Welcome (listen to an audio file about the course - mp3)

We read some texts differently from others. Some texts mean more to us. Some people consider certain texts binding on them in ways that they do not feel other texts are. For instance, for many people The Ten Commandments mean something that the words in what might be called non-scripture do not. If you receive a subpoena, to use a different example, you are not free to interpret the words any way you wish, nor to ignore them (without penalty). Legal texts seem to have a different quality and power to them from what many people would attribute to poetry and prose. The aim of this course is to explore the ways in which language, legal and literary, becomes binding on us, impacts us, becomes meaningful for our lives, sometimes against our will.

The course involves matters of ethics (our habits), and will become a guided journey whose theme will be (1) the power of words (e.g., the judge's sentence, where "sentence" means something different from the sentences you talk about as an English major), and (2) the force and violence of meaning. People trained in the law think differently form those trained in literature. Some have thought that the two ways of training might be informative if juxtaposed. Thus, many universities and law schools offer courses in law and literature. Often, the students trained in the law feel uncomfortable with the way literary students proceed, and the literary students find what takes place in law school to be an alien way of thinking. We will find out what makes legal interpretation different from literary interpretation with the aim, among other things, of enriching our interpretive skills.

The photograph above is from Flickr Creative Commons and is avaiable for public use. The photograph is a cropped portion of The Spirit of Justice by C. Paul Jennewein, and is located outside the Rayburn Office Building in Washington, D.C. A seated female figure with long hair is dressed in long robes, a cape, and sandals. She holds up a torch symbolizing truth with her proper right hand. Her proper left hand rests on a nude male child standing to her proper left, symbolizing that Justice is tempered by Love.


All the textbooks listed are required, and are available from the TWU Bookstore. Please purchase these particular editions, so that we can all be working from the same texts, referring to the same page numbers, etc.
• Edward Levi, Introduction to Legal Reasoning (U of Chicago P)
Plessy v. Ferguson, ed. Brook Thomas (Bedford, St. Martin's Press)
• Franz Kafka, The Trial (Mitchell translation from Schocken Books)
• Edgar Allan Poe, Great Tales and Poems (Pocket Books)
• Arthur C. Doyle, Sherlock Holmes: Complete Novels and Stories, Vol. I (Bantam)
• Russell Banks, The Sweet Hereafter (Harper Collins)
• Luis Fernando Verissimo, Borges and the Eternal Orangutans (New Directions)
In addition to the texts, you will be required to read some articles that will be made available to you online.
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