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Interview With M.C. Nussbaum by M. Cuccu

Interview With M.C. Nussbaum by M. Cuccu

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Published by gtvtavo
Entrevista a Martha Nussbaum
Entrevista a Martha Nussbaum

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Published by: gtvtavo on Aug 05, 2014
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ISLL Papers
 - Interviews
Copyright © ISLL - ITALIAN SOCIETY FOR LAW AND LITERATURE ISSN 2035 - 553X
 
I
 NTERVIEW WITH
M
ARTHA
C.
 
 N
USSBAUM
 
By Michele Cuccu (University of Sassari) M. Cuccu: To start I would like to congratulate you and your team for the excellent
organization and the interesting papers presented at this year’s conference on
the re
lationship between Law and Literature focused on “Gender, Law, and the British Novel”. This is the second year in a row you have organized a
conference on this topic, last year was focused on Shakespeare. Could you give some introductive detail on last yea
r’s conference and this year’s meeting? For example I found the central part of the conference
 particularly interesting when you, other professors and students played scenes
from “The Beaux' Stratagem” and “Mrs Warren's Profession”, the Interlude
from Mont
everdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”, and also the participation of
students in the conference as panelists. M. C. Nussbaum: Yes. The first thing to say is that we had had a longer series of classes on law and literature topics. The law school has a type of course, called Greenberg Seminars, which are informal, half-credit courses, offered in faculty
member’s homes. The point of it is to have a more informal type of class that
will bring the law students together with the professors in an informal atmosphere. And for about six years, Judge Posner and I had been teaching those seminars on law and literature topics. We did Shakespeare twice. We did Shaw once. We did Greek tragedy once. We did Oscar Wilde. And so the most recent time that we did Shakespeare, we included Richard Strier, who is a scholar in the English department.
 
ISLL Papers
 - Interviews
2
He helped us with the critical literature on Shakespeare. And because we were enjoying it so much, we decided it was a good time to have a conference. The law literature side of our law school had become more prominent. And so we  just thought it was a good time to make it more prominent still. So in consultation with Strier, we invited a bunch of scholars for literature and from law, and the Shakespeare conference was very suc
cessful. And we’re
 planning to publish a book as a result; Strier and I are working on the editing of it. And student papers were involved in that too.
Actually, that wasn’t the first time that we’ve had student papers at a
conference. The first time we had student papers was a conference on speech,  privacy, and the Internet, that I also co-organized, where those papers are coming out as a book with Harvard University Press now. And two of the student papers are actually in the book. So they were really first-rate. The result of that was that we decided that that was a really good feature of a conference, to give the students an opportunity to do scholarship and to have experience presenting their work in front of other people, and so we included that in the Shakespeare conference and then in this one. The theatrical component, well, I decided that we needed some way to get law
students to come who weren’t part of this small group that were already
studying law and literature. And since our keynote speaker was Justice Breyer from the Supreme Court, that was certainly going get them to come to that  panel. But I thought that they would get more involved still if there was a theatrical component. And it happened that Justice Breyer had named three plays that he wanted to talk about in the keynote panel. They were
 Hamlet 
,
 Measure for  Measure
 and
 As You Like It 
. And so I thought well, a very good way of getting the audience ready for that discussion is to perform one scene from each of these three plays. Now it happens that Posner is a very keen actor, and he and I had done play readings often. I mean, whenever we held one of these Greenberg seminars, we always had a last meeting that was a play reading.
So it wasn’t hard to take the next step and a
ctually do scenes that were fully staged. And of course, then the thing that I had to do was to get more faculty members involved and get them to be willing to memorize their parts. But Posner played two parts. He played Jacques in the
 As You Like it 
 scene, and he played Polonius in the
 Hamlet 
 scene. And Justice Breyer was a very good sport: he played the ghost in the closet scene from
 Hamlet 
 where the ghost makes just a brief appearance. But he was very nice. And he did his  job with great good will. And you can certainly see photographs from that, you can just look on our Web site, or I could send them to you, anyway, the whole video of those
 
ISLL Papers
 - Interviews
3
Shakespeare scenes is available on our Web site
1
.
So that’s how we did it in that conference. And then in
this one, I thought, well, that was so successful that we had better do it again. And the only difference was that I got even more people involved because I was getting a sense of which faculty members are really good at this sort of thing. And of course, I think they were really terrific. M. Cuccu: Thank you. Why do you think it is important to discuss and debate the connection between law and literature? M. C. Nussbaum: Well, I think there are a number of things, you know. I think the law and lite
rature movement isn’t a single thing. I think one thing is that literary works
are rich sources of information for the history of law. So knowing about literary works helps us see how some of the legal issues emerged and what was thought about them at the time. And at the same time, knowing about the law helps us understand the literary
works better. That’s a kind of new historicist approach to the literary works. But I myself think there’s something deeper to be gained. When you really
understand how human emotions are affected by legal doctrines and legal change, when you really see the complexities of the human situations that law addresses, then you have a less mechanical and more richly human awareness of the role of law in a society. So when I teach a whole course on law and literature, I always want to focus on the way that literature makes us aware of human complexity, of human emotion, of the importance of each individual struggle to lead a decent life, and that sort of thing. M. Cuccu: What perspectives do you see for the law and literature studies? In particular what perspectives can we draw from the law and literature studies in the academic area, in the teaching area, and also in public life? And what advantages could these areas have? M. C. Nussbaum: Well, you know, I think the first thing is we just have to keep it going. Because I think the law and literature movement started with a lot of enthusiasm. But now, you know, people are reading books less than they did  before. And I find my
law students often aren’t readers to the same degree
that they used to be. So I think the first thing that we have to do is just get people excited about it and keep
 – 
 get them reading and get them more involved. But then, I guess where I think where the advances should come is at this deeper philosophical level, that connects literature with moral philosophy, that talks about  perceptions of what is salient
 – 
 about the nature of the imagination.
1

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