Lawyers and Literature
James R. Elkins

 

Studying Literature

 

 

[Image used with permission of the Florida Center for Instructional Technology]

"We all have slumbering realms of sensibility which can be coaxed into wakefulness by books." [Robertson Davies, A Voice From the Attic: Essays on the Art of Reading 13 (New York: Penguin Books, rev. ed., 1990)]

"[L]iterature is an art, and . . . as an art it is able to enlarge and refine our understanding of life." [Robertson Davies, Reading and Writing 2-3 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, special ed., 1993) (1992)]

The study of literature "is the placethere is no other in most schoolsthe place wherein the chief matters of concern are particulars of humanness—individual human feeling, human response, and human time, as these can be known through the written expression (at many literary levels) of men living and dead, and as they can be discovered by student writers seeking through words to name and compose and grasp their own experience. English [that is, literature] is about my distinctness and the distinctness of other human beings. . . . The instruments employed are the imagination, the intellect, and texts or events that rouse the former to life . . . . [T]he goal . . . is to expand the areas of the human world—areas that would not exist but for art—with which individual man can feel solidarity and coextensiveness." [Benjamin DeMott, Supergrow: Essays and Reports on Imagination in America 143 (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1969)]

"[Literature] returns you to otherness, whether in yourself or in friends, or in those who may become friends. Imaginative literature is otherness, and as such alleviates loneliness." [Harold Bloom, How to Read and Why 19 (New York: Scribner, 2000)]

"You look for your own story in literature; it's one of the best mechanisms you have to convince yourself you're not alone." [Glenn Schaeffer, founder of the International Institute of Modern Letters, UNLV Magazine]

"[Literature] expands one's sympathy, it complicates one's sense of oneself and the world, it humiliates the instrumentally calculating forms of reason so dominant in our culture (by demonstrating their dependence on other forms of thought and express, and the like). It is one of the deepest characteristics of literary texts to throw into question the nature of the language in which they are written, and this necessarily throws into question as well the nature of any language in which they might be talked about or into which they might be translated." [James Boyd White, From Expectation to Experience: Essays on Law & Legal Education 55 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999)]. White goes on to observe that "literary teaching" leads us "towards incrementally more complete, but never wholly adequate, understandings of other people and other mindstowards other languages, other ways of thinking and being and imagining the world. These understandings in turn carry us towards a general understanding both of language and of the mind, one that is literary rather than conceptual in kind and affects our reading not only of 'literature' but of all the texts that make up our world." [Id. at 58]. Literature lives through language, and so must we . . . ." [Id. at 60]. "What I think literature has most to teach, then, is a way of reading, and reading not only 'literature' but all kinds of texts and expressions: a way of focusing our attention on the languages we use, on the relations we establish with them, and on the definition of self and other that is enacted in every expression." [Id.]

"Reading is a direct and immediate engagement with language. Discussing what we read intensifies this engagement . . . . As we build language skills, we build life skills. We learn our place within the world of language. In an important sense, by reading and discussing what we read, we all create our own place in the world." [Robert Waxler, The Power of Stories]

"Students are formed by the reading they do, by the views of self and world such reading presents." [Parker J. Palmer, To Know as We Are Known 19 (New York: Harper & Row, 1983)]

"The craft of literature: Articulates insights, sentiments in ways that sometimes the rest of us cannot—Gives voice to what is submerged and suppressed (the questions behind the questions)—Defamiliarizes the familiar." [Johanna Shapiro, Can Poetry Make Better Doctors?]

"I urge literature upon lawyers and law students to teach how the culture of the law attracts and repels those who enter its province. Novels are profoundly useful tools to study human nature, and I teach these books as a strategy, not a panacea, to counter many of the ills attributed to legal education and lawyering today." [Ilene Durst, Valuing Women Storytellers: What They Talk About When They Talk About Law, 11 Yale J.L. & Feminism 245 (1999)]

 


On Studying Literature

On Books

Understanding Literature

Conversations in Literature
[The most useful part of this collection of materials for our purposes is the video in which teachers of literature talk about what literature means to them. I recommend that you watch the video. To access the video, go to the first workshop, "Responding as Readings" and "View this Video." You will be asked to sign-up so you can log-on to the site.]

Salman Rushdie on Teaching the Novel and Reading for Pleasure
YouTube video; 5:35 mins

Nineteen Theses on Literature

Defining Basic Terms (for those who can't get along
without definitions as a starting point)

Literature
Wikipedia

Belles-lettres
Wikipedia

Fiction
Wikipedia

Literary Fiction
Wikipedia

 

 

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