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The Cultural Background of 'The Legal Imagination'


James Boyd White


University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School

January 12, 2010

OPTIONS FOR TEACHING LITERATURE AND LAW, A. Sarat, C. Frank, M. Anderson, eds., Modern Language Association, 2011
U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 180

Abstract:     
This paper is an exploration of the cultural circumstances in which modern law and literature arose, in the middle third of the last century. The argument is that the connections between law and literature were surprising, because law thought of itself as an autonomous field of practice and thought; they were unsurprising, at least in retrospect, because that very legal culture was deeply rhetorical in nature, as legal thought had been for hundreds of years, a fact that invited comparison with other forms of persuasion, argument, narration, and thought. The lawyer's task was in some sense to define the meaning both of the legal past and of the events or facts in the immediate case, with the object of doing this as well as possible. As for literary criticism, that was a field largely grounded in close reading, the object of which was reach sound judgments about quality, and to express and justify them in writing that was worthy of the task, all with the object of doing these things as well as possible. In these respects literary criticism was similar to law, also a field of reading, understanding, judging, and expressing. These fields were neighbors without knowing it. When put side by side they generated many of the questions to which scholarship in the field of law and the humanities has since been devoted.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 21

Keywords: Law and literature, law and humanities, culture, legal imagination

JEL Classification: K19

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Date posted: January 13, 2010  

Suggested Citation

White, James Boyd, The Cultural Background of 'The Legal Imagination' (January 12, 2010). OPTIONS FOR TEACHING LITERATURE AND LAW, A. Sarat, C. Frank, M. Anderson, eds., Modern Language Association, 2011; U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 180. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1535599

Contact Information

James Boyd White (Contact Author)
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School ( email )
625 South State Street
332 Hutchins Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-936-2989 (Phone)
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