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The Rhetoric of Law

Austin Sarat and Thomas R. Kearns, Editors

Publication Year: 1994

Law is a profession of words. Simultaneously celebratory of great prose and dogmatically insistent on precise usage, law is a stage for verbal virtuosity, linguistic mastery, and persuasive argument. Yet the linguistic display is not without substance: the words of law take on a seriousness virtually unparalleled in any other domain of human experience. The Rhetoric of Law examines the words used in legal institutions and proceedings and explores both the literary aspect of legal life and the role of rhetoric in shaping the life of the law. The essays in The Rhetoric of Law reflect the diverse influences of literary theory, feminism, and interpretive social science. Yet all call into question the rigid separation of rhetoric and justice that has been characteristic of the philosophical inquiry as far back as Plato. As a result, they open the way for a new understanding of law--an understanding that takes language to be neither esoteric nor frivolous and that views rhetoric as essential to the pursuit of justice. This volume provides a bracing reminder of the possibilities and problems of law, of its capacity to engage the best of human character, and of its vulnerability to cynical manipulation. Contributors are Lawrence Douglas, Robert A. Ferguson, Peter Goodrich, Barbara Johnson, Thomas R. Kearns, Austin Sarat, Adam Thurschwell, James Boyd White, and Lucie White. Austin Sarat is William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Jurisprudence and Political Science, Amherst College. Thomas R. Kearns is William H. Hastie Professor of Philosophy, Amherst College.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Series: The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought


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pp. vii

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Editorial Introduction

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pp. 1-27

"Law;" Gerald Wetlaufer claims, "is the very profession of rhetoric:'1 It is "a profession of words."2 Once uttered, these descriptions of law seem commonplace. They conjure up familiar images of obscure legal jargon and Dickensian evocations of law's sometimes absurd preoccupation with form over substance. At...

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Imagining the Law

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pp. 29-55

My aim in this paper is to trace out a certain line of thought about what it might mean to think of law rhetorically.1 In doing this I shall be resisting the impulse, quite common in our culture, to see the law from the outside, as a kind of intellectual and social bureaucracy; rather I am interested in seeing it from the inside, as it appears to...

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Antirrhesis: Polemical Structures of Common Law Thought

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pp. 57-102

The call for a return to the method, style, and goals of rhetoric within contemporary legal studies has been marked by a certain conformity of purpose. While rhetoric is appropriately and variously understood to be a discipline concerned with argumentation (dialectic), persuasion, and action, its practical value to the study of law is almost...

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Becoming American: High Treason and Low Invective in the Republic of Law

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pp. 103-133

The trial transcript deserves to receive some of the same attention that the judicial decision currently enjoys in rhetorical analysis.1 If transcripts are decidedly more opaque, less accessible, and less dramatic than final opinions, they are richer in the range of commentary that they include, and they tell us much about the choices made in...

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Speaking of Death: Narratives of Violence in Capital Trials

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pp. 135-184

[To view this essay, refer to the print version of this title.]

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Ordering Voice: Rhetoric and Democracy in Project Head Start

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pp. 185-223

Part of my job involves teaching basic courses to first-year law students. Many of these students have studied legal and social theory as undergraduates. Their life experience has taught them that the law denotes tangles of cultural meaning, as well as systems of rules. Yet when they enter law school, these students will often repress what...

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Constitutional Discourse and Its Discontents: An Essay on the Rhetoric of Judicial Review

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pp. 225-260

To speak of the rhetoric of law suggests two meanings of the concept of rhetoric. The first conjures the craft of the lawyer--the ability to twist and manipulate words for the purposes of winning a court case or a jury's favor. This notion of rhetoric finds its earliest elaboration in Plato's Gorgias, where Socrates dismisses rhetoric as a superficial...

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The Alchemy of Style and Law

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pp. 261-274

From my two epigraphs, it can be deduced that my subject is the relationship between madness and the existence of the impersonal book, between verbal alchemy and autobiography, between dream and sacrifice....

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Reading the Law

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pp. 275-332

"Poetry makes nothing happen," mourned W. H. Auden, reflecting in verse on the death of William Butler Yeats on the eve of the Second World War.1 Even the mythmaking of as great a national poet as Yeats could not heal Ireland's communal madness; much less could it stave off the coming global catastrophe. One hears in Auden's...


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pp. 333


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pp. 335-341

E-ISBN-13: 9780472023677
E-ISBN-10: 0472023675
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472083862
Print-ISBN-10: 0472083864

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 1994

Series Title: The Amherst Series in Law, Jurisprudence, and Social Thought