Literary Criticisms of Law

Literary Criticisms of Law

Literary Criticisms of Law

Literary Criticisms of Law


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.


This book examines the many ways we can view law as a kind of literary or cultural activity. It represents law as a practice of making various kinds of literary artifacts: interpretations, narratives, characters, rhetorical performances, linguistic signs, figurative tropes, and representations of the social world. It treats law as a process of meaning making and as a crucial dimension of modern cultural life.

Such a work is possible today only because of the efforts and innovations of scores of scholars in law, literature, and other fields over the last two decades. Thus, in presenting law as a kind of literature, this book also summarizes and builds on many of the achievements of a new interdisciplinary movement devoted to the study of “Law and Literature.” This movement embraces both the study of legal themes in imaginative literature—law in literature—and the use of the methods of literary criticisms in understanding and evaluating laws, legal institutions, and legal processes—law as literature. It is this latter endeavor, the study of law as literature, that is the subject of this book.

While we agree that law is usefully seen as a practice of literary creation, we remain mindful that to depict law is in itself to perform a kind of literary trope, to create a literary artifact. a central aim of this book is to turn the critical tools of literary theory back on the Law and Literature movement and to evaluate it as a cultural phenomenon.

For whom is this book written? the principal audience for this book will likely be students and scholars of law and literature, but it is designed to satisfy the curiosity of scholars in other fields, and of educated general readers as well.

For students and scholars of law and government, this book offers an introduction and comprehensive guide to an important contemporary movement in legal scholarship. It collects evidence and arguments that the values at stake in legal disputes and decisions are not merely economic or instrumental, but also aesthetic and expressive. Accordingly, this book may also interest practicing lawyers who reflect on the social role and cultural significance of their profession.

This book should be of equal interest to students, teachers, and scholars of literature. in recent decades, literary studies have transcended their traditional focus on imaginative literature and have begun to examine literary aspects of a broad range of social phenomena. Literary studies have become “Cultural Studies,” applying the methods of the humanities to the subject matter of the social sciences to reveal and interpret a “social text.” the literary criticism of law examined in this book should be seen as part of this larger development within literary studies. Indeed, the Law and Literature movement may represent the most extensive effort to date to apply literary methods outside the traditional literary sphere. If, as we argue, law is a crucial dimension of modern culture, the literary criticism of law should be central to the new conception of literary studies as cultural studies, and part of any contemporary education in literature.

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