ELTS 202: Reading for Justice: Literature, Law, and the End(s) of Critique

Instructor: Raphaëlle Burns

How does literature relate to law and, conversely, how does law relate to literature? Interactions between law and literature constitute a fertile field for interdisciplinary inquiry. Between the apparent freedom of poetic pursuits and the constraints of legal imperatives, there has in fact always been at least as much convergence as there has been confrontation. On the one hand, law is shot through with imaginative processes. On the other hand, literature’s focus on the particular often simultaneously gestures to the very sources of normative principles that structure human experience. In this course we will explore some of the ways in which European poets, writers, and philosophers—many of whom were trained in law—have historically reflected on legal procedures and principles of justice in their writings. The selection of assigned readings for this course will allow for the exploration of a wide range of themes, including: the relationship between law, ethics, and the pursuit of justice; definitions of crime and the legitimacy of punishment; the role that poets have played, or sought to play, in the reform of legal institutions. Answers to some of the most fundamental questions raised by law, such as the nature of justice and the means of achieving it, are often sought in great works of fiction. This yearning for answers should, however, also be subjected to analysis. Thus, our investigation of legal themes in literature will be accompanied by a self-reflexive exploration of our own scholarly drives to find in literature a vehicle for legal and moral critique. Taught in English.