Mikhail Bakhtin and the Field of Law and Literature
ANU College of Law; ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences; McGill University - Faculty of Law
December 1, 2011
(2012) 8 Journal of Law, Culture, and the Humanities 1-22
ANU College of Law Research Paper No. 12-39
This essay takes as its focus the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, a leading literary theorist who has, to date, received relatively little attention in the field of law and literature. Central themes in the work of Bakhtin include the dialogic quality of the novel and its ethical implications, its commitment to singularity and context, its comprehensive critique of authority and, tying all of these features together, the importance of form and style to our understanding of the experience of literature. These themes all pay attention less to the subject-matter or content of particular works of literature than to its historical trajectory, its distinctive characteristics, and its approach to language. This is perhaps one important way in which Bakhtin’s approach is distinct from the focus on 'narrative' which is so much the staple of law and literature writing. The novel’s 'heteroglossia', as Bakhtin puts it - its irony, ambiguity, and ‘doubleness’ - is neither a serendipitous features of certain texts nor a secondary element of normatively driven ‘story-telling’, but structural and stylistic characteristics of the novel as such. Bakhtin thus problematizes the treatment of narrative and the authenticity of voice assumed in much of the standard literature. While Bakhtin brings to these arguments an unprecedented sweep and command of detail, and a highly distinctive vocabulary for analysis, his arguments parallel the work of the other twentieth-century writers on literature. In particular, writing at the same critical historical moment, Bakhtin’s claims are echoed in D.H. Lawrence’s own essays on the novel, and illustrated - indeed, performed - in his fiction.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Keywords: law and literature, the novel, Mikhail Bakhtin, DH LawrenceAccepted Paper Series
Date posted: August 2, 2012 ; Last revised: September 21, 2012
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