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Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing is Architecture First, Interior Design is Secondary: On Trains, Houses & Pyramids

That's a variation on Hemingway, again. I posted a few days ago a fun, though a bit random list of quotes about writing (oh the Internet, where curating quotes has become the soul-less pastime of too many who've never actually read those they quote. May we always quote soulfully is my wish to us prawfs and writers at large...). Hemingway said prose is architecture, not interior design and that the Baroque is over. I think he meant that the substantive of what you want to say needs to guide the writing and that you need to write in a punchy concise way, avoiding fluff for merely decorative purpose. Say what you mean and mean what you say and get rid of all the garnish. I like garnish and I think interior design is important too. I'd even argue for bringing a bit of Baroque back (Bach J), carefully . But I completely agree that the structure is first and foremost in writing a good article or book. The bare bones are the piece of the writing puzzle that needs to be done right.

Today I spoke with my seminar students about their research projects and I thought I'd offer here, as a second installation of posts about writing, the metaphors I use with my students to help us think about structure. One of my favorite teachers in law school, who later became one of my doctoral advisors, was Martha Minow. I remember her telling us in a seminar on law and social justice, similar to the one I teach today, that you can write a house or a train. I think she said houses are what books look like and trains are articles. I don't agree with that division, I think both articles and books can be houses or trains. But the visual I've always found useful in thinking about what I am doing and how to build my project. If you are building a house, you take the reader with you through a pathway into a place where you have a nice entrance, a main hall and some public spaces, and then doors, and windows into rooms, each holding an interesting set of ideas about a related topic. Together the house makes sense but each room also stands on its own. If you are building a train, you think linearly about your project. It could be chronological or it could be a problem in search of a solution and the solution unfolds as your present and analyze layers of evidence, perhaps empirical data, theoretical arguments, policy claims. To the houses and trains I added today in class the visuals of pyramids and reverse pyramids. In every discipline, a good portion of research involves the qualities of lumping or splitting. In legal scholarship, often insights come from taking a broad issue, a broad base of a pyramid, a classifying and regrouping the issues to show how we actually have separate questions emerging from different subcategories and these should be addressed distinctly. We also often have insights when we look sideways, from a reverse pyramid narrow tip into horizontal fields, related topics that offer new insights. Research is often an import-export business.

I don’t know if these visuals are useful only to me or beyond but I’ve found that sketching my next writing project, including actually drawing stuff, not just outlining gets me into better architectural shape and only then can I begin to think about the décor.  

Posted by Orly Lobel on March 19, 2018 at 05:22 PM in 2018 Symposium: Future of Legal Ed, Blogging, Legal Theory, Life of Law Schools, Odd World, Teaching Law | Permalink


The main question indeed , should be , what purpose ,or ultimate purpose , architecture or interior design , serve actually . This is a hell of complicated issue , yet :

In dealing with legal writing , one must consider the navigation ( whether backward whether forward or side one ) as very crucial . This is because of the very simple fact , that the reader is always the main issue , the main purpose , always at the center . The reader must understand , solely , the view and analysis of the writer , and nothing else ( notwithstanding the issue of criticism of course , but first , understanding ) . No split between different and parallel universes . In an ordinary writing ( novel , romance etc…) the reader is not necessarily the center of the writing . The reader can draw his parallel universe , and engage for example in psychoanalysis of the story , of the heroes or the writer himself .

Legal writing ,is a highway of one way , drawing clear path between point A , to point B . You can't go wild !! Only the strict understanding of the reader of strict insights , are in focus .

So , you read an ordinary book , in one continuously shot , and get so intuitive impression , but , legal writing , demands all around navigation . Without architecture , there is no coherent navigation !! Simple as an apple !!


Posted by: El roam | Mar 19, 2018 6:37:20 PM

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