Michael Brandon Lopez
The lives we live are grounded in perspective. As Fyodor Dostoevsky writes in Notes from Underground – a work that shattered the limits (and so expanded them) of fiction, "I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man."1 So begins Dostoevsky's nameless narrator's intense, haunting examination of his individual life, and through his perspective we come to understand and develop a framework for understanding our own lives. But perspective is hardly limited to the story-telling of professional authors — the law is patterned and built upon perspective.
As James J. White and Bruce W. Frier note in the preface to their textbook on contracts law,
So count your lucky stars. You are about to embark on the study of the most magnificent subject in the legal curriculum. There will be no slogging through dismal search and seizure cases like you will see in criminal procedure, nor wrestling with fat and fatuous federal statutes like you have to do in tax and patent law, nor any need to deal with trivial questions like George Carlin's right to utter nasty words. Here — by looking at their contracts — you get to see commerce, industry and individual activity parading before you in kaleidoscopic splendor.2
Individual human life (and all its interactions) reduced to text, and simultaneously text creating, imagining, and building upon the work of its authors into one of life, with implications and consequences for human living — this is the work of perspective.
When we set out as a Board to select a topic for the inaugural issue of the Journal of Law and Interdisciplinary Studies we were united by a common theme: the topic had to aspire to mirror our sense of what the Journal was about. We had to grapple with the myriad, complex, often uncertain ways of being in the world, the problems and solutions to pressing issues our society faces, and, as well, grasp the fundamental necessity and importance of understanding our individual and collective lives from an interdisciplinary perspective and approach — because a life is hardly law or, instead, as I suspect everyone knows, it is always law and. And our solution for what topic to promulgate for this innovative adventure presented itself directly before us — perspective.
We are fortunate to be aided and joined in our adventure into this new territory by a group of talented contributors who cheerfully responded to a request to write a response to the topic word of "perspective." That was all that we asked. And as their respective works illuminate, the question of perspective is as important and diverse as the responses we received to the topic word.
As Sanford Levinson's piece "Multiculturalism and Great American West: Some Ruminations" establishes, there is never an either/or dichotomy to deciphering perspective, and more consequentially, to view narratives, especially historical narratives, as such, is to miss the point. A story is as complex as the social dynamics which create it, and being attentive to this fundamental understanding means, in some ways, an awakening of self — because we are all a part of complex narratives; our individual narratives are grounded in past, present, and future, and to understand them is to understand others. Indeed, failure to comprehend this point can have violent consequences, and shatter (often fragile) communities — because only through an otherness of narrative can we fully understand our individual selves, and fully integrate into the communal narrative of which we are a part.
Patrick Gudridge's "Paper Tectonics" merges this idea into an understanding of the documentary basis upon which our lives operate. As perspective goes, whether it be told through a story, or written down on paper as in the form of a contract, those words and the acts and existences they struggle to document equally have the potential to shift, or alter entirely, our identities. But on a deeper level, Gudridge closely examines the existence we craft through a paper medium — and suggests some of the implications that arise (both in the law and beyond), from our diverse, complex, stationery interactions.
Narrative, paper, and history merge in Ian Ward's examination "Literary Jurisprudence," where working through the "subterranean" elements of creative works of fiction, carefully deduced threads emerge between the work of novelists, the social environment in which they lived, and the contemporary legal problems to which they were responding. Through a legal and literary critique, Ward's article elucidates important ways in which literature can affect our understanding of the law, and provides a base by which we might strive, through the merged zeitgeist of literature, history, social progress, and law, to improve our social communities.
And it is in Larry Woiwode's piece where we come to see the debt that law owes to literature (and the paper upon which it is written). Whether it is from the perspective of address in the court room between the various players to a litigation, or through understanding why we use "I" at certain points, instead of "You," or "He," Woiwode's article documents and demarcates the fundamental implications language has to alter perspective, and subsequently, to alter the dynamics of legal interaction.
As the reader progresses through the articles they might be struck by the difference, inter-connectedness, and variety of subject matter that each author brings to the collaborative table. But this should come as no surprise. As Ernest Hemingway notes in A Moveable Feast (a grand literary adventure in itself), "There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it."3 Hemingway in one sweep illustrates how, despite "the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other," there is nevertheless Paris. A place. And more than a place, a place where "there is never any ending."
The same can be said of perspective. We, each of us, in whatever capacity we live our lives, bring our individual ideas, memories, disappointments, hopes, and aspirations to bear upon not only individual problems, but collective, communal problems as well. This is why perspective is so important — recognizing that we each have it, but more importantly that it guides the lives we each live, and the relationships we enter into. It has the potential to define our community, and ultimately the contours and purpose of our individual existence. And it has significance for the law. Whether a law is good or bad, whether we should enforce any and all contracts entered into, or decide that certain social values must regulate (and so limit) our legal agreements. Important choices and life decisions, both legal and not, are made every day, and are made on the basis of perspective.
So it is with great ambition and purpose that we launch this first, inaugural issue of the Journal of Law and Interdisciplinary Studies, with the hope that it is received in the same sentiment by which it is sent: understanding. Because only through understanding ourselves, our individual perspectives, the history by which we have attained them and the aspirations that shape them, will we understand the laws we enact, the litigations we pursue, the judgments we make, and the societies we live and shape. Only through understanding our perspective can we hope to comprehend the moments of time we occupy, and the places we are meant to go.
So, as Hamlet so prophetically reminds his good friend Horatio about understanding, "And therefore as a stranger give it welcome."4
Michael Brandon Lopez
Grand Forks, North Dakota
Berkeley and Davis, California
*Michael Brandon Lopez is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Law and Interdisciplinary Studies.
1. Fyodor Dostoevsky Notes from Underground 1 (Mirra Ginsburg trans., Bantam Books 1992) (1864).
2. Bruce W. Frier & James J. White, The Modern Law of Contracts, at v (2nd ed. 2008).
3. Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast 211 (Scribner Classic/Collier Edition 1987) (1964).
4. William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 1, sc. 5, ln. 164.