Monday, February 5, 2007
Capers on Rethinking Historic Cases by "Reading Black"
Posted by Mary L. Dudziak
I. Bennett Capers, Hofstra, has posted a new article, Reading Back, Reading Black, which is forthcoming in the Hofstra Law Review. Here's the abstract: This essay builds on post-colonial theory and black literary theory to pose a pair of questions. If the reading of Western literature can be enriched by examining the great canonical texts through the lens of race, can a similar enrichment obtain from using a similar reading practice to read the law? Stanley Fish has argued that we each belong to interpretive communities, and that members of these communities are guided in their readings of texts by a common "consciousness," which produces interpretive "strategies [that] exist prior to the act of reading and therefore determine the shape of what is read." If this is true, what does it mean for the study of law to have a community of black readers? This essay engages these questions and attempts to describe a reading practice of reading black. To illustrate the reading practice, the essay examines two cases that do not appear to be engaged in "race work" at all, The Queen v. Dudley & Stephens, and Muller v. Oregon. The essay demonstrates that far from diminishing these opinions—these grand narratives, these master texts—reading black reveals other layers, other meanings, and in the process deepens and widens our understanding not only of the holdings of these opinions, but also the how and why of them.