The Confucian Worldview and the Odes Reply


I have a basic introduction to the Confucian worldview over at ReligiousLeftLaw* that I wanted to let readers know about because in the near future I plan on posting something here at the Table on one of the Five Classics of the “Confucian” canon, namely, the (book of) Odes (also called the Book of Songs or Book of Poetry). Familiarity with my fairly abstract and stylized rational reconstruction of concepts central to the Confucian worldview can thus serve as a propaedeutic backdrop, if you will, to this forthcoming piece on the Odes for the Table.

My status as an ardent amateur with regard to Chinese worldviews (i.e., my standing as an academic and intellectual parasite) means I depend mightily on the scholarly labors of others, in this case, Michael Nylan’s absolutely brilliant book, The Five “Confucian Classics (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001). For a taste of things to come, I quote from her introduction:

“For most of the time from 136 BC to 1905, the study of the Five Classics of the ‘Confucian’ canon—the Odes, the Rites, the Changes [Yi Jīng/I Ching], and the Spring and Autumn Annals—formed at least part of the curriculum tested by the government examinations required of nearly all candidates for the Chinese imperial bureaucracy. Thus the more cultured members of society in premodern China, even those who had failed the examinations or had passed but never held office, enjoyed a familiarity with the Classics that afforded them a common store of knowledge. As successive governments throughout East Asia came under the cultural sway of the Chinese system, the Classics came to influence thought and politics in Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, so that the collection as a whole once occupied in East Asia a position roughly analogous to that of the Bible in the West, its compelling arguments couched in elegant formulations, ‘subtle phrasing with profound implications’ (weiyan dayi). These texts associated with the Supreme Sage, Confucius, were thought to set the pattern of what it was to become a fully developed human being, and also the principles that allowed for the complex and interrelated processes of political, social, and cultural reproduction. Thus, generation after generation tied the maintenance of the state and of personal identity to the propagation of this textual tradition. [….]

The modern rubric ‘Five Confucian Classics,’ however, has tended to skew understanding of these texts, as it implies both a direct connection with the historical Confucius (551-479 BC) and a closer connection among them than is warranted by their early histories. Most of the texts were evolving in oral as well as written forms for centuries before they acquired the designation ‘classic’ or ‘Confucian;’ hence vastly differing approaches to social, political, and cosmic issues are discernible among and even within the texts. Beginning in Han (206 BC-AD 220), state-sponsored classical learning—often dubbed ‘Confucian’ when ‘orthodox’ or ‘official’ would be more appropriate—drew freely on the teachings of many non-Confucian thinkers, the better to cope with the complexities (many unforeseen by Confucius) of ruling an empire [I would hasted to add that Confucius was not first and foremost concerned with ‘ruling an empire,’ even as he hoped to persuade ruling elites of the moral and political importance of teachings he believed sanctioned by tian and the sages of old].”

*Please see The Confucian Worldview: A Rational Reconstruction.

Image: Seven Scholars Going through the Pass, Li Tang (Chinese, ca. 1050s-after 1130) Ming dynasty. [click on image for enlarged view]

Description:  “Accompanied by a small group of retainers on foot, seven gentlemen riding mules, horses, and an ox leave behind the gate of a pass and casually proceed along a wintry riverbank. Six of the men are dressed against the cold in identical white robes and wide-brimmed hats worn over dark shoulder-length hoods, while the seventh is clad in gray and wears an official’s black cap. Some of the men turn to talk with each other, gesturing with their whips, but there is no urgency in their manner. The bundles of scrolls, umbrellas, and food utensils carried by the retainers—together with the ubiquitous wrapped qin (zither)—suggest that the group is venturing forth on a daytrip to some nearby scenic location.”

This is just the sort of thing I’ve imagined in my mind’s eye taking place with Confucius and his students: on a daytrip to a scenic location to sing and dance, including recitations from the Odes, in other words, a far cry from the rather staid and stern portraits one often finds of Confucius.

