L371 4907 CRITICAL PRACTICES
5:45p-7:00p TR (30 students) 3 cr., A&H. Open to English majors only.
PREREQUISITE: L202 with grade of C- or better. NOTE: The English Department will strictly enforce this prerequisite. Students who have not completed L202 with a grade of C- or better will have their registration administratively cancelled.
TOPIC: “Law and Narrative: Stories in and About Law”
Law is often viewed as a scheme for imposing social order and meting out justice in social relations that are ungovernable, chaotic, and unpredictable. Law can be a powerful mechanism for both reinforcing structures of power and disrupting them.
This course is designed to introduce students to some of the conceptual and historical roots of contemporary critical practice in literary, cultural, and critical legal studies. We will examine law within literature, as well as law as a form of literature. We will examine law and writings about law as a process of creating meaning. We will be studying not only what these texts mean, but how they mean. Likely suspects for the literary texts will be Herman Melville, Harper Lee, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Quentin Crisp, James Baldwin, Sue Miller, Susan Glaspell, Ernest Gaines, James Alan McPherson, etc. We will also read critical works by literary and legal critics like Peter Brooks, James Boyd White, Richard Delgado, Mary Frances Berry, Martha Minow, Catherine McKinnon, Robert Cover, Beth Barrett, Frances Olsen, and Richard Sherwin. Likely critical texts will include When Law Goes Pop: The Vanishing Line Between Law and Popular Culture and Law's Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law. In addition, you are likely to be assigned four or five law cases to read in connection with our readings, most likely, Batson v. Kentucky, Bowers v. Hardwick, Lawrence v. Texas, and Loving v. Virginia.
We will take an eclectic approach, drawing on a wide range of readings that fall under the loose rubric of “law and narrative,” and focusing on the ways in which stories get told (for example, the actual narrative of a particular case, as well as the larger cultural and societal narratives it draws on, the influence of popular culture on legal stories, etc.). Some general topics that are likely to surface through the readings include the relationship between law and privacy, law and sexuality, law and homosexuality, law and race, and law and family relations. Approximately 12% of our English majors go on to law school. While this is in no way a “pre-law” course, it might hold some appeal for those of you considering the legal profession.
Some of the material is guaranteed to prove challenging, so this class is not for the faint of heart. Fair warning: This will be a reading-intensive class, and students will be expected to do all reading assignments carefully in advance and to write guided thoughtful response essays (500 words/2 pages) throughout the semester. These will be shared in class at random, and help launch our discussions. There will also likely be two 6-8 page critical essays, as well as one or two “exam papers” to be written in class. Grading will be based on level of substantive participation and preparation, regular attendance, contributions to class discussions, and quality and quantity of completed writing that meet university- level writing standards.
How to prepare for this class: While advance familiarity with literary theory is not presumed, you are encouraged to look at something like Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory or Raman Selden's Reader's Guide to Literary Theory so that you have some sense of the critical landscape. Critical legal studies borrows heavily from literary theory. You are also encouraged to view some of the classic legal films. My suggestions would include 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder, Inherit the Wind, The Verdict, The Wrong Man, and To Kill a Mockingbird. (We will likely read To Kill a Mockingbird, but the movie offers an interesting and well-acted interpretation of the novel.) More recent good films about law include Runaway Jury and A Civil Action.