Faculty Bookshelf: Ravit Reichman

The Affective Life of Law: Legal Modernism and the Literary Imagination

Ravit Reichman


Unhampered by the practical limits lawyers and judges face, literature expresses the unspoken sentiments that underpin legal doctrine. Through readings of Virginia Woolf, Rebecca West, and Hannah Arendt, as well as legal opinions and treatises, this book considers both law and literature as necessary complements in the efforts to take responsibility for the loss and damage inflicted by war. Ravit Reichman expertly charts the terrain that underwrites the law, proposing that the traumas, anxieties, and hopes that shape a culture's relationship to justice are realized in more than practical legal terms alone.

Between the world wars, traditional notions of responsibility proved inadequate to address postwar trauma. Legal changes, following changes in literary language, placed new demands on writers to tell the story of law's response to wartime atrocities, and literature began to encourage readers to imagine the world not as it is, but as it ought to be. Our understanding of concepts such as Crimes Against Humanity or Crimes Against the Jewish People is a legacy of modernism's relationship to narrative and subjectivity. The Affective Life of Law examines the inheritance of this legacy.


"For while most of the energy in this book comes from its engagement with literature its distinctive character comes from the way literature and the structures of consciousness illuminate the aspirations of law."—John Brigham, Law & Politics Book Review

"Reichman (English, Brown U.) explores the relationship between legal and literary modernism, arguing that literary modernism's engagement with subjectivity and responsibility in the interwar period, paradigmatically represented by Virginia Woolf's trilogy of Jacob's Room, Mrs. Dalloway, and To the Lighthouse, helped set the stage for legal modernism's grappling with the same issues in the postwar era, as evidenced by the writings of Hannah Arendt on the trial of Adolf Eichmann."—Book News

"Reichman reveals the decisive role literature has played in the development of modern law. Her close analysis of modernism in post-war reconstruction is interesting and profound and will have a significant, lasting impact on the future study of modernist literature." —Piyel Haldar, University of London

ISBN: 9780804761666