Who Are You To Judge? Modernist Fiction and Judgment

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Course Description

Who is allowed to judge? Who is capable of it? Can the individual who judges separate herself from the judged? And by what law, category, and ethical right does judgement take place? This course will examine in what ways judgement, both juridical and social, becomes a problem in the twentieth century. By looking at questions of race, class, ethics, and philosophy, we will inquire into the social and political place of law, as well as its limitations.

This course will examine the problem of judgement through the lens of literary analysis. Literature is full of judgments. The fictional world features countless ethical and juridical scenes of judgment, which call on us as readers to produce our own judgment and interpretation of the text itself. This course will examine how early twentieth-century literary texts interrogate the principles on which judgments are formed, the strategies through which they are executed, and the positions from which they are enunciated. Looking at novels, excerpts from court cases, philosophical and theoretical texts, films, and theater, we will investigate how the various social, political, and scientific transformations of the twentieth century stage a crisis in judgment. Finally, we will investigate ways in which reading literature and practicing law converge and differ. In what ways, for example, do the analytical practices of literary analysis and criticism lend themselves to the argumentative procedures of law? This similarity is both practical - many lawyers do in in fact study literature in college - and philosophical insofar as the attempt to interpret the underlying meaning of a text (whether a novel or the constitution) demands that we understand what a text is and how it comes to have a specific meaning.

Along with encountering all the above, students will also learn the essentials of literary analysis, academic research, the synthesis of intellectual materials, as well as the construction of an academic essay. They will be prepared to situate primary source material in the historical context from which it emerged as well as to identify the impact of that material on subsequent aesthetic works. This mode of synthetic and analytical thinking will help students in their studies of any humanities field as well as cultivate critical skills that will be useful in any form of academic study - not least of all study in the law.


Course Information

  • Course Code: CEEL0912
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2019.

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