Honors | Poetics of Justice
H204 | 0010 | P. Hodges


12:20-1:35pm  TR  FR C238

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