Making 'Literary Lawyers'
The interdisciplinarity of law and literature has been a contentious issue for ages. The law and literature intermingles in various ways- many literary texts adopt legal themes and examine legal issues; a number of writers engage in writing both legal and literary texts; several judgments cite works of literature as well. This frequent convergence between law and the literature has led many scholars to believe that there is a meaningful relationship between law and the literature - and so the "law and literature movement" was born in the first half of the twentieth century. The law and literature movement focuses on the interdisciplinary connection between law and literature and purports to see how inter-disciplining of law and literature can contribute to each other in meaningful ways.
The interdisciplinary study of law and literature has often been divided into two strands: 'law-in-literature' and 'law-as-literature'. 'Law-in-literature' concentrates on the depiction of law and jurisprudential questions in works of literature. 'Law as literature' studies legal texts using literary concepts and techniques, drawing similarities between literary and legal texts in an effort to better legal writings. The subject matter of law and literature is common- human, human conditions and the society. The great and well-acclaimed writers of the world have frequently used law and legal circumstances as the subject matter of their literary works. The popular writers who dealt with the themes of law in their literary works include William Shakespeare, Herman Melville, Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens, Albert Camus, Glaspell, Garcia Marquez and so many. These great writers were deeply influenced by the legal system and social culture of their own time and their insights have been skillfully reflected in their works too. The great literary works contain a wide variety of contents relating to law and legal concepts- paradoxes of law and equity, law and political order, social customs, ethics and morality, power and authority, crime and punishment, retribution, the legitimacy of relationships, the tragedy of formalism in legal procedures and so forth.
Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice depicts a wonderful trial where Shylock attempts to use the letter of the law (a strictly literal interpretation of a contract) for sinister aims. The Merchant of Venice poses very deep questions about the double nature of both the rule of law and of equity as well. Othello- a tragedy by Shakespeare is based on the themes of racism, love, jealousy, betrayal, revenge and repentance which precisely portray the inherent human nature. The adoption and use of legal precepts and legal jargons are also evident in his famous tragedy 'Hamlet'.
It is often said that we live in a society governed by the rule of law rather than the passions and whims of particular individuals. Formalism is a highly deductive approach to legal reasoning that understands the legitimacy of law to reside in the fixed immutable meaning of legal rules. Formalists attempt to adhere strictly to the letter of the law, even if the outcome in a particular case seems unwise or unjust. In contrast to a strict adherence to the letter of the law, equity involves making special exceptions in the law for unique cases and moulding the law to reach just outcomes. The tragedy of legal formalism, its adverse outcomes and the relationship between the letter of the law and equity have been successfully explored in Herman Melville's Billy Budd.
Franz Kafka's The Trial illustrates the difficulty in arriving at the truth - in particular, the truth about the Law. In The Trial a protagonist is arrested in the first chapter and executed in the last; in between he spends most of his time trying without success to discover the charge for which he was arrested. Here the author expresses how law and the judicial process are abused and revealed a variety of legal concerns- the backlog of cases, arresting on suspicion, unauthorized detention, the absence of proper investigation, deprivation of the right to self-defence and so forth.
The intermingling and interdisciplinary study of law and literature offers manifold benefits for both the disciplines. It has been so obvious that 'law and literature' has become a staple in the course offerings of many law schools of the world in which law students read fiction related to themes of justice, trial procedure and legal ethics. Even 'law and literature' is offered as a course in the curriculum of literature, humanities and other liberal arts discourses of many universities. Literature is crucial to understanding law because it teaches a certain way of creating thinking- one that is synthetic, rhetoric, creative and comfortable with ambiguity and ambivalence. By incorporating literary methods in legal writing and by applying more literary senses the laws can be more precisely interpreted and the legal decisions can be conveyed more effectively. Moreover, more acquaintance with the literary helps improve the clarity of expression which is a must for all legal professionals. The knowledge of literature enormously facilitates the law professionals in a myriad of ways and multiple fields like teaching, legal writing, legal opinions, verdicts, statutory interpretations, submission of petitions before the court and so forth.
The interdisciplinary study of law and literature will certainly pave the way for creating a just society instilled with humanity and devoid of discrimination, inequality or arbitrary preferences. We need more 'literary lawyers' to make this world a better place to live in. So introducing 'Law and Literature' as a course in law curriculums of Bangladesh is today's call.
Saeed Ahsan Khalid teaches Law at Department of Law, University of Chittagong, e-mail: [email protected]