The Place of Law and Literature
39 Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 39, p. 391, 1986
27 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2009
Date Written: June 4, 2009
This essay, published in 1986, reviews three seminal works of the law and literature movement: Robert Ferguson’s Law and Letters in American Culture; Richard Weisberg’s The Failure of the Word: The Lawyer as Protagonist in Modern Fiction; and James Boyd White’s When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community. All published in 1984, the works display the breadth and central concerns of the field. Law and Letters in American Culture looks back to a time before the Civil War when, according to Joseph Story, the study of law required ‘a full possession of the general literature of ancient and modern times.’ Yet by the Civil War, the professional and intellectual interdependence of law and literature had dissolved. The concerns of legal study became progressively more technical and indifferent to literature, while the concerns of literature became more individualistic and hostile to the operation of positive law. Weisberg and Ferguson offer differing assessments of the modern antagonism between the fields. The Failure of the Word focuses on the repeated literary depiction of lawyers using the language of the law to gain power over less articulate but more complete characters. White's When Words Lose Their Meaning attempts to reestablish a linkage of law and literature based on a knowledge of classical and world literature and of the nature of language.
Keywords: law and literature, humanities
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