Analogy & Metaphor: An Idiosyncratic Introduction Reply

I’ve just posted my essay, “Analogy & Metaphor: An Idiosyncratic Introduction,” at SSRN. Here’s the abstract:

This essay is an idiosyncratic introduction to analogy and metaphor. It was previously posted in two parts respectively at the Ratio Juris and The Literary Table blogs by way of an introduction to my online bibliography at Ratio Juris for analogy and metaphor. The notes immediately follow each essay, and a list of “references and further reading” is appended to the end of the paper. The section on analogy is intended in part to provoke the interest of legal theorists, while the second half, on metaphor, is aimed at a broader audience although I hope it too will be of interest to legal theorists and philosophers of law. Both pieces no doubt betray their origins in blog posts, hence they are considerably less than polished, but comments to date were generous enough for me to make the inference that they deserve to be made more widely available.

My maiden voyage with SSRN just prior to this was a revised version of a Ratio Juris post from earlier this year:  Natural Law “Externalism” v. Law as “Moral Aspiration.” I want to thank Thom Brooks for prompting me to think aloud about topics broached in his paper, “Natural Law Internalism.”

I welcome comments (and downloads!) for both papers.

Narrative Goodness 1

The first passage below is from Colin McGinn’s book Ethics, Evil, and Fiction (1997). I’ve chosen it by way of prompting reflections on how we learn to be moral (I’m going to ignore here any putative distinction sometimes made between ethics and morality, indeed, I think it’s only relevant when the latter concept is used in a descriptive sense, while I’m here relying on a normative conception of what’s ethical or moral). From a Platonic perspective, it may be the case that, for the individual, learning to live an ethical life is not first and foremost a matter of being taught how to be ethical, say, in the manner in which one is taught the rules of grammar, or the facts of geography, or the names of birds. In other words, and in a peculiar sense, ethical understanding or moral knowledge is a different kind or peculiar sort of knowledge, at once both robustly objective and subjective, involving both a “knowing that” and a “knowing how” (that is, both propositional and non-propositional knowledge) in a way not conspicuously intrinsic to most things we conventionally group under the rubric of “knowledge.” All the same, Plato does seem to have held that we learn to be moral, that we can become, as Aristotle taught us, habituated to virtue, that we can learn to live virtuous lives (and such virtuous living is not necesssarily confined to lives in the familial and intimate realms of daily life, for its standards are equally relevant to arenas of collective action or the public realm). I hope to speak to this question again in a future post that builds upon the material broached here so suffice for now to keep in mind that any references to “teaching” or “learning” to be moral may be qualified if not clarified so as to incorporate and reconcile what Plato (or Socrates) meant in the Meno by claiming that virtue cannot be taught with the ostensibly contrary message in the Protagoras that argues for the “teachability of virtue.”

“[O]rdinary people—which means all of us—find [the] story mode of moral discourse [i.e., the form which includes parable, the play, short story, the narrative poem, the novel and the film] uniquely palatable and nutritious; it seems perfectly designed to engage our moral faculties. Our moral understanding and the story form seem fitted for one another. No rote learning is necessary: it all seems to flow quite naturally. This is the way our moral faculty likes to operate. It is almost effortless to take in a story, pleasant even, though the story may be replete with moral discourse. The novel, in particular, is a text of a very different kind from the scientific treatise. It is also very different from the philosophical text, which is what philosophers, naturally, are most comfortable with. Thus the novel form has tended to be ignored by moral philosophers: it is not, for them, the place to look for canonical expressions of ethical truth. Yet, quite obviously, it is for most educated people one of the prime vehicles of ethical expression. (Film plays a similar role for the less word-minded.) In reading a novel we have ethical experiences, sometimes quite profound ones, and we reach ethical conclusions, condemning some characters and admiring others. We live a particular set of moral challenges (sitting there in our armchair) by entering into the lives of the characters introduced. [….] Stories can sharpen and clarify moral questions, encouraging a dialectic between the reader’s own experiences and the trials of the characters he or she is reading about. A tremendous amount of moral thinking and feeling is done when reading novels (Or watching plays and films, or reading poetry and short stories). In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that for most people this is the primary way in which they acquire ethical attitudes, especially in contemporary culture. Our ethical knowledge is aesthetically mediated.”

