Literature and the Law

Katherine Elder

ENGL 195
Core C1


Course Description:

The discourse of the law defines our understandings of identity and ethics, yet we rarely have an opportunity to study it in depth. This course will allow students to compare and contrast the role of storytelling in both legal and literary representations of crime and judgment. We will consider questions such as: How does the law authorize and restrict creative work through concepts like ‘obscenity?’ Why do stories of murder dominate American culture? How does a novel become legal evidence? Why does the law borrow from poetry? The goal of this course is to not only study the intellectual history of literature and the law, but also their effects in our everyday lives.


Faculty Bio:

Kate Elder is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Literature at UC Davis (expected Fall 2011), with a specialization in contemporary American law and literature. She has taught a number of legal ‘narratives’ at USF, in “Legal Fictions” in Fall 2003, and “Law and Literature” in Fall 2002, in addition to other English courses, including “Critical Analysis,” “Survey of American Literature and Methods,” “Ethics, Writing, Culture,” and “Survey of Women’s Literature.” A particular focus of all of her courses at USF has been the question of ethics and the representation of justice.

Kate Elder has presented multiple papers on law and literature at the Law, Culture and the Humanities Association Conferences. Her work is focused on the representation of torture in contemporary American law and literature. In her dissertation, a study of Alien Tort Statute cases (in which an alien can sue an alien in a United States court for the crime of torture committed beyond its borders), she argues that literary narratives of torture also globalize the nation. Reading the novels of Leslie Marmon Silko, Chang-Rae Lee, and Edwidge Danicat, among others, with Filártiga v. Peña-Irala and its ‘progeny,’ she suggests that the contemporary ‘body in pain’ is transforming American courts and canons.