Honors | Poetics of Justice
H204 | 0016 | Hodges, E


What motivates judges when they decide a case? Do they primarily follow
the letter of the law? To what extent are they moved by other complex
pressures-including personal, political, religious, and social-and even
the pressure or spell of language itself? By studying short stories,
novels, plays, and legal cases, this course will look at legal and
literary judges and the effect their attitude towards authority, human
emotion, and language have on their decisions.

Why law and literature? Judges and kings, like poets and storytellers,
struggle in similar ways to give shape to human experience. They use
similar narrative techniques to tell their tale, or to make their case.
But judges, because of their professional commitment to the law, choose
rhetorical strategies that sometimes make their decisions seem harsh,
arbitrary, or mechanical. Those of us outside the law rarely have a chance
to see how judges arrive at their decisions. The fictions we read will
allow us to look behind the scenes-to look, for example, at concerns
common to narrators in both fields: the conflict between the individual
and society, the influence of the past (i.e. private and public history,
and legal precedent), sources of textual meaning, and questions concerning
morality and human motivation. The legal cases (probably 2) will allow us
to look closely at the way our legal system works and to explore how
society, through its literature as well as its actions, responds to the
principles, practices, images, and language of that system.

Students will learn how to read primary sources closely, and to think
critically not only about what the text means but also about how it means.

Perry Hodges, Law School