Law and Literature: American Laws and Outlaws
This course will explore two intersecting questions about the relationship between law and literature: first, how does each discourse imagine language’s ability to order and describe the world? and second, how does each discourse structure the public’s relationship to the criminal? If the language of law seeks to order the world, literary language presses against the limits of that order, disrupting or supplementing it. Yet crime fiction has long fueled public fascination with laws and outlaws, romanticizing both the violation and the restoration of law. Drawing from a range of genres including the detective novel, judicial rulings, and sensational “true crime,” we will explore visions of criminality, legality, and the role of fiction in defining the limits of law and order. Texts may include Susan Glaspell's “Jury of Her Peers,” Rudolph Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, trial documents from key court cases in modernism, and selections from the podcast Serial and/or the documentary miniseries The Jinx. Students will produce two papers and complete a final exam.