Jun 18, 2024  
2023-2024 Catalog 
2023-2024 Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

ENG 386 - Law, Literature, and Film


Law, Literature, and Film: The Narrative Structure of Trials builds off and borrows heavily (including the subtitle) from the monumental Legal Fictions seminar taught by Prof. Randy Nelson before his retirement in 2018.  Prof. Nelson’s course started from the premise 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 telling 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.”  

This course will also keep Prof. Nelson’s emphasis on contemporary literary theory as it applies to courtroom proceedings/narratives, his insistence on  direct observation of some real trials in progress in the Charlotte area, and his requirement that the course textbooks include  transcripts of real trials to complement literary trials.  I will add film to literature and arrange the course in thematic units on the trial as a story (Billy Budd, The Trial), crime of passion (Virginia vs. Bobbitt,  Brossard/Stern, K. M. Nanavati vs. State of Maharashtra),  insanity plea (Anatomy of a Murder, Primal Fear), women and the law (A Jury of Her Peers, Kramer vs. Kramer, The Crucible),  race and representation (Amistad/”Benito Cereno”/O.J. Simpson/The Wrong Man),   censorship (portions of Ulysses, Women in Love, and Tampa (Florida vs. LaFave),  the rhetoric of (scientific) evidence (a CSI episode),  the styles of dissent in judicial opinions (Cardozo, Kerr, Tushnet).  Three other units will be chosen by the students from a list of questions we will compile on the first day of class.  Proposed ones so far:  Can your texts to a person who later commits suicide get you convicted of involuntary manslaughter (Conrad’s Law)?  Can your Google search history be seen as constituting intent to commit homicide  (Iowa vs. Mullis)? What is the role of scientific evidence in courtroom proceedings (language of medicine/psychology vs. language of the law)?   Does court TV have any effect on juries? What would happen if we abolished the Supreme Court?

The levels of student enthusiasm for these units will determine the organizing model for the course.

Satisfies Global Literary Studies interdisciplinary minor.