Other Departments Comp Lit 240: Poetic Justice: Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Literature in the Shadow of the Law

Tu 3:35-6:15, Remote. Instructor: Eric Naiman.

Units: 3

Offered as Comparative Literature 240 or Law 219.4-001

In this seminar, offered jointly under the auspices of the Law School and Comparative Literature, we will examine some of the conceptual and thematic places where literature and law cross over into each other’s domain. The focus will be on novel reading – Crime and Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov, Pnin and Lolita – and on texts where crime, judgment and punishment assume particular procedural, narrative, moral or metafictive importance. We will pay particular attention to the themes of transgression, healing and vengeance and how they play out in legal and metafictive contexts. We will discuss cases where ethics and aesthetics pull in opposite directions – where bad or even good writing can be a crime. Dostoevsky’s legal commentaries – the Kornilova and Kairova cases – will also be addressed. We will search for conceptual cross-over points – what happens to notions of privacy, surveillance, even jurisdiction in a literary text. We will examine permutations of the relationship between author and hero and author and reader; are these relationships adversarial, contractual, erotic? The crucial texts will be the novels, the essential procedure will be close reading (both prosecutorial /aggressive and protective/deferential), but we will also read several works of literary theory as well as scholarly attempts to link literature and law. The course will seek to foster an exchange of views between graduate students in the humanities and law students on the value, cost and significance of engaging with legal issues in literary texts. How might literary scholars benefit from reading like lawyers, and vice versa?

3 Hours/week (1 session); open to graduate students in the humanities and to law students. No particular background in law or comparative literature is required, but students should be prepared to read up to 250 pages of fiction a week. All participants will lead occasional oral discussions.

Learning goals include cultivation of close reading skills and of interdisciplinary approaches to interpretation, the questioning of rigid disciplinary boundaries, an understanding of the importance of humanistic inquiry to legal studies, and an appreciation for the benefits (and difficulties) implicit in using aesthetic categories to resolve ethical questions and vice versa.

The instructor received his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages from Berkeley and his J.D. from Yale. He is a Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Berkeley, as well as a retired member of the Massachusetts Bar.

Attendance at the first class is mandatory for all currently enrolled and waitlisted students; any currently enrolled or waitlisted students who are not present on the first day of class (without prior permission of the instructor) will be dropped. The instructor will continue to take attendance throughout the add/drop period and anyone who moves off the waitlist into the class must continue to attend in order not to be dropped. NB This course is run on the Law School Calendar.  This means that the first day of class will be August 18 and the last day will be November 17.