English 120 - Fall, 2022

Law & Literature

Class Information

Instructor: Jerng, Mark
CRN: 52758
Time: MWF 11:00-11:50
Location: 202 Wellman
GE Areas: American Cultures, Governance, and History Domestic Diversity Writing Experience


1. Course Description

This course will explore a crucial intersection between law and literature: how they both imagine, speculate, legitimize, and make im/possible social relations that constitute citizenship, personhood, property, legal freedom, and horizons of justice. These legal and imaginative realities, especially in the U.S., have been founded through the political life of race, rights, gender, and economic formations of inequality. In order to analyze and re-imagine our horizons of freedom, sociality, and justice, we will examine legal texts (judicial opinions; oral argumentation; legislative texts), critical analyses of law and race, and literature ? specifically the work of speculative fiction writers.

Speculative fiction writers use a variety of methods to reimagine our collective reality: extrapolating from existing legal precedents and historical realities; using "what-if" scenarios in order to imagine otherwise, much like legal reasoning; engaging in utopia or dystopia to challenge what we think constitutes social order. Legal writing engages in multiple modes of reasoning in order to produce the authority of law: analogical; application of formal rules; precedent; arguments based in history; tort; counterfactual; speculation; the evidence of witness and testimony; and narrative. This course puts these two kinds of writing in dialogue in order to ask how they might illuminate one another toward critiquing and rethinking freedom, redress, rights, equality, and justice. We will focus throughout on the jurisprudence of civil rights, land, and legal personhood, which are bound up with legal formations of property, contract, and corporations. Thus we will read foundational court cases in racial and gendered jurisprudence such as Johnson v. M'Intosh, The Cherokee Nation v. the State of Georgia, Plessy v. Ferguson, Mashpee v. New Seabury Corp, Brown v. Board of Education, Korematsu v. United States, Bakke v. UC Regents, Lawrence v. Texas, Parents involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Schools District, among others. And we will read the fiction of writers such as Derrick Bell, Octavia Butler, Cherie Dimaline, Maxine Hong Kingston, Victor Lavalle, Ursula K. LeGuin, N.K. Jemisin, and Tom King.

II. Course Objectives

a) Read across a range of U.S. legal jurisprudence with attention to critical race understandings of the legal foundations and limits of contract, property, and personhood (Satisfies GE Area of American Cultures, Governance, and History)
b) Read across a range of speculative fiction writers with attention to specific themes shared by racial jurisprudence.
c) Develop reading skills in narrative and genre analysis with close attention to language, rhetoric, narrative strategies, uses of frames and perspectives, among others.
d) Develop reading skills especially in relation to legal argumentation and contexts: how examples are used; how terms are defined; gaps between the ?facts? of the case and argumentation.
e) Develop writing skills in textual evidence-based argumentation
f) Think creatively and critically about the intersections of law and literature on how we imagine and enforce claims on reality.

III. Student Learning Outcomes
1) Students will gain an understanding of legal reasoning; students will practice reading and analyzing legal cases.
2) Students will gain an understanding of the protocols of imagining in both legal and literary texts.
3) Students will show an understanding of writers' engagements with addressing complex social and political realities of colonial, environmental, racial, and gendered inequality especially as they shape ideas of personhood, contract, property, causation, and freedom (Satisfies the Domestic Diversity GE Requirement)
4) Students will demonstrate and improve skills in textual analysis and textual evidence-based argumentation through feedback on and revision of writing assignments (Satisfies the Writing Experience GE Requirement)


One Discussion Post on legal argumentation
One Discussion Post on legal themes within speculative fiction
One Discussion Post of student's choice
Two critical papers analyzing a legal case and a work of speculative fiction together (student are encouraged to build from their discussion posts for these two papers).


Kindred, Octavia Butler
The Marrow Thieves, Cherie Dimaline
The City We Became, NK Jemisin
Vision, Tom King