October 6, 2014

Engaging With the Work of James Boyd White

Announcement of a new publication from the imprint Maize Books, a division of University of Michigan Press:

Living in a Law Transformed: Encounters with the Works of James Boyd White
Edited by Julen Etxabe and Gary Watt.

From the Editors' Introduction:

In March 2013, the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities (ASLCH) convened its annual conference in London. It was the first time that the conference had been held outside the United States, and, with a happy correspondence, it fell in an important anniversary year for a U.S. scholar who has profoundly influenced legal thought and practice far beyond his home horizons. 2013 marks the fortieth anniversary of the publication of James Boyd White’s The Legal Imagination, of which we will shortly say more. 2013 is also, incidentally, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the “publication” of the man himself. The present collection of essays draws together a group of scholars who have gathered in gratitude to the works, wisdom, and personal warmth of Professor James Boyd White. Contributors come from many countries—from The United States, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the Basque Country, and New Zealand.

We are delighted that the first contribution to the collection is from Jeanne Gaakeer, who at the 2013 conference joined the roll of distinguished winners of the ASLCH’s annual James Boyd White Award. Many of the contributors to this volume had the pleasure of meeting at the London conference, and for some of us, including one of the editors of this collection, that was the first occasion of their meeting face-to-face with the man himself after several years of correspondence. For other contributors it was a welcome chance to meet again the tutor, colleague, and friend whom they know simply as Jim. Indeed, a very good thing about Jim White is that, thanks to his lack of pretension and the clarity of his communication, students and scholars can know him “simply.” Having said that, it is only through serious attention that we come to appreciate the deep challenges that lie beneath the simple things he has to say about living in the law. It is with that effort of attention, and not only to celebrate amity and anniversaries, that we present this publication of twelve essays.

The main title of our book, Living in a Law Transformed, is intended to remove the artificial barrier that we all too often erect between our life and our work. If we see work in purely metric terms of so-called human resources, as being those hours that we do not devote to love and leisure and all the rest of life, what damage do we do to true human resources? The answer is that we make a wasteland of the world of work, and thereby deaden a huge portion of our lives. Even more dangerous than that, we deaden the lives of the students, clients, and colleagues who meet us in the law. What a difference would it make for those of us who work as jurists, if we were to acknowledge that we (and our clients, colleagues, and students) are bound to live in law? What a difference might it make if we were to bring our life to work and bring our work to life? James Boyd White challenges us to ask such questions as these.

One of the threads that weaves its way through this collection is that an integration of life and law has transformed the contributors’ experience as scholars, students, and teachers, as well as our vision of law. This collection of essays therefore constitutes an invitation to encounter White’s work—and the contributors’ collective experience of their own encounters—as an experience of living in a law transformed. For just as Odysseus had to learn to recognize Ithaca at his return, White invites us to look at the law anew and to learn to recognize it as something like our own true home.

James Boyd White’s The Legal Imagination is widely regarded as the founding document of the modern “law and literature” movement. It is therefore appropriate that this collection should start and move from there. The movement takes us through narrative critique, with special attention to critical readings of law as literature. From there, the collection moves to consider the potential for meaningful experience that is to be found in the spaces and silences that exist within and around text and speech. The next group of chapters engages with extratextual sources; the authors travel with White toward an appreciation of paintings, places, movies, and even a simple stone in a stream. This leads us, finally, to the place of practice, not only in the classroom, the court, or the lawyer’s office, but wherever we live and work. Thus the journey of the book leads to hope of real transformation.

More here. 

The text is free online.

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