July 01, 2008
Law, Literature and Business Part I
Posted by Usha Rodrigues

Thanks to the Glom for inviting me back! As Gordon indicated, I’ve got quite a bit going on this summer, and I’m hoping it will prove fruitful blogging fodder.

First off, yes, I’m teaching Law, Literature, and Business. The backstory: my generous associate dean, Paul Kurtz, okayed a course with this title even though he knew that I knew that I had no idea what I was going to teach in it. Every third year, we at Georgia teach a 2-credit “floater course” on a subject that flows from our research. This topic has been on my mind for a while. I hope the course will work as kind of pre-reading, to get me up to speed to be able to write an article next summer.

As I started reading (ok, skimming) my way through law and lit articles and books, I realized that the subject could be broken into at least 2 strands, one focusing on content—trials and lawyers in literature (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird)—and one on applications of literary theory. I’ll focus on the content side in this post.

The content approach is problematic for the transactionally-minded. I just haven’t found many deal lawyers or transactions depicted in literature. The dazzling exception that proves the rule? Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener. Subtitled A Tale of Wall Street, it is close to ideal: short, beautifully written, wry, and weird. The narrator is a transactional lawyer, and although the tasks of scriveners are obsolete, I suspect that for many a corporate associate the drudgery of Bartleby’s life, and the narrator’s choice never to “address a jury or in any way draw down public applause”, but instead “do a snug business among rich men’s bonds, and mortgages, and title deeds,” may resonate.

At the suggestion of colleague Paul Heald, I read Richard Power’s novel Gain, which traces the history of a soap making empire from family business through public company conglomerate, interspersed with a very personal narrative of a woman’s struggle with cancer that may have been caused by chemicals from the self-same soap company. It’s not as anti-corporate America as that juxtaposition suggests, and it nicely captures the drama and desperation of business-building. It's on the list.

But novels tend to be long, and I want to cover several depictions of business in literature. So I decided to assign at least 2 movies. One seems to have to be Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. The other? I’m currently thinking about the Insider (which I haven’t seen yet), or Glengarry Glen Ross.

Am I wrong about the dearth of transactions and business lawyers in novels? Are there movies I’m missing? Please tell me.

Unless, of course, you’d prefer not to.

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