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Literature and the Questions of Doing Justice or Making Law


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


This course focuses on the ways in which literature and law have been entangled from the very beginning in European and Western history. This entanglement concerned both law and justice. The difference between the two consists in the fact that the first implies a system or an order (an ordo ordinans) that aims for the rule of law whereas the second implies the desires of people to be done justice according to what they consider to be just.

As for the term literature, we will take it to be synecdoche for the arts in general. The issues that we will be focusing on is how the arts have worked, throughout the centuries, on what one can call the limits of law. The arts have either propelled people’s ideas of justice that were pre-legal, i.e.underpinning law, or they have addressed forms of gross injustice that were beyond law in the sense that laws could not address them to the full (as was often the case with war crimes), the arts have been exploring issues of law or justice that were not taken up legally (eg in the case of slaves and women’s right), they have explored issues in different legal formats (non-official forms of jurisdiction), or in relation to a multiplicity of systems of law.

The arts have even busied themselves with pivotal legal concepts and the very constitution of law and of legal procedures. They have not been subservient, that is, on the contrary. They have constantly questioned the principles of law and justice, asking what the limits of law should or could be, and exploring to what extent people could be done justice.

Course objectives

This course introduces students into the interdisciplinary field of Law and Literature; a field that is well established in the Anglo-saxon world but much less so in Europe. The goals of the course are:

  1. To be aware of the pitfalls and possibilities of interdisciplinary research in this field;
  2. To have knowledge of the field’s recent history and historical breakthroughs;
  3. To develop conceptual clarity about pivotal concepts in the debates that dominate the field (law, art, ethics, aesthetics, legality, legitimacy, etc.);
  4. To know the different modes of research by means of which the two fields have been related thus far;
  5. To be able to start to move independently in this field on the basis of a productive relation between the two disciplines, i.e. not using one as an illustration for the other but as partners in dialogue or confrontation;
  6. To further develop practical skills such as close reading or the contextualization of both primary texts and theories.


The timetable is available on the Arts and Culture and the Resma Literary Studies website.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours= 280 hours

  • In class 12×2: 24

  • Reading primary literature, watching movies, going to see artworks etc: 40 hours

  • Preparation of classes, reading time (per session 7 hours) 12×7: 84 hours

  • Preparation presentation by each participant: 20

  • Midterm paper: 30 hours

  • Endpaper: 82 hours

Assessment method

  • Presentation (20%)

  • Mid-term paper (30%); this paper will consist in a reflection on the material that is dealt with in class so far. Students will be asked to come up with what is the most important issue or question for them at this moment of the course and to formulate what kind of steps need to be taken to deal with that question.

  • End paper (50%): will consist of a topic of choice that needs to be thoroughly interdisciplinary and will show the student’s ability to relate art and literature in a productive way.


The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the student will have to consult with the instructor.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Some background material

  • Powerpoints; announcements etc.

Reading list

Primary works:

  • Bertolt Brecht, The Measures Taken and other Lehrstucke (theatre plays, 1929-1930)

  • Vasili Grossman, Life and Fate (novel, 1960)

  • Joshua Oppenheim, The act of killing (documentary, 2012)

  • Antjie Krog, Poems (selection)

  • Costa Gravas, Missing (film, 1982)

Secondary works include:

  • Paul Ricoeur, The Just. Transl. David Pellauer. Chicago/London: University of Chicago Press and
    Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics (as handbooks)

  • A number on line texts or open source texts by , amongst others, Thomas Aquinas, Peter Goodrich, Robert Cover, Julie Stone Peters, Jeanne Gaakeer, Judith Resnik, Howard Caygill, Shoshanna felman, Hannah Arendt, and Barbara Johnson.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.

Contact information

Prof.dr. F.W.A. Korsten