I think McGinn’s conclusion is largely correct: our ethical knowledge is, indeed, “aesthetically mediated,” insofar as we learn about the virtues (whatever particular cluster of same our worldviews place emphasis upon), or how to be moral through narrative aesthetic forms. And such story forms are not just “secular,” for they are often the products of religious traditions. In fact, I happen to believe that for many individuals who at least nominally identify with religious worldviews, this aesthetic mediation assumes in the first instance a spiritual form (‘spiritual’ because its meaning is a bit wider than what we typically denote by the adjective ‘religious,’ and thus, for instance, we can include under this heading the Hellenistic ethical ‘therapies of desire’ as defined by Martha Nussbaum). Furthermore, to the extent that such aesthetic mediation is not “spiritual” or religious, I would contend it is less reliable or dependable as a form or medium of moral knowledge or ethical instruction, especially but not only when we are young. Put differently, spiritual and religious literature is ideally suited for the aesthetic mediation of moral knowledge, for learning what it means to be virtuous, for it is here we find “exemplars of goodness.” It is not the only or even primary way in which we learn to be moral, for we obviously and ideally learn to live a virtuous life, as both Confucius and Plato would remind us, from those who are responsible for our upbringing: our parents, caregivers, teachers, and others who are, it is hoped, suitable “role models,” those entrusted to take care of us until we reach the “age of reason.” Intriguingly, both Plato and Confucius appear to agree that learning to be ethical for children entails a training in the arts, particular arts to be sure, but there is something about the arts that these two philosophers find integral to the habituation to virtue, as a necessary yet not sufficient condition to being moral. And even as adults, we might learn something about virtuous living from those with whom we come into meaningful personal contact in daily life:

“It is not implausible to think we are elevated by others who are more developed than ourselves in their striving for harmonious hierarchical development and for a valuable life. We are aided and encouraged along our own path of development by their striving for self-development and purer feeling; contrast the effects on us of encountering those with a sour mixture of one-upmanship, self-aggrandizement, desire to dominate or destroy, and other festering emotions, the effects of wending our way and bending our attention to their motivations and trajectories. [….] We all know people, I hope, who bring out the best in us, people in whose presence we would be embarrassed to speak or act from unworthy motives, people who glow. In their presence we feel elevated. We are pushed, or nudged further along a path of development and perfection; rather, we are inspired to move ourselves along, in the direction shown. [….] We want to find a way of living whereby our best energies and talents are poured out so as to speak to and improve the best energies and talents of others. We want to utilize our highest parts and energies in a way that helps others to flourish.”—From Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations (1981)

In her book, Divine Motivation Theory (2004), the philosopher Linda Zagzebski makes an argument for what she terms a “direct reference” theory of the good. I will not go into the philosophical background and specific premises of her argument but want to invoke it in support of the idea that one of the primary ways by which we learn to be moral is through stories of one kind or another, narratives in which we learn about what it means to live a “good life:”

“I have proposed that ‘good’ is defined by direct reference. If so, it is plausible that ‘good life’ is defined by direct reference as well. It is a life like that, which is to say that we know it when we see it [Plato has some things to say about how this is possible]. Describing lives is one of the functions of literature and biography. [….] If we defined the good life as a life like that, we do not do it independently of referring to persons whose lives we want to imitate. We imitate persons we regard as exemplars, and we imitate lives we regard as exemplary, and these are not independent activities. [….] So what is a flourishing life? I propose that it is determined by what the exemplars say it is. [….] The exemplars make the determination of good lives in the hard cases. If ‘good life’ is defined by direct reference independently of a ‘good person,’ then the life of a good person can come apart from a good life. However, if I am right, that is not the way these concepts work. The lives we want to imitate are lives of persons we want to imitate.”

