Mastering Eliot's Paradox: Fostering Cultural Memory in an Age of Illusion and Allusion

20 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2006

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law


The craft of librarianship should inform the law governing the acquisition, preservation, and transmission of knowledge. Drawing upon T.S. Eliot's works of literary criticism, part I of this article describes the contradictory role of cultural memory in a society saturated with new information. Even as the accumulation of information in a technologically explosive society heightens the value of the most prominent cultural landmarks, each distinct cultural expression commands an ever-diminishing amount of attention. Parts II and III turn from literary theory to legal doctrine. After reviewing the Supreme Court's cases on library management, part II endorses two basic principles within the law of librarianship as a branch of First Amendment jurisprudence. First, decisions to acquire material should lie beyond judicial challenge. Second, legislative mandates to exclude material should draw strict scrutiny and should be presumed unconstitutional. Part III concludes that uncertainty within the Supreme Court's jurisprudence on librarianship should be resolved in favor of more liberal access to information.

Keywords: First Amendment, freedom of speech, libraries, T.S. Eliot, Pico, American Library Association

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Mastering Eliot's Paradox: Fostering Cultural Memory in an Age of Illusion and Allusion. Minnesota Law Review, Vol. 89, p. 1361, 2005; Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-02. Available at SSRN:

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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