Literary Criticisms of Law

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In this book, the first to offer a comprehensive examination of the emerging study of law as literature, Guyora Binder and Robert Weisberg show that law is not only a scheme of social order, but also a process of creating meaning, and a crucial dimension of modern culture. They present lawyers as literary innovators, who creatively interpret legal authority, narrate disputed facts and hypothetical fictions, represent persons before the law, move audiences with artful rhetoric, and invent new legal forms and concepts. Binder and Weisberg explain the literary theories and methods increasingly applied to law, and they introduce and synthesize the work of over a hundred authors in the fields of law, literature, philosophy, and cultural studies.

Drawing on these disparate bodies of scholarship, Binder and Weisberg analyze law as interpretation, narration, rhetoric, language, and culture, placing each of these approaches within the history of literary and legal thought. They sort the styles of analysis most likely to sharpen critical understanding from those that risk self-indulgent sentimentalism or sterile skepticism, and they endorse a broadly synthetic cultural criticism that views law as an arena for composing and contesting identity, status, and character. Such a cultural criticism would evaluate law not simply as a device for realizing rights and interests but also as the framework for a vibrant cultural life.

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What People Are Saying

Brook Thomas
Literary Criticisms of Law shows what can happen when two shrewd law professors take the time and have the theoretical sophistication to master the wide variety of today's state-of-the-art literary criticism. This absorbing book both maps efforts in the last two decades to understand law as a kind of literature and makes a compelling case for the most productive way to do so. Avoiding the twin traps of radical skepticism and moralizing sentimentality that have snared even some of the best work in the field, Binder and Weisberg demonstrate how law shapes culture and vice versa.
Brook Thomas, author of "Cross-Examinations of Law And Literature, The New Historicism and Other Old-Fashioned Topics," and "American Literary Realism and the Failed Promise of Contract"
No other work attempts what this one does, a synthetic account of all the genres within the field of law and literature. As a synthesis, this book is first-rate. It not only summarizes but also puts to work a strong, acerbic critical intelligence, clarifying what the authors think is valuable in some approaches and deficient in others. The ability to provoke argument is one of the qualities that makes Literary Criticisms of Law consistently interesting. It is more theoretically sophisticated, historically informed, and deeply reflective than any similar work in its field.
Robert W. Gordon, Yale Law School
Robin West
A very impressive book. Each chapter contains numerous original, sweeping, and, for the most part, convincing arguments about large swaths of current legal intellectual history. As the first and only attempt so far to synthesize and assess this interdisciplinary field, the book will be extremely useful to many scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
Robin West, Georgetown University Law Center
Robin West
A very impressive book. Each chapter contains numerous original, sweeping, and, for the most part, convincing arguments about large swaths of current legal intellectual history. As the first and only attempt so far to synthesize and assess this interdisciplinary field, the book will be extremely useful to many scholars in the humanities and social sciences.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691007243
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/22/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 440
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.28 (h) x 1.16 (d)

Table of Contents

Law as Literature 3
From Letters to Literature 7
Literary Canons and Academies 13
The Risks and Possibilities of Law and Literature 16
Genres of Criticism 20
CHAPTER ONE Interpretive Crises in American Legal Thought 28
Introduction 28
1.1 The Crisis of Whig Hermeneutics 31
1.2 Progressive Interpretation 56
1.3 The Crisis of Progressive Interpretation 87
Conclusion 109
CHAPTER TWO Hermeneutic Criticism of Law 112
Introduction 112
2.1 Literary Theories of Interpretation 114
2.2 Law as Literary Interpretation 154
2.3 Legal Hermeneutics in Practice 188
Conclusion 199
CHAPTER THREE Narrative Criticism of Law 201
Introduction: The Law as Narrative Trope 201
3.1 Literary Theories of Narrative 209
3.2 Instrumental Claims: Narrative as Law's Antagonist and Salvation 232
3.3 Law and Narrative as Mutually Inherent 261
Conclusion: Performing the Law and Narrating the Nation 287
CHAPTER FOUR Rhetorical Criticism of Law 292
Introduction: Law, Rhetoric, and the Problem of Authoritarianism 292
4.1 A Very Brief History of Rhetoric 299
4.2 The Conservative Model o Rhetoric 309
4.3 Is a Liberal Rhetoric Possible? 330
Conclusion 376
CHAPTER FIVE Deconstructive Criticism of Law 378
Introduction 378
5.1 Derridean Deconstruction 380
5.2 Deconstruction as Epistemological Criticism 408
5.3 Deconstruction as Ethical Criticism 440
Conclusion 460
CHAPTER SIX Cultural Criticism of Law 462
Introduction 462
6.1 Theoretical Sources for Cultural Criticism of Law 464
62 Cultural Readings of Disputes 480
6.3 Cultural Readings of Capitalism 507
Conclusion 538

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