Derrick Bell's Narratives as Parables
New York University Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 31, p. 225, 2007
47 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2009
Use of the narrative form in law and legal analysis remains controversial, especially by advocates of critical race theory. Critics maintain that narratives can distort if they are not sufficiently based on empirical fact or reason. Narratives, the claim goes, must be evaluated on the basis of objective standards. My Article argues that this posture critical of narrative is mistaken. I contend that to comprehend how narratives should be interpreted, their literary character must first be understood.
The Article examines the narratives of Derrick Bell, the preeminent critical race and narrative scholar, and maintains that Bell's narratives should be read as parables. I analogize the literary nature of Bell's narratives to the use of parable in the Bible's New Testament, a subject that has received significant attention by New Testament scholars. (The analogy draws upon the method of New Testament interpretation and sets aside any question - pro or con - of the New Testament's truth.) The claim is that just as the New Testament parables should be read on the basis of the methodological criterion of manifestation - the manifestation of new knowledge and insight - rather than on the basis of adequation - adequation to existing norms and knowledge - so should Bell's narratives. New Testament parables and Bell's parables seek to reorient, and they do so by disorienting existing understandings. I argue that the method gleaned from parable scholarship and Bell's work can resituate the ambitions of narrative legal theory in general. I conclude by justifying the Article's defense of narrative within the debate over whether an argument for racial change needs to promote a more material and less idealistic - in other words, less narrative-oriented - basis for change.
Keywords: al narratives, parables, Derrick Bell, critical race theory, civil rights, racism, discrimination, theology, religion, Christianity, New Testament, Richard Delgado
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