty justice’, using literary texts as accessible ways into difficult concepts. What neither title nor sub-title declares is that this is first and foremost a work of feminist theory. Williams’s goal has been to show (with doubters particularly in mind) ‘how pervasive feminist issues are for all persons and all belief systems’ (p. xxv).Williams wears her learning lightly, and the wealth of inter-woven illustrative examples, contextual details and outlines of theoretical debates really achieves its object of making feminist issues central, inevitable even. And she writes beautifully’.
Carmelo Delgado Cintrón
Carmelo Delgado Cintrón is a law professor at University of Puerto Rico where he teaches Law and Literature courses. Carmelo Delgado is an Academic founder of the Puerto Rican Academy Jurisprudence and Legislation, the Academician of the Puerto Rican Academy of History and Academician of the Royal Spanish Academy. He has an extensive list of publications on law and literature and his main thesis is about how the literary training should be required to all jurist.
Criticisms of law and literature
Richard Posner has played an important role in the law and economics movement. As the author of Law and Literature: A misunderstood Relationship (now in its third edition, titled simply Law and Literature), Posner is highly critical of the law and literature movement and the book helps to voice his more hard-lined interpretation of the law. The book can be seen as a reaction against the writings of Robin West, who has written substantially against Posner's economic take on legal interpretation. A powerful critic of the writings of White, Weisberg, and West, Posner sees literature as having no weight in the legal realm although he does hold the authors in high esteem. He writes:
- "Although the writers we value have often put law into their writings, it does not follow that those writings are about law in any interesting way that a lawyer might be able to elucidate."
Posner does not believe in the use of literary discourse in jurisprudential debate, and in colloquy has described West's analysis of literature in legal debate as "particularly eccentric." Posner writes that "law is subject matter rather than technique", and that legal method is the method of choice in legal realms, not a literary one. To expand further, Posner believes literary works have no place in judicial debate because one can never truly contemplate the original meaning of the author, and that novels should only be considered in their contexts. He characterizes the discovery of laws in fiction as "ancillary" and asserts the main subject matter of a novel is always the human condition, and not the legal setting. From this perspective, the legal background created by Kafka and Albert Camus are simply that, background, and have no further meaning beyond the environment which they create.
This isn't to say that Posner doesn't think in literary terms-far from it. For instance he characterizes Albert Camus's The Stranger, as the "growth of self-awareness" on the part of the hero, Meursault. Posner gives weight to such situations on personal levels and only on personal levels, yet dismisses any sort of legal implications of such situations as lacking in "realism". Such assertions and arguments have placed him in sharp contrast with Richard Weisberg, who has cited The Stranger numerous times, among other books. Posner sees literature's importance in legal studies only because they may help the lawyer grow as an individual and to develop character, but sees no value in them as social critiques of the era in which they were developed and written, as Law and Literature scholars might ascribe to them. Certainly he sees no value in them as sources of legal philosophy and reform.
Highly critical of the notable Law and Literature scholars, Posner believes that such legal minds have taken literature "too seriously" and assigned them an unsubstantiated amount of weight in the expansion of legal knowledge and jurisprudential debate.
Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic were against White and his theory of certain famous legal cases in American history and agree with Posner on several issues. Their theory is that the actual impact of contemporary literature on the substance of judicial opinion-making is limited because judges distinguish legal texts. According to Delgado and Stefancic, judges' moral positions are determined by normative social and political forces rather than by literature. They are firm believers of the critical race theory which is a school of sociological thought that emphasizes the socially constructed nature of race. .
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