To which institutions or social practices should we grant authority? When should we instead assert our own sense of what is right or good or necessary?
In this book, James Boyd White shows how texts by some of our most important thinkers and writers—including Plato, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Mandela, and Lincoln—answer these questions, not in the abstract, but in the way they wrestle with the claims of the world and self in particular historical and cultural contexts. As they define afresh the institutions or practices for which they claim (or resist) authority, they create authorities of their own, in the very modes of thought and expression they employ. They imagine their world anew and transform the languages that give it meaning.
In so doing, White maintains, these works teach us about how to read and judge claims of authority made by others upon us; how to decide to which institutions and practices we should grant authority; and how to create authorities of our own through our thoughts and arguments. Elegant and accessible, this book will appeal to anyone wanting to better understand one of the primary processes of our social and political lives.
The Edge of Meaning
James Boyd White University of Chicago Press, 2001 Library of Congress PN511.W59 2001 | Dewey Decimal 809
Certain questions are basic to the human condition: how we imagine the world, and ourselves and others within it; how we confront the constraints of language and the limits of our own minds; and how we use imagination to give meaning to past experiences and to shape future ones. These are the questions James Boyd White addresses in The Edge of Meaning, exploring each through its application to great works of Western culture—Huckleberry Finn, the Odyssey, and the paintings of Vermeer among them. In doing so, White creates a deeply moving and insightful book and presents an inspiring conception of mind, language, and the essence of living.
In this collection of essays, James Boyd White continues his work in the rhetorical and literary analysis of law, seeing it as a system for the creation of social meaning. White's focus is on the intellectual and ethical possibilities of law, based on the view that law is not merely a logical enterprise, nor a mere matter of politics and power, but rather an activity of the whole mind, including its imaginative and affective capacities.
The essays here are united by two basic themes. First, the essays suggest that law can usefully be regarded not only as a set of rules designed to produce results in the material world, as it usually is regarded, but also as an imaginative and intellectual activity that has as its end the claim of meaning for human experience, both individual and collective. Second, they argue that education, including in the law, works by the constant modification of expectation by experience.
White claims that as we grow, whether as individuals or as a community, we constantly shape our expectations to our experiences. This happens with particular force and clarity in the law, which seeks to create both a certain set of expectations--this is how it works as a system of regulation--and a series of occasions and methods for their revision. White's interest is in the way these understandings can affect legal teaching, practice, and criticism.
The essays in this book examine such topics as the nature of legal education; the possibilities for writing in the law for both judges and lawyers; the relation between the practice of making and claiming meaning as it works in the law and in literatures more usually though of as imaginative, such as poetry or drama; the ways in which the law talks, and ought to talk, about business corporations, religion, and individual judgments; and the ethical possibilities of the practice of law when it is conceived of as a field for the making of meaning.
From Expectation to Experience will be of interest to lawyers, legal scholars, as well as students of law, law and literature, and ethics and literature.
James Boyd White is Hart Wright Professor of Law, Professor of English, and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies, University of Michigan.
White extends his conception of United States law as a constitutive rhetoric shaping American legal culture that he proposed in When Words Lose Their Meaning, and asks how Americans can and should criticize this culture and the texts it creates. In determining if a judicial opinion is good or bad, he explores the possibility of cultural criticism, the nature of conceptual language, the character of economic and legal discourse, and the appropriate expectations for critical and analytic writing. White employs his unique approach by analyzing individual cases involving the Fourth Amendment of the United States constitution and demonstrates how a judge translates the facts and the legal tradition, creating a text that constructs a political and ethical community with its readers.
"White has given us not just a novel answer to the traditional jurisprudential questions, but also a new way of reading and evaluating judicial opinions, and thus a new appreciation of the liberty which they continue to protect."—Robin West, Times Literary Supplement
"James Boyd White should be nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court, solely on the strength of this book. . . . Justice as Translation is an important work of philosophy, yet it is written in a lucid, friendly style that requires no background in philosophy. It will transform the way you think about law."—Henry Cohen, Federal Bar News & Journal
"White calls us to rise above the often deadening and dreary language in which we are taught to write professionally. . . . It is hard to imagine equaling the clarity of eloquence of White's challenge. The apparently effortless grace of his prose conveys complex thoughts with deceptive simplicity."—Elizabeth Mertz, Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities
"Justice as Translation, like White's earlier work, provides a refreshing reminder that the humanities, despite the pummelling they have recently endured, can be humane."—Kenneth L. Karst, Michigan Law Review
The authors of this book share a concern for the state of law and democracy in our country, which to many seems to have deteriorated badly. Deep changes are visible in a wide array of phenomena: judicial opinions, the teaching of law, legal practice, international relations, legal scholarship, congressional deliberations, and the culture of contemporary politics. In each of these intersections between law, culture, and politics, traditional expectations have been transformed in ways that pose a threat to the continued vitality and authority of law and democracy.
The authors analyze specific instances in which such a decline has occurred or is threatened, tracing them to "the empire of force," a phrase borrowed from Simone Weil. This French intellectual applied the term not only to the brute force used by police and soldiers but, more broadly, to the underlying ways of thinking, talking, and imagining that make that sort of force possible, including propaganda, unexamined ideology, sentimental clichés, and politics by buzzwords, all familiar cultural forms.
Based on the underlying crisis and its causes, the editors and authors of these essays agree that neither law nor democracy can survive where the empire of force dominates. Yet each manages to find a ground for hope in our legal and democratic culture.
