Modernism and the Critique of Law and Literature
Australian Feminist Law Journal, Vol. 35, pp. 105-23, 2011
27 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012
Date Written: December 2, 2011
‘Law and literature’ suffers from two besetting weaknesses: first, a concentration on substance and plot and, second, a salvific belief in the capacity of literature to cure law or perfect its justice. The first fails to question the Platonic ideal that the purpose of art is mimetic. The second fails to question the romantic ideal that the purpose of art is to heal the world’s wounds. Too often in opening a dialogue with law we fail to capture the real experience or worth of literature - a worth irreducible to either the morality it ‘stands for’, or to the coherence or harmony it promises. Indeed, the aesthetic ideals of modernism, which so dramatically altered the landscape of literature, philosophy and politics around the turn of the (twentieth) century, reject just these claims. Modernism - to be more sharply distinguished from ‘modernity’ than it often is - produced instead a heightened attentiveness to questions of style, form, and language, and to questions of diversity and subjectivity in voice and perspective. Modernism cast off the aesthetic ideologies of mimesis and romanticism and opened up claims of truth, progress, and perfection to the destabilizing subtlety of irony. This essay’s focus on modernist irony, with particular attention to the work of Mikhail Bakhtin, suggests a very different orientation and defense of ‘law and literature’.
Keywords: law and literature, law and the humanities, DH Lawrence, Mikhail Bakhtin, modernism, irony
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