Symposium: Bob Dylan and the Law Foreword

By Levine, Samuel J. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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Symposium: Bob Dylan and the Law Foreword

Levine, Samuel J., Fordham Urban Law Journal

  I. Dylan's Jurisprudence
  II. Dylan and Judges
  III. Dylan in American Law and Culture
  IV. Dylan and the Practice of Law


On April 4-5, 2011, Fordham Law School hosted a Symposium on Bob Dylan and the Law, co-sponsored by the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, Touro Law Center, and the Fordham Urban Law Journal. Given its subject matter, the Dylan Symposium differed from typical law school conferences, both in the attention it received outside the legal academy and in the format of the Symposium proceedings. By the time the Symposium opened on the evening of April 4, (1) news of the Symposium had reached national and international audiences, through print, broadcast, and Internet media outlets. (2) Attendees included not only scholars, but also members of the public and the press, resulting in further media coverage in newspapers and news shows, throughout the United States and beyond) As for the proceedings, in addition to live covers of Bob Dylan's songs, many of the presentations were accompanied by recordings of Dylan's music?

At the same time, likewise owing to the subject matter, the Dylan Symposium was a powerful academic experience for the participants, who took Bob Dylan and his work seriously. Speaking from a wide range of perspectives and experiences, presenters uncovered in Dylan's life and lyrics valuable insights into American law and society. (5) Reflecting the diverse interests of the speakers, the Symposium explored a variety of legal themes, ideas, images, and facts, reinforcing impressions of Dylan as a prophet--at least as a prophet of the law--whose words and warnings, written over the course of half a century, remain relevant for contemporary listeners and readers. (6) The articles in this Symposium Issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal provide a glimpse into the unique atmosphere of the Dylan Symposium, illustrating both the common themes explored in the Symposium presentations and the range of perspectives that were presented. (7)


On the morning of the second day of the Symposium, April 5, Professor Michael Perlin, undoubtedly the leading theorist on the "jurisprudence of Bob Dylan," (8) opened the paper presentations with a seemingly exhaustive survey (9) of the "multiple iterations" of law reflected in Dylan's work. (10) Building on decades of his own personal and scholarly connection to Dylan's music, (11) Perlin undertakes the ambitious goal of "creat[ing] a topography of Bob-as-jurisprudential scholar" in a number of "discrete areas of law (and law-and-society)." (12) Setting the stage for the presentations that would follow through the course of the day, Perlin addressed such topics as: civil rights; inequality of the criminal justice system; institutions; governmental and judicial corruption; political and economic inequality and emancipation; poverty; the environment; inequality in the civil justice system; and the role of lawyers and the legal process. (13)

Speaking for many at the Symposium, Perlin concedes that "it has been fun" to invoke Dylan in his scholarship, (14) but at the same time, "it has been much more than that." (15) For Perlin, referencing Dylan is "a reflection of a near-total consonance between Bob's jurisprudential and political values and the values I seek to assert in my writings." (16) Although few, if any, of the other speakers share the same degree of personal and professional attachment to Dylan and his music, they clearly share a similar seriousness of purpose and vision in applying Dylan's work to an examination of law and society. Expanding on many of the topics introduced by Perlin, the speakers relied on Dylan to express both hope and disappointment in the American legal system and its relation to American society.

Professor Renee Knake revisited the landmark United States Supreme Court case, NAACP v. Button, (17) through the lens of Dylan's songs, arriving at the thesis that "[t]he law needs music.

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