One lesson we might—or should—draw from Zagzebski’s proposal is that our choice of narrative sources for “exemplars” is fraught with consequences. For example, are contemporary novels, or films for that matter, invariably stocked with characters or protagonists who we might christen “exemplars” of the good life, of characters who exemplify virtuous living? And even if frequently bereft of such characters, might these stories nonetheless have some role to play in clarifying what the struggle to live morally entails, of what the moral life involves, of the relation between evil and the good, or the obstacles and difficulties faced in attempts, among people like us (so to speak) to become virtuous? After all, the vast majority of us are not living lives that call to mind a Socrates, the Buddha, Jesus, St. Francis, Dorothy Day, Maimonides, or “Friends of God” in the Islamic tradition. The hoi polloi, in other words and by definition are not prophets, saints, ascetics, seers, sages, or simply pious and wise teachers. At the same time, save Jesus’ Christian theological status as God incarnate, these exemplary spiritual figures are men and women who provide us with concrete models of human goodness, of what it means to live a spiritually flourishing life, of how to simultaneously engage in the processes of individual self-discovery and self-actualization, of how to incarnate and express moral and spiritual values, not in the sense of slavish and literal imitation but as inspirational exemplars worthy of ethical emulation in the widest sense as part and process of psychological and spiritual (or eudaimonistic) individuation.

The problem of moral development is the problem of discovering the conditions necessary and sufficient for the manifestation of the virtues and the actualization of value(s). Each person is morally obligated, from the perspective of virtue ethics, to sincerely and persistently endeavor to actualize, conserve and defend those values he or she identifies with as the product of self-examination and the prerequisite of self-direction and self-realization. The specific cluster of values so identified may (and usually does) vary from person to person and no one individual is capable of realizing all such values, although one might nonetheless recognize and appreciate all values (or value as such), especially insofar as these values have become identified with other individuals. Individual values identification brings in its wake the intrinsic and intangible rewards of personal fulfillment and flourishing. We are all alike with regard to values-potentialities by virtue of our human nature, but we differ, owing to genetic inheritance, upbringing, circumstance and so forth in the manner of values-identification and actualization. We might see this as the interdependence of value-actualizers, serving to confirm our inherently social nature as human beings. Such interdependence, furthermore, is capable of (has implications for) filling out the meaning of true community.

Perhaps contemporary literature (at least some of it) provides us with the narrative and biographical equivalent of “middle terms” that modulate for us the gap between ideal (and idealized) moral and spiritual virtues, and the morally messy lives lived in the shadows of such overwhelming or intimidating goodness: most of us cannot “stare” into the Sun, the Platonic metaphor of the Good in the Allegory of the Cave, but we can nevertheless look upon, and thus learn from, that which it illuminates. And even if one attains the Platonic vision of the Sun at the summit of dialectical ascent, one is obligated in Plato’s account to return to the Cave, to make the corresponding dialectical descent into the realm of particularity and the concrete, the world of the “ten thousand things” (wanwu) in Chinese philosophy, and it is with that world our contemporary novelists and filmmakers can be fairly said to be well acquainted, if sometimes or even often in a confused or uncertain manner, at least with regard to ethical values and moral insight. The extent to which we envisage contemporary literature, or any narrative vehicle, playing such a role appears to importantly depend upon our ability to make aesthetic and ethical discriminations and judgments as to what is morally and spiritually availing, another issue Plato addressed in as much as he asked how we can come to recognize goodness unless we are not already, in some intuitive or inchoate but no less real sense, in possession of or have some acquaintance with such goodness.  

In a future post I hope to expand upon some of the ideas and themes introduced and sketched here in a preliminary fashion.

 [Cross-posted at]

Metaphor: An Introduction 1

The following is the second half of an installment begun at the Ratio Juris blog in which I introduce analogy (Part 1) and metaphor (Part 2) in conjunction with posting of my select bibliography for same: Analogy & Metaphor: A Select Bibliography and Introduction, Part 1. As I was having problems posting it there I thought it would be equally appropriate here at the Literary Table. Be forewarned: it is fairly long.

