Law Schedule of Classes

NOTE: Course offerings change. Classes offered this semester may not be offered in future semesters.

219.4 sec. 001 - Poetic Justice: Dostoevsky, Nabokov and Literature in the Shadow of the Law (Fall 2023)

Instructor: Eric Naiman  (view instructor's teaching evaluations - degree students only)
View all teaching evaluations for this course - degree students only

Units: 3
Grading Designation: Graded
Mode of Instruction: In-Person


Tu 3:35 PM - 6:15 PM
Location: Law 134
From August 22, 2023
To November 21, 2023

Course Start: August 22, 2023
Course End: November 21, 2023
Class Number: 32175

Enrollment info:
Enrolled: 15
Waitlisted: 0
Enroll Limit: 16
As of: 02/07 02:03 PM

In this seminar, offered jointly under the auspices of the Law School and Comparative Literature, we will examine some of the conceptual and thematic places where literature and law cross over into each other’s domain. The focus will be on novel reading - Crime and Punishment, Lolita, Pnin - and on texts where crime, judgment and punishment assume particular procedural, narrative, moral or metafictive importance. We will pay particular attention to the themes of transgression, healing and vengeance and how they play out in legal and metafictive contexts. We will discuss cases where ethics and aesthetics pull in opposite directions - where bad or even good writing can be a crime. Dostoevsky’s legal commentaries - the Kornilova and Kairova cases - will also be addressed. We will search for conceptual cross-over points - what happens to notions of privacy, surveillance, even jurisdiction in a literary text. We will examine permutations of the relationship between author and hero and author and reader; are these relationships adversarial, contractual, erotic? The crucial texts will be the novels, the essential procedure will be close reading (both prosecutorial /aggressive and protective/deferential), but we will also read several works of literary theory as well as scholarly attempts to link literature and law. The course will seek to foster an exchange of views between graduate students in the humanities and law students on the value, cost and significance of engaging with legal issues in literary texts. How might literary scholars benefit from reading like lawyers, and vice versa?

3 Hours/week (1 session); open to graduate students in the humanities and to law students. No particular background in law or comparative literature is required, but students should be prepared to read up to 250 pages of fiction a week. All participants will lead occasional discussions.

Learning goals include cultivation of close reading skills and of interdisciplinary appr oaches to interpretation, the questioning of rigid disciplinary boundaries, an understanding of the importance of humanistic inquiry to legal studies, and an appreciation for the benefits (and difficulties) implicit in using aesthetic categories to resolve ethical questions and vice versa.

The instructor received his Ph.D. in Slavic Languages from Berkeley and his J.D. from Yale. He is a Professor of Comparative Literature and Slavic Languages and Literatures at Berkeley, as well as a retired member of the Massachusetts Bar.

Due to the nature of this class, real-time attendance is required (without an alternative way to earn equivalent credit) except in cases of illness or emergency.

Attendance at the first class is mandatory for all currently enrolled and waitlisted students; any currently enrolled or waitlisted students who are not present on the first day of class (without prior permission of the instructor) will be dropped. The instructor will continue to take attendance throughout the add/drop period and anyone who moves off the waitlist into the class must continue to attend or have prior permission of the instructor in order not to be dropped.

Requirements Satisfaction:

This is an Option 1 class; two Option 1 classes fulfill the J.D. writing requirement.

Exam Notes: (P) Final paper  
Course Category: General Courses

If you are the instructor or their FSU, you may add a file like a syllabus or a first assignment to this page.

No reader.

Required Books are in blue

  • Crime and Punishment
    Fyodor Dostoevsky
    Publisher: Vintage
    ISBN: 9780679734505
    e-Book Available: unknown
    Price: $13.99
    Note: prices are sampled from internet bookstores. Law-school Bookstore prices are unavailable at this time.
  • The Annotated Lolita
    Vladimir Nabokov
    ISBN: 9780679727293
    e-Book Available: unknown
    Copyright Date: To Be Determined
    Price: 13.99
    Note: prices are sampled from internet bookstores. Law-school Bookstore prices are unavailable at this time.
  • The Brothers Karamazov
    Fyodor . Dostoevsky
    ISBN: 9780374528379
    e-Book Available: unknown
    Copyright Date: To Be Determined
    Price: 14.99
    Note: prices are sampled from internet bookstores. Law-school Bookstore prices are unavailable at this time.
  • Problems of Dostoevsky's Poetics
    Mikhail Bakhtin
    Edition: 1984
    Publisher: Minnesota
    ISBN: 9780816612284
    e-Book Available: Unknown
    Copyright Date: To Be Determined
    Price: 20.00
    Price Source: Follett

Go to Course Search