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Literature and the Questions of Doing Justice or Making Law


Admission requirements

Not applicable.


This course studies how literature broaches questions of justice and can be understood to be in an (implicit) dialogue with the juridical questions and legal trials of their times. Literary texts explore notions of justice that challenge hegemonic ideas, or express grievances that cannot be articulated in juridical terms, thereby offering a supplement to the legal sphere.

This year’s seminar focuses on the notions of ‘human rights’ and ‘crimes against humanity.’ So-called ‘human rights’ are often taken to be the grounds of specific rights – as if merely being ‘human’ bestows upon one the ‘right to have rights.’ Yet the notion of ‘the human’ has a long and complex history, in which the understanding of which bodies ‘count’ as being fully human has led to often violent disputes. In this course we will study a series of literary and philosophical texts about the notions of ‘human rights’ in juxtaposition to a series of historical trials that revolve around similar issues. In part one we will look at a series of historical trials in which the notion of a ‘crime against humanity’ plays a key role. We will focus our attention on trials that seek to come to terms with gross human rights violations, such as the Holocaust, colonialism, the Argentinian ‘dirty war’ and South-African apartheid period. In part two we will discuss trials about the rights of figures who have historically been considered less than human: women, children, slaves and animals.

In each session we will read a literary text, a trial report and a philosophical essay. Our aim is to come to a ‘triangular’ reading that highlights the philosophical and literary dimensions of specific legal cases, as well as the legal-philosophical aspects of literary texts.

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.

Exam review

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • Some background material

  • Powerpoints; announcements etc.

Reading list

Readings include texts by Kafka, Butler, Derrida, Arendt, Agamben, Dorfmann, Krog, Esposito, Orwell, Coetzee and Kristeva. For a detailed program, check blackboard.


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