Leiden Law Blog

Politics & Poetics – a philosophical bridge between law and literature

Politics & Poetics – a philosophical bridge between law and literature

Readers of this blog have heard me harp on about the importance of Greek tragedy for the law curriculum (See: What have the Greeks ever done for us?). Literature as a bona fide good in law school is connected to all sorts of competencies necessary for practising law (see: ‘Not writing nothing no more’: remedial instruction necessary for law BA).  But it is also connects to the need for law to be humane, to serve both the common and individual good, insofar as possible. Justice, goodness, fairness, guilt and other moral values do not usually get defined within the law itself. They are more often borrowed into law from culture, history, or religion. Our collective understandings of these moral virtues (and indeed the vices too) have been mediated by way of literature. Uncle Tom’s Cabin is a case in point, regarding the moral wrongness of slavery, which was at the time perfectly legal.

Literature is full of law and legal cases. Just think of the great trial towards the end of The Brothers Karamazov, or the Count’s entreaties to Haydée about slavery’s territorial legality and thus her freedom in Paris in The Count of Monte Cristo, or the Merchant of Venice’s famous determination concerning ‘a pound of flesh’. There is also a ‘literature’ on law and the ‘literature’ of law itself. Even though they are two of the most engaging and important spheres of our lives, the legal and the literary aspects of human existence – or more broadly speaking, the politics and the poetics – tend to be compartmentalized. There are often legitimate reasons for this: after all literature is not law and law is not literature. They should not be confused. Yet there should be a place where they can converse.

After all, the ordering of political life by laws and the literary pursuits of human persons are two of the most unique and ancient of our customs and habits, which seem even to have often emerged together. Homer and Solon come to mind, the latter of whom was both lawmaker and poet, both in service of the polis. It was a philosopher, Aristotle, who also lived in Athens that gave us the classic sketches of political and legal philosophy as well as literary criticism. The two specific discourses on politics and poetics, for which he is rightly famous for helping to begin, have since rarely been handled by one philosopher. More recently, it is rare that even one department at a university deals in both. But there is no reason in principle why it could not be done.

It was with these thoughts in mind that, about a year ago, I decided to lay the foundations of a philosophical journal that attempted to bridge the gap between legal/political discourse and the various discourses surrounding literature and literary criticism. The result is a new peer-reviewed journal, Politics & Poetics, which seeks to reconcile these discourses in the life of the political and literary animal, namely, the human person. The inaugural edition is co-edited by scholars from the Universities of Oxford and Warsaw as part of the Humane Philosophy Project, as well as a managing editor who is a Master’s student in philosophy at Leuven. If you are interested or want to contribute, the call for papers is below.

Politics & Poetics – call for papers

Politics & Poetics, a new peer-reviewed journal of the humanities with a focus on philosophy, invites high-quality submissions on the topic of Tragic Poetry for its inaugural edition.

Politics & Poetics seeks articles that engage with questions of interest both to readers specialising in the relevant field and a wider academic audience.

The topic for the inaugural edition is Tragic Poetry. The editors request submissions that approach this subject philosophically. However, authors need not limit themselves purely to tragic poetry, and articles addressing tragedy in the broader context of poetry, the arts, and their relationship with philosophy, will also be considered. Articles are expected to be of professional quality. Excellent submissions from students are encouraged. The best article by an undergraduate or graduate student to be selected for publication will be awarded a prize of 200 GBP. The editors seek around seven articles and five book reviews for the first edition. If you wish to review a book relating to tragic poetry please contact the editors who will be happy either to suggest a suitable book or to consider suggestions from potential authors.

The historical precedent for philosophical engagement with tragic poetry stretches back to Plato and Aristotle. Plato famously bans the poets from his Republic, though he himself began his literary career as a poet-playwright. By contrast, both Aristotle’s Politics and his Poetics give tragic poetry an important role in moral education and the polis. Later philosophers have emphasised the importance of the historical emergence of tragic poetry to our understanding of human nature. In The Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche returns to Athenian tragic drama, identifying in it the unification of the Dionysian and the Apollonian drives. Rene Girard grounds his philosophical anthropology in the role which tragic art plays in stemming mimetic violence. More recently in Shame and Necessity, Bernard Williams expounds and defends the conceptual framework of Ancient Greek ethics as recovered from the Athenian tragedies. Williams claims that present-day ethical thought is closer to that of classical antiquity than is commonly supposed. Likewise Martha Nussbaum in The Fragility of Goodness presents a distinctive picture of morality drawn from works of tragedy.

Subjects which authors may wish to focus on include:

  • Tragic poetry and the origins of justice (or law)
  • Tragic poetry and the polis
  • Tragic poetry as a form of art
  • Tragic poetry and early society
  • Tragic poetry and postmodernity
  • The problem of tragic pleasure
  • Tragic poetry and religion (or theology)
  • Anthropological views on tragedy
  • Tragic poetry and the second person perspective
  • Aesthetic value of tragic poetry
  • The distinction between the tragic and the merely horrible
  • Defining the tragic
  • Scapegoating, sacrifice, and tragic poetry
  • Tragic poetry and philosophical anthropology
  • Tragic poetry, Greek theatre, and the performative aspects of personhood

Information for Authors

Articles should be submitted as an email attachment in rich text format to j.d.price@law.leidenuniv.nl and ralph.weir@bfriars.ox.ac.uk. The submission deadline is April 4, 2014.

Previously published articles and articles under consideration for publication elsewhere will not be considered for publication in Politics & Poetics. All articles are subjected to blind peer-review, and should be formatted for that: the submitted article itself should not indicate the identity of the author; and a separate cover sheet should be provided stating the author’s name and affiliation of the author (if any). The author may include a CV, but this is not required. Submissions should also include an article abstract of about 200 words. Articles should be between 2000 and 8000 words in length including footnotes. Footnotes should be numbered sequentially throughout the article. Font size should be 12, in a serif font. It is not necessary for manuscripts to conform strictly to our style guidelines on initial submission (full style sheet available upon request). However, the author must ensure that articles meet these standards prior to publication. The editors aim to inform authors of the results of their submission within two months of submission.

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