January 19, 2017

Brooks on the Use of Narrative in the Interplay of Law and the Humanities

Peter Brooks, Center for Human Values, Princeton University, is publishing Clues, Evidence, Detection: Law Stories in volume 25 of Narrative (January 2017). Here is the abstract.
This essay raises questions about ways in which law and the interpretive humanities might intersect in such manner as to offer real insight one to another. Specifically, it addresses the use of narrative in the law, and its analytic study. Stories, I argue, are not events in the world, but the way we tell events, a crucial distinction sometimes unrecognized in legal opinions. Examples analyzed include the doctrine of “inevitable discovery” articulated by the Supreme Court in Nix v. Williams, juxtaposed to the creation of a seeming inevitability in the stories of Sherlock Holmes. These issues are further clarified through a discussion of historian Carlo Ginzburg’s reflections on the “huntsman’s paradigm” and the workings of “retrospective prophecy.” The essay then turns more closely to the analysis of narrative, particularly the end-determined nature of narrative meaning, and to the one Supreme Court case I am aware of that discusses narrative in an analytic way: Justice Souter’s opinion in Old Chief v. U.S. Further examples are drawn from rape adjudication (Rusk v. Maryland) and post-conviction petitions for relief (Mickens v. Taylor). If narrative, telling the facts, plays so important a role in law, shouldn’t the law arm itself with more tools in the analysis of narrative? The notion of law as language, including its grammar and its rhetoric, deserves a place in legal study.

Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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