H. Jefferson Powell is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Divinity at Duke University and has served in both the federal and state governments, as a deputy assistant attorney general and as principal deputy solicitor general in the U.S. Department of Justice and as special counsel to the attorney general of North Carolina. His latest book is Constitutional Conscience: The Moral Dimension of Judicial Decision.
James Boyd White is Hart Wright Professor of Law emeritus and Professor of English emeritus, at the University of Michigan. His latest book is Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force.
"An extraordinary collection of provocative, insightful, and inspiring essays on the future of law and democracy in the twenty-first century."
---Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law, University of Chicago
"These thoughtful essays diagnose democracy's perilous present, and---more importantly---they explore avenues to democracy's rescue through humanization of law."
---Kenneth L. Karst, David G. Price and Dallas P. Price Professor of Law Emeritus, UCLA
Martin Böhmer, Universidad de San Andres, Buenos Aires, Argentina
M. Cathleen Kaveny, University of Notre Dame
Howard Lesnick, University of Pennsylvania
The Honorable John T. Noonan Jr., Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
H. Jefferson Powell, Duke University
Jedediah Purdy, Duke University
Jed Rubenfeld, Yale University
A.W. Brian Simpson, University of Michigan
Barry Sullivan, Jenner and Block LLP, Chicago
Joseph Vining, University of Michigan
Robin West, Georgetown University
James Boyd White, University of Michigan
The Legal Imagination
James Boyd White University of Chicago Press, 1985 Library of Congress KF250.W452 1985 | Dewey Decimal 808.06634
White extends his theory of law as constitutive rhetoric, asking how one may criticize the legal culture and the texts within it.
"A fascinating study of the language of the law. . . . This book is to be highly recommended: certainly, for those who find the time to read it, it will broaden the mind, and give lawyers a new insight into their role."—New Law Journal
In 2013, an international group of jurists gathered in London to mark the 40th anniversary of the publication of James Boyd White’s The Legal Imagination, the book that is widely credited with instigating and inspiring the modern “law and literature” and “law and humanities” movements in university teaching and research. The authors of each of the twelve essays in this collection offer a personal reflection on teaching, researching, and practicing law in the light of White’s invitation to reimagine the law and our own relationship with it. Each is therefore a personal response to the challenge of bringing legal work to life and life to legal work. Topics covered range from rhetoric to human rights, from silence to slow reading, from film to material culture, and from the natural world to the realm of religious experience. This book hopes to make life in the law more meaningful for the scholar, the judge, the attorney, and the student, following the sometimes hard path that James Boyd White set for himself to follow.
"A real pleasure. . . . Reading this book was like revisiting a country I thought I knew well with a guide who could show me all kinds of delights I had missed in my previous sojourns. . . . A terrific, engaging book." --Michael Schoenfeldt, author of Prayer and Power: George Herbert and Renaissance Courtship
"This Book of Starres" is one of those all-too-rare books in which an author's love of someone's work--in this case, the seventeenth-century English poet George Herbert--leads to a journey of exploration.
Herbert's poetry presents a special set of challenges: It is to the modern ear archaic, difficult in thought and structure, and entirely theological in character. Yet no poet is more deeply admired by those who know him well. "This Book of Starres" is meant to engage the reader in a process of reading by which this verse can be seen to be vivid and alive. It is the record of one person's life-changing involvement with the poetry of George Herbert; in this it is about not only how, but why we read great poetry.
"It is a joy to experience Herbert's poetry in the company of James Boyd White, whose affinity for the work is always convincing and seems at times preternatural. 'This Book of Starres' is a necessary pleasure: all readers of poetry, whether expert or inexpert, will find it enriching." --Alice Fulton
". . . both a delight to read, and one of the most instructive exercises in literature and theology I have read for a long time. . . . Herbert emerges as one of the greatest, a writer to test and change the imagination, the very way in which we think about the world and that which is beyond it." --Literature and Theology
James Boyd White is Hart Wright Professor of Law, Professor of English, and Adjunct Professor of Classical Studies, University of Michigan.
Through fresh readings of texts ranging from Homer's Iliad, Swift's Tale of a Tub, and Austen's Emma through the United States Constitution and McCulloch v. Maryland, James Boyd White examines the relationship between an individual mind and its language and culture as well as the "textual community" established between writer and audience. These striking textual analyses develop a rhetoric—a "way of reading" that can be brought to any text but that, in broader terms, becomes a way of learning that can shape the reader's life.
"In this ambitious and demanding work of literary criticism, James Boyd White seeks to communicate 'a sense of reading in a new and different way.' . . . [White's] marriage of lawyerly acumen and classically trained literary sensibility—equally evident in his earlier work, The Legal Imagination—gives the best parts of When Words Lose Their Meaning a gravity and moral earnestness rare in the pages of contemporary literary criticism."—Roger Kimball, American Scholar
"James Boyd White makes a state-of-the-art attempt to enrich legal theory with the insights of modern literary theory. Of its kind, it is a singular and standout achievement. . . . [White's] selections span the whole range of legal, literary, and political offerings, and his writing evidences a sustained and intimate experience with these texts. Writing with natural elegance, White manages to be insightful and inciteful. Throughout, his timely book is energized by an urgent love of literature and law and their liberating potential. His passion and sincerity are palpable."—Allan C. Hutchinson, Yale Law Journal
"Undeniably a unique and significant work. . . . When Words Lose Their Meaning is a rewarding book by a distinguished legal scholar. It is a showcase for the most interesting sort of inter-disciplinary work: the kind that brings together from traditionally separate fields not so much information as ideas and approaches."—R. B. Kershner, Jr., Georgia Review