Philosophers have repeatedly insisted, both in defense and in dismissal of metaphor, that it is deeply different from literal communication because it is indeterminate, complex, rich, evocative, and openended. They have failed to notice that not all metaphors fit this model, and that much literal speech does.—Elisabeth Camp (2006b: 21)

Metaphor is at once fully aesthetic and fully semantic. It is fully aesthetic, in that its production calls for artistry and its understanding calls for taste. Without some minimal sensitivity to certain aesthetic values, we’d be deaf and dumb when it came to metaphor. Metaphor is fully semantic, in that it constitutes one of our most basic and indispensable strategies for equipping words and phrases with referents, equipping sentences with truth conditions, equipping utterances with speech act potentials, and so forth. If we were completely deaf and dumb when it came to metaphor in particular, we’d be as good as deaf and dumb across the board. Our possession of language, not just our enjoyment of it, would be disastrously compromised.—David J. Hills (2006b)

[E]ven the most austerely ‘scientific’ models operate through analogy and metaphor. The Rutherford-Bohr model depicts hydrogen atom as a miniature solar system. Darwin’s concept of ‘natural selection’ is analogous to the ‘artificial selection’ practised by animal breeders. ‘Plate tectonics’ is about thin, flat, rigid areas of ‘crust’ floating on a highly viscous but fluid ‘mantle.’ Linguists talk of the ‘brain mechanism’ by which grammatical language is generated. And so on. Scientific theories are unavoidably metaphorical. [….] Sometimes a ready-made model can be taken over from another branch of science—for example Fresnel’s model of light as the vibration of an elastic medium. Sometimes the key elements come out of everyday life, as in von Neumann’s model of economic behaviour as a ‘game,’ or the molecular-biological model of DNA as a genetic ‘code.’ This heterogeneity is not a serious defect. The scientific value of a theoretical model, as with all metaphors, does not require it to be literally equivalent to the system it represents. It resides in the variety of phenomena that it makes plain, or suggests. This understanding seldom comes through elaborate formal analysis. [….] Indeed, analogy and metaphor cannot be driven out of scientific reasoning. Scientific ideas cannot be communicated through the ‘literal’ medium of formal logic. [….] [In fact], the history of a scientific discipline can be traced through its changing repertoire of models and metaphors—what Gerald Holton calls its themata. Modern physics, for example, deals in ‘forces’ and ‘fields,’ or ‘waves’ and ‘particles,’ and has no place for pre-modern themata such as ‘sympathies,’ and ‘attractions,’ or ‘essences’ and ‘effluvia.[….] It is clear that scientific maps, models, metaphors, themata and other analogies are not just tools of thought, or figures of speech. They are the very substance of scientific theory. As sources of meaning and understanding, they stand on equal footing with explicit verbal and symbolic representations.—John Ziman (2000: 149-150)

Having introduced analogy and analogical reasoning in Part 1, here we’ll do the same for metaphor, a far more difficult topic to tackle, and no less so even if our aim is only, as it is here, to provide a taste of the subject matter. If metaphor is construed as involving a gap between the conventional meaning of words and their occasion-specific use, its analysis would appear to fall largely within the rubric of pragmatics (or ‘speaker’s meaning’) rather than semantics (the meaning of an utterance or sentence in a given language and involving ‘truth-‘ or ‘assertibility conditions,’ i.e., epistemic justification). But if we think of metaphor as somehow continuous with literal speech (which need not deny a ‘contextualist’ component: metaphor as a contextually variable semantic meaning), semantics earns pride of place in the first instance, and thus pragmatics is parasitic upon semantic analysis, such analysis a necessary condition yet perhaps not a sufficient condition for understanding metaphorical utterances. Pragmatics clearly has something to contribute to an understanding of metaphor for, as Elisabeth Camp (2009: 265) explains, “the same sentence can receive dramatically different metaphorical interpretations in distinct contexts. For instance,

‘Juliet is the sun.’

will be interpreted differently when spoken by Romeo (very crudely, as meaning Juliet is beautiful), by his friend Benvolio (Juliet is dangerous) and by his rival Paris (Juliet is the most important socialite in Verona).” Relatedly, metaphorical utterances have been associated with Gricean implicature (Grice 1975), although a body of work suggests metaphor is more often about “direct and explicit” meaning, that is, about “what is said.” All the same, recent research about the “mental processing of unfamiliar and  novel metaphors does find something like Gricean “indirectness” applicable: “it seems plausible to take ‘indirectness as claiming that a good rational reconstruction of successful metaphorical communication will first rule out a literal interpretation as being contextually inappropriate, and also appeal to that literal meaning in determining the speaker’s intended meaning” (Camp 2009: 265). Camp proceeds to enumerate a number of reasons why we might not want to assimilate Gricean implicature to metaphorical understanding, in other words, against treating metaphors simply as implicatures.

