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Friday, January 06, 2023

More "Useless" Writing, Please!

This piece by Maksymilian Del Mar, beautifully titled "The Most Useless Book in the History of International Law"--who would not want to get a review with a headline like that!?!--is lovely. It's a review of Gerry Simpson's book The Sentimental Life of International Law: Literature, Language, and Longing in World Politics. I give due credit to the book that inspired it, but in the meantime the review is certainly the most interesting and useful piece of legal scholarly writing I have read in a year or two. It is, somewhat rhapsodically, a tribute to the kind of writing about law we ought to expect, and expect from ourselves, not just in international law but in any area: writing that "draws on and hunts down the awkward spaces, the misshapen, the perverse, the absurd, the accidental, the incongruous, the irrelevant, the irreverent, the 'obscure,' the 'muddy'"; that is "'playful[ ], rebellious[ ], [and] scurrilous[ ]," "speculating, hesitating, postulating, hypothesizing, punning, fantasizing, gossiping, juxtaposing, quipping, raconteuring, [ ]delighting in indirection or even misdirection"; writing that is ironic and comic; writing touched by the spirit of Diogenes; writing that skips "solemnity and high-mindedness." 

Del Mar ends up somewhere different than I might, as no doubt does Simpson. But, if for different reasons, I can endorse his conclusion: "Literature, it turns out once again, is of crucial ethical and political value: it enables us to combine self-critique and hope, while enjoying ourselves. What could be more important—dare I say, more useful—than that?" I'm not sure the writing described is needed now more than ever; it's always needed--there is never enough irony in American letters, and barely any of it in the academy--and no era doesn't count as a "now more than ever" era to those who are experiencing it. But I can say with confidence that many legal academic writers feel, or profess to feel, that their writing ought to be "useful"--and that I've seen no evidence whatsoever that "solemnity and high-mindedness" actually are useful qualities in any tangible sense. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 6, 2023 at 10:36 PM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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