Law and Literature, syllabus for Spring 2017

The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition

Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi

Petinal Gappah, The Book of Memory

Glaspell’s Trifles, available on-line.

Year’s Best SF 9, edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, used or Kindle edition is recommended

The Metamorphosis, In the Penal Colony, and Other Stories, by Franz Kafka, edited and translated by Joachim Neugroschel.

In the Belly of the Beast, by Jack Henry Abbott.

Primo Levi, If This is a Man

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Novels and Stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, volume 1, also on-line.

I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov.

Death and the Maiden, Ariel Dorfman.

Juan Gabriel Vasquez, Reputations

Graeme Macrae Burnet, His Bloody Project

The Pledge, Friedrich Durrenmatt.

Ian McEwan, The Children Act


Movies: Difret, Court, The Chinese Mayor, A Separation


Same as last year's right? When I flunked out of law school I read "Paper Chase" or maybe it was the movie.

'The New English Bible, Oxford Study Edition'

Always a good choice, starting with the use of the plural when Yahweh talks about how if Adama and Eve eat from the Tree of Life, they would become like 'us.'

One hopes that A Separation will be with subtitles - dubbed films always lose something important, even if subtitles are not an optimal solution.

It's important to have good subtitles, too. I recall watching a subtitled Japanese film in which a character spoke the proverb 口は災いのもと, meaning "the mouth is the origin of disaster", but the subtitles read "confine your tongue or it will confine you". In my opinion that is a particularly poor rendering: if one wanted to stray from the literal translation to convey the meaning, surely something like "speak carelessly and you will suffer" would be more apt. Such occurrences also make me wish that subtitled films would include numbered/timestamped endnotes, which in this instance could note the liberty that was taken in the translation and give more detail if necessary.

The time stamped idea is quite good, actually.

I wish the readings were grouped by theme so that those who are not as familiar with the field can make better sense of the list.

This would be an interesting class to record and put online like Thoma does with his courses.

Are they meant to read thirty or forty pages of each book?

Probably as that is what Tyler does. IIRC he stated on one of his Conversations with Tyler that he seldom finishes any of the books he reads.

At the risk of sounding even more like a fawning sycophant, TC is so smart that he doesn't need to finish a book to judge its contents. Remember--and this is true--an average speed limit on a road is designed for an average driver, which includes the elderly, so if you've got quick reflexes you can actually safely drive faster than the posted speed limit. Likewise, most books are designed for IQs of 100 (or even less, they say in journalism you should write as if you're writing to a 12 year old) so naturally most books are padded with extra paragraphs that a smart fellow like TC can skim over or ignore, once he understand the book's theme. Works of major fiction like J. Joyces' Ulysses excepted of course, but nobody reads those classics.

I would be impressed if anyone this side of Tyler could read just the Bible in one semester.

How accurate is Sherlock Holmes for exploring law? I like Sherlock as much as anyone but it does seem to be more about the lies we like to tell ourselves about law rather than what law is or what it could be.

For example, most criminal cases are not extraordinarily complicated and difficult to unravel. The killer is either obvious or the killer will never be found in most cases. DNA, fingerprints, science has eliminated many cases that would have been unsolved years ago but that is still generally how things are even today.

More difficult is the expression you hear a lot on other crime shows, 'make a case'. As in "well we have a witness that says he was there, he had a motive, he can't account for where he was, that's enough to make a case against him". Consider the HBO series The Night Of, where the case against the protagonist was pretty strong but a Sherlock Holmes character would have uncovered the other possible 'real killer'. The system does not really care about the 'real killer', it cares about whether it can produce a case against someone. It's assumed as a matter of faith that more often than not this will be against the person who is actually guilty. But every now and then when someone with a lot of money is able to really pick apart a case line by line it gets easy to start having a doubt.

Finally how effective is Sherlock in real terms when it comes to reasoning? The schtick I notice on most of the dramatizations is that he is able to assemble an amazing narrative of what a person's been up too based on obscure observations (i.e. coffee stain on a napkin, a phone number smuged...why you must have caught the early train, had breakfast on it, a girl slipped you her number but you weren't interested but then changed your mind only to discover it got smuged....). While the amazing narrative fits the facts perfectly, it does always seem to have a logical fallacy, how about all other possible narratives that might also fit those facts, how can you eliminate those leaving just the one you came up with?

So is the purpose of Sherlock's inclusion here because the original literature is a lot different than the TV/movie versions or is it a commentary on law as it really isn't in real life or do you think Sherlock does in fact have something to illustrate about law?

Whenever someone asks me what movie contains the most accurate depiction of a trial, I always refer them to "Breaker Morant." It contains a masterful depiction of "motivated justice" that is is all too often present in the court room.

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