Osnabrück Update: Law, Literature, and the Nation

Law, Literature, and the Cultural Presence of the Law,” a workshop convened by Claudia Lieb and Brook Thomas as part of the Summer School, has been examining the many possible relationships between law and literature by focusing on “the nation” as a site of disciplinary convergence.

The workshop’s well-structured reading list began by tracing the history of citizenship and the nation-state, and moved on to literary theory treating law and the nation, including work by Guyora Binder/Robert Weisberg and Homi Bhabha. As a “law and literature” case study, the workshop then examined E.E. Hale’s Civil War-era short story, “The Man Without a Country” (1863) in view of the historical controversy that inspired it: Clement Vallandigham, a Union politician, was arrested and punished for speaking out against the Civil War. The Vallandigham case sparked a “reply” by President Abraham Lincoln arguing that the government may, during times of rebellion, suspend habeas corpus, prohibit anti-war speech, and try protesters in military court. The case raised constitutional issues that have resurfaced several times in U.S. history, most recently, of course, during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Hale’s patriotic short story should interest those who study nationalism and citizenship. It concerns a young American man who speaks out against his country and is sentenced to spend the rest of his life never seeing or hearing another word about the United States. Over time, the man (named Nolan, a play on “no land”) feels the loss of his country deeply and by the end of his life is a fully reformed, though still exiled, patriot. Although the story is fictitious, Thomas notes, some readers took it to be true and its nationalistic message resonated widely; it was a staple of American high school curricula until the 1970s and has experienced something of a revival since 9/11.

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