In speaking of semantics and pragmatics, we’ve begun our discussion within the framework of philosophy of language[1], a field that has engaged some of the best philosophical minds of our time. Yet it is not the preferred starting point among the more popular academic treatments of metaphor, which favor vantage points provided by linguistics and cognitive psychology, or “cognitive because conceptual” accounts of metaphor, while accounts in which metaphor is in the first place a linguistic phenomenon and frequently “cognitive” in a broader sense, are found among philosophers of language (this does not rule out the possibility there are, increasingly, exceptions to this division of labor and one should not read too much into the labels, especially before examining the respective arguments in detail). Let’s take a moment to look at a few of the actual and possible relations between philosophy and cognitive science, if only because the “conceptual” accounts and accounts in which metaphor is about a “figure of speech (i.e., a non-literal use of speech within a class that includes irony, metonymy, synecdoche, hyperbole, and meiosis) and sometimes even “non-cognitive,” tend to fall out into science and philosophy respectively, although philosophers like Camp have proven adept at appreciating the relative epistemic virtues found among all the parties in this discussion. Philosophers who collaborate with researchers from the sciences often uncritically defer to their scientific colleagues, at least in the sense that they do not thoroughly examine or question the fundamental conceptual and philosophical presuppositions and assumptions that undergird (psycho)linguistics or cognitive science. Instead, they assume the role of the Lockean “underlaborer” for the natural sciences, to adopt a term from the idealized distinction drawn by Steve Fuller (2006) (and first used by Locke and later part of Roy Bhaskar’s ‘critical realist’ theory of science) between the “philosophical legislator” “who questions the presuppositions of ongoing scientific research” (cf. Bennett and Hacker 2003 with regard to neuroscience), and the “philosophical underlaborer, whose role is one of clarifying and defending the presuppositions and assumptions of a particular scientific research program.

The philosopher as underlaborer is close to Paul Thagard’s (2009) proposed conception of the indispensable role of philosophy for cognitive science: philosophy does and should continue to contribute “generality” and “normativity” to an interdisciplinary field like cognitive science. Generality betrays a concern for the “unity” of the sciences (such as that traditionally purchased by commitments to reductionism or naturalism or represented by E.O Wilson’s notion of ‘consilience’), hence it “attempt[s] to address questions that cross multiple areas of investigation, thereby helping to unify what otherwise appear to be diverse approaches to understanding mind and intelligence” (or nature and reality, for that matter) (Thagard 2009: 238). Normativity is necessary because cognitive science, in performing its descriptive work, may assume or imply how people “ought” to think and act, and thus philosophy can assist science in making explicit this unavoidable normative and prescriptive enterprise; as Thagard rightly says, “Cognitive science often assumes epistemological and ethical norms without adequate philosophical discussion” (246). While Thagard’s model would appear to soften the distinction between the philosophical legislator and underlaborer insofar as it takes on board the question of normativity, he makes it clear that the role of the underlaborer does not aim to provide philosophical (e.g., metaphysical) foundations for any of the sciences (although reference to same is unavoidable insofar as we’re anxious to demonstrate the ‘unity’ of the sciences) and, what is more, it does not see itself as involved in clearing up any alleged “conceptual confusions in the study of the mind” (238). Thus, for example, philosophy of mind has no privileged role vis-à-vis cognitive science, that is, unless it’s inclined toward scientism or is unabashedly scientistic: “Philosophy can be…useful to cognitive science in providing defenses against philosophical arguments challenging the core assumptions of cognitive science concerning representation and computation. In this way, philosophy can provide self-defense methods for cognitive scientists against philosophers critical of the whole field” (238).

I think this envisages an unduly deferential and defensive role for philosophy in relation to (cognitive) science. It’s not that one can’t imagine a philosopher justly playing the part of an underlaborer, but the underlaborer model hardly does justice to the various roles philosophy might assume in relation to cognitive science or any other natural or social science. We’ll return to some of these issues near the end of our introduction, but for now it helps us appreciate why some philosophers have been critical of the immensely popular conceptual theory of metaphor within cognitive linguistics first formulated by Lakoff and Johnson (1980 and 1999), and have chosen instead to examine metaphor from within the parameters provided largely by philosophy of language (without in any way belittling the pioneering contributions of Lakoff and Johnson). In effect, they have not seen their role as constrained by the model of the “underlaborer,” thus they frequently point out contestable presuppositions and assumptions from perspectives provided by philosophy of language or philosophy of mind (and those perspectives need not be ‘consensual’ within these branches of philosophy).

This “big picture” is especially important for legal theorists to consider, given their historic tendency to embrace with unbridled enthusiasm this or that finding from the latest scientific enterprise or research program: the empiricism of legal realism, the rational choice model of neo-classical economics, behavioral economics, social psychological “situationism,” cognitive linguistics or cognitive science in general, evolutionary psychology, and so forth and so on. And this enthusiasm is not even tempered by awareness of methodological doubts, discussions and debates within the social sciences themselves! By way of illustration, we need only read Dennis Patterson’s (2003) review essay—aptly titled “Fashionable Nonsense”—of Amsterdam and Bruner’s Minding the Law (2000) and Winter’s A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind (2001), to be apprised of some of the more glaring philosophical pitfalls and blind spots that result from uncritical reliance on the latest scientific literature from a popular or (potentially) interdisciplinary field of study, evidenced of late among legal theorists in the fawning over the latest findings of neuroscience (see Pardo and Patterson 2010). Given the structurally “conservative” character of legal systems and institutions, it’s perhaps not surprising that legal theorists look to science by way of analyzing the law, especially owing to the difficulty of having anything original or creative to contribute to analytic jurisprudence or traditional philosophy of law, which still pivots around questions generated from  well-worn debates between theorists of natural law and legal positivism.

Scientific literature, by its very nature, is ripe for exploitation by legal theorists, providing a veritable endless resource pool of potential research topics for bringing to bear fresh perspectives on the law: after all, science deals with the enormous complexity of both the natural and social worlds, encompassing what, after Nicholas Rescher (2000), we might characterize as the “cognitive inexhaustibility of things.” The scientific enterprise transforms what at first glance appears as a liability, namely, the “cognitive opacity of real things” (including the fact that we will never be ‘in a position  into avoid the contrast between things as we think them to be and things as they actually and truly are’), into an intellectual and disciplinary virtue: “[the] susceptibility to further elaborate detail—and to changes of mind regarding this further detail—is built into our very conception of a ‘real thing’”(Rescher 2000: 31). If the “ongoing process of information enhancement” intrinsic to the scientific endeavor entails a concomitant process of “conceptual innovation,” legal theorists will find it hard to resist the temptation to turn to science by way of tilling and cultivating fertile fields of research (one might say they are, metaphorically and otherwise, the academic equivalent of post-colonialist capitalists or ethical cosmopolitans in the era of neo-liberal globalization: they are well poised and positioned to engage in cross-disciplinary cognitive trades and raids). The progress of scientific knowledge is marked by the “proliferation of ever more restructured specialties,” which in turn prompts attempts at interdisciplinary synthesis. Attempts at interdisciplinary synthesis are naturally attractive to legal theories cognizant of the non-linear character of legal systems and institutions, for they require holistic and comprehensive inquiries belied by scientific models bound to the parsimony of Ockham’s razor. Conditions of opacity and complexity are quickened for legal theorists who look to both the natural and the social sciences, the latter marked by need to explicitly address questions arising from the nature of consciousness (or, more broadly, subjectivity), intentionality and normativity, questions that invariably bring the social sciences within the province of philosophy.  Unlike their counterparts in the natural sciences, who more often than not can go about their work with little attention devoted to the philosophy of science, taking the Lebenswelt more or less for granted, social scientists, and legal theorists after them, cannot (or should not) avoid deliberately confronting what, at bottom, are difficult philosophical topics on which there exist a proliferation of plausible perspectives, indeed, so much so that it can undermine the credibility of “expertise:”

“Economists, for example, are notoriously at loggerheads on the explanation of how modern commercial culture actually ticks. Even