New programme on law, film, and literature opens with rich exploration of narrative and logic

27 November 2013
 
William Twining, Emeritus Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, last night delivered the inaugural lecture in a new programme on Law, Film, and Literature at Wolfson College, in which he raised intriguing questions regarding the relationship between evidence, narrative, and logic. 
 
Professor Twining drew on his long experience as a jurist and teacher in several leading UK and American law schools to explore the limits of the nascent law and literature movement. In confronting the relevance of the critical analysis of legal texts for socio-legal scholars, who are primarily engaged with actual social relations and institutions in ‘the real world’, he concluded that, “the interfaces between law and literature are extremely varied – some diletanttish; others very fruitful”. 
 
The interfaces between law and literature are extremely varied – some diletanttish; others very fruitful
 
Rejecting a reductionist approach, Professor Twining revealed how encounters with literary theory have influenced his own thinking as a jurist, in relation to standpoint and narrative. He argued that narrative and logic are fundamental in reconstructing past events, and that stories play an important role in advocacy and adjudication, but warned of the dangers of too much narrative in the courtroom. He showed how advocates and even judges sometimes use stories to appeal to stereotypes and prejudices, and that, “juries decide more by weighing the plausibility of competing stories than by analysing the evidence”.
 
juries decide more by weighing the plausibility of competing stories than by analysing the evidence
 
This raises difficult questions about the relationship between the worlds of ontology — relating to the facts of the case — and epistemology — or the means by which we ascertain the facts through evidence. Here, Professor Twining demonstrated the jurisprudential significance of the Italian writer Italo Calvino, given his ability through his complex narratives to retain the distinction between epistemology and ontology, while capturing the ambiguity and endless plurality of lived experience.
 
Eric Heinze, Professor of Law and Humanities at Queen Mary University of London, responded to Professor Twining’s insights with his own analysis of the contribution of Shakespeare to legal thought, before questions were taken from the audience.
 
The launch event opens a new programme to study the connections between law, film, and literature; and to question to what degree literature can enrich our understanding of the role of law in society. Incorporating issues of film, censorship, and free expression in developing countries, the programme will deliver a distinctly multidisciplinary perspective, offering opportunities for collaboration with the Cardozo School of Law, NY, as well as the Oxford Centre for Life-Writing at Wolfson College, established by the College President Professor Dame Hermione Lee. 
 
The FLJS programme incorporates our already popular series of book colloquia and film screenings, the next of which will be a reappraisal of Machiavelli’s seminal text The Prince, 500 years since its first publication, which will be held at Wolfson College on 9th December.
 
To register for this or other events, or to find out more about the programme, please visit the links on the right.