Instructor R. Nelson
Legal Fictions. The principal claim of English 487 is that a trial is a text that can be read in much the same way that any other text can be read. Indeed, modern trials are in effect storytelling contests, with two competing "narrators" telling two versions of the same story to a captive audience. Understanding how, when, and to whom this story can be told takes some effort, however, because the language of trials is not the same as literary language and the conventions of legal storytelling are not literary conventions. Nevertheless, a great deal of contemporary literary theory (semiotics, narratology, deconstruction, and intertextuality in particular) offer genuine insight into the kinds of fictions that get constructed in a courtroom. This seminar tests a number of hypotheses about legal fictions, offers direct observation of some real trials in progress, and asks students to undertake research in the interdisciplinary areas where legal studies and literary studies overlap. Along the way we will read summaries and transcripts of great trials, explore the work of some insightful authors, and challenge prevailing opinions everywhere from the popular press to the Supreme Court.