- Law, Mystery, and the Humanities: Collected Essays
A young scholar at one end of campus opens a literary theory primer to find, among others, sections on structuralism, feminism, post-colonialism, Marxism, and postmodernism. Supplanting any belief that there is a hermeneutic answer to textual interpretation, the literary scholar takes these philosophical tools and realizes an abundance of interpretive possibility. But there is no section on the law. As any of these perspectives, and some argue more so, the law influences daily interpretation of the human experience and human interaction itself; we all intermingle with law and its tendrils every day. At the other end of campus, a law student opens a survey of jurisprudence, thumbing through sections on naturalism, feminism, critical race theory, Marxism, and postmodernism. Similarly, any preconceptions that the law is black and white dissolve as these perspectives of legal interpretation reach lucidity. But there is no section on rhetoric or discourse, and certainly none touching the social sciences, linguistics, or Cartesian philosophy. Law, Mystery and the Humanities addresses this fissure, as it takes cues from not only the humanities and the law and culture movement, but also from jurisprudence. This collection, as editors Atkinson and Majury tell us, 'explore[s] law's relevance in [the] conversation that has long been taking place across the humanities.'
In essence, this collection promotes 'disciplinary tourism,' a phenomenon Julie Stone Peters identifies as profoundly rousing, intellectually. Though scholars like Peter Brooks and Wai Chee Dimock have already begun bringing these disciplines together, the kind of broad juxtaposition that this collection offers for interdisciplinary thought is indeed innovative. The dialogues between jurisprudential minds like James Boyd White and H.L.A. Hart [End Page 480] intersect law and culture sovereigns like Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns. Detective fiction collides with Constitutional interpretation, human rights poetry with legal reactions to disease and epidemic. The ambition of the collection is 'to recognize the centrality of a certain group of issues or questions in the disciplines commonly called "the humanities," and to explore the potential of law to contribute to an expanded understanding of those issues.' This project also recognizes the inverse relationship. That is to say, there is a real effort to present ways in which these larger themes and questions have influenced the law.
Rationality, dissent, suffering, and transcendence are the larger themes from which comparisons begin. Perhaps most apropos to the project is the section on dissent. As much of the collection touches on ways that the law and humanities might enrich one another, the section on dissent underlines the importance of seeking solutions while remaining philosophically malleable. For instance, Wright discusses the importance of the law's reliance on truth as a tool for social regulation and legitimacy while also describing the ways dissent operates within this framework. Shaking the mythology of law's meta-narrative does not necessarily destabilize law's project, in other words, as much as it endorses it. Dissent, as a rational alternative to reliance on legalistic truths, ironically, then, fosters what amounts to judicial otherness. The humanities have long discussed this kind of otherness as vital to conversations about power and identity politics. These kinds of comparisons are rife in this collection, and each section follows the last with logical acumen. Belleau and Johnson, for example, discuss 'noetic space' - space that comingles reason, emotion, and imagination to broader philosophical creativity. This debate impeccably prefaces Wright's discussion of political corruption in the same section, both of which situate Vellino's comments regarding Atwood's 'Footnote to the Amnesty Report on Torture.' Inasmuch as the contributors write provocative essays on law and the humanities, the editors arrange the contributions to maximum epistemological effect.
Law, Mystery and the Humanities plays intellectual matchmaker to the often diffident disciplines, and, staying true to its title, still allows for a good deal of intrigue. For all of the intelligent persuasion, there remains ample room for reader reflection and debate.
Dale Barleben, Department of English, University of Alberta