Law and Literature as Survivor
34 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2008 Last revised: 27 Sep 2008
Date Written: March 1, 2008
While human rights lawyers from Nuremberg on tried to respond to the evils of Hitler's Europe with cautious directness, humanistic theorists in the post-modernist modes of the post-war period resisted all generalizations, including the establishment of legal norms through international codes of law. Addressing with some admiration the Holocaust-related later works of Geoffrey H. Hartman and (with less reverence) the anti-code and largely antinomian writings of Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida, this essay places in opposition the code-identifying and code-evaluating work of Law and Literature to that of the always equivocated writings of these deconstructionists for whom every grand narrative and every attempt to base act and choice on precedent was anathema. Although Hartman's aversion to all generalization is ethically sound considering the damage caused by Hitler's blunt and conclusory rhetoric, this essay relies on work about legal discourse during the Holocaust to indicate that this aversion emerges from a mis-placed logic about how institutions managed to adjust their ingrained beliefs and practices to such grotesque pronouncements.
More skeptical perhaps of complexity for its own sake, Law and Literature studies tend to locate codes (public or private, written or unwritten) within the great stories of the law and then unabashedly to value those codes in the Nietzschean sense as good or bad, justice-serving or reactionary. Discourse confronts ethical dilemmas - including those still unresolved six decades after the Holocaust - and to speak of them through a direct language of choice that often informs the canonical narratives we study.
Keywords: law and literature, Geoffrey Hartman, Derrida, de Man, generalization, codes
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