31 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2010
Date Written: October 6, 2010
I begin with Herman Melville and Thomas Bernhard.
Legal writing is often and rightly enough an ant-like exercise, an effort to take up the work of others and extend or alter it, in the process passing the project on to the next in line. It is therefore important, I think, to seize outsize treatment of law wherever we find it, to try to appreciate whatever the particular effort shows us about the structure and possibilities of our ordinary work that might not be so visible in familiar, close at hand forms. We look closely and at some length at two Melville stories – The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids is perhaps not widely read, but Bartleby, the Scrivener is of course famous. Passages from the Bernhard novel Correction appear to show intensifications or stresses roughly similar to those in the Melville works. Both writers, we will see, are preoccupied by paper, by its ubiquity and proliferation and legal concomitants, significant notwithstanding utter ordinariness. A largely excluded possibility within contemporary jurisprudence emerges, I want to suggest. Roughly the last half of this essay elaborates, propagating terms like “documentary substrate,” “paper tectonics,” and “legal seismics.” Readers run risks, therefore.
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