Lawyers and Literature
Your evaluation for the course will be based on one the following that you select:
a traditional research paper (on a topic to be approved by the instrucor)
an essay in which you "write the course"
a portfolio of writings about the works (and authors) you have been assigned to read in the course
a take-home examination
There is no maximum page limit for any of the course writings you elect to do for the course. Commonsense and experience suggest that those who write more tend to suggest a broader--and sometimes fuller--engagement with the course readings.
The "write the course" option: Writing the course is at once a rather simple idea but rather tricky to define. It is simple in that instead of picking out a single topic or subject for a paper, you write about the course and your engagement with the readings. Writing the course is tricky in the sense that you must try to write the course in a meaningful, engaging, literary way. Some students have an intuitive grasp for "writing the course," while others are tone deaf and do it rather badly. For a student paper that exemplifies this idea of "writing the course": Deirdre Purdy, Lawyers & Literature as My Mother Lay Dying–Spring, 1997, 22 Legal Stud. F. 293 (1998)][on-line text]
Papers presented in Lawyers and Literature will be evaluated on the basis of the following criteria:
--soundness and quality of the writing;
--depth and development of the ideas presented in the writing;
--engagement with the assigned readings;
--developing a creative structure for the writing;
--demonstration that you have found a way to put the various texts you have been asked to read to work.
I am available for consultation and advice on any of your writing (for the course and beyond), and will read and comment on whatever you might want me to read during the course (and beyond).
Given the nature of the writing, and the work in preparation for it, it seems prudent to begin to think about how to undertake the writing--now--even as you begin the readings.
I recommend, for anyone who wants to think carefully about writing, Peter Elbow's Writing With Power (New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1998), a book that any writer might put to use both in Lawyers and Literature and beyond. For a starter course on Peter Elbow's thinking see: Notes on Peter Elbow's Writing Without Teachers
Ruth Knight was a student in a course called Women and the Legal Profession when she wrote her essay, "Inheritance in Ink," about writing. Knight worked for a number of years at the Michie Company, in Charlottsville, Virginia as a legal editor. She now resides in Johnson City, Tennessee where she teaches and writes.
You should, of course, avail yourself of resources on writing available on the course website; these resources have been gathered to help you think about writing, in particular about "writing the course."
The course website presents a good deal of information and background on various kinds of writing that might figure in your writing for the course. If you have questions about any of these resources, or about your writing, you should talk with me about what you are trying to do and the difficulties you face in doing it.
You should begin your writing for the course as soon as possible. I'd hope the pitfalls of waiting until the end of the semester to undertake the course writing or course paper are obvious. While I do not present any formal structure that your course writings must follow, you should not take this to mean that I am indifferent about your writing, or that I do not expect a great deal of you.
We will, as we progress through the course take something of a journey together. In "writing the course," you might try to say something about the nature of the journey we have undertaken. And if the course has not been anything so grand as a journey, then you will need a different metaphor, another way of talking about what has happened, about what you have read.
At some point in the course, you will want to rethink the stories, to see how they fit together, to see what you can make of the stories as you write about them. The question the course poses is this: In what sense do the stories give you something to write about? What new way of imagining yourself do they offer? Indeed, what will you do, as you set out to do something with the stories? Where will your writing take you? Where do you want it to take the reader?
In writing the course, you may find occasion to describe what happened in the course; you will also be making an evaluation, a judgment, about the way we've gone about the work we've tried to do in the course.
It will take a good bit of courage to look, honestly and without despair, at what you've written for the course, to realize that you took short cuts, cheated yourself, that you passed up a chance to say what you most wanted (and needed) to say, or said things that you did not mean. And yes, you might keep in mind that the failure of your own writing, our conversation, and this course, is itself a kind of education.
"Writing the Course"
Andragogy (a theory of adult education)
Phenomenology and Writing
[Cynthia Ozick, author of the assigned
The Critical Project
[James R. Elkins]
Writing Across the Curriculum
A note on essays: "[I]f essays are works of 'reading,' they are also works 'wrought,' a thinking that occurs through the material fabrication of language, a work and a working in language, not simply a working through intellectually or emotionally--language not as a summary of findings b ut as the inventor of findings." [Rachel Blau DuPlessis, f-Words: An Essay on the Essay, 68 (1) American Literature 15, 19 (1996)(DuPlessis goes on to note that: "The choice of the essay mode is no guarantee of quality, just of desire. One wants scruples, suspicion, and examintion, not an unconscious revelation of vacuum, not addictive narcissism." Id. at 26)]
Again, DuPlessis: "Writing an essay comes from curiosity and need--the need to examine opinions and contradictions and to interrogate cultural materials, especially those taken for granted. The essay has an ethos of intense examination." [Id. at 27 (although I must say, I've never come around to seeing the need for the word "interrogate" as DuPlessis uses it here; it's a fashionable term in academic circles and one I do not find an improvement over the term "question")]
"Essay is the play of speculation, polyvocal, quirky, maenadic, suspicious. The test of the essay is whether it opens a space for the reader. It is interested and agnostic, situational and material, presentational, investigative, and heuristic. It present that which is seen 'under the conditions established in the course of writing' . . . . What is taken by some as rhetoric or style or manner . . . is in the essay a way of knowing. A Path. In some old woods, in the middle of somethng. The path of rhetoric is the path of knowledge. The digression is the subject. The polyvocal collage. The thick plurality. . . . The probing, the backtracking, the outbursts, the resistances are the essay's findings." [Id. at 28]
Since we sometimes talk about the personal essay, I pass along DuPlessis's reservations about the term, reservations which I share: "[T]he term personal, when applied to essay modes, offers a made-in-Hollywood site for my resistance. I have real trouble with any oversimple characterization of the essay as personal or autobiographical. The adjective personal can suggest the individual, quirky array--or even disarray--offered up as the opposite of objective or expository prose. Personal may be an easy way of summarizing the upstart quality . . . that fuel the essay with situated, nonobjective thought. Yet somehow this term can be translated into a soft relativism, a genial selfhood, or questions of 'voice.' . . . . Still, to talk about the ssay's material practices and its emphases on positinality provides a broader way of engaging the functions of what others call 'personal.' " [Id. at 30. ("[I]f the essay is functioning in the way I am attempting to set forth here it is arguably a very unegotistical mode, for it maintains a notion of service, of the exemplary use of the ego or its experimental dissolution within a cultural project. . . . Far from being exercises in narcissism, in gaining a personal voice, essays are practices in multiplicity, in polyvocality, in intercutting other opinions, in offering heterogeneous, faceted perspectives. . . . In short, essays are not a way of gaining a voice but of losing one in the largeness of something else." Id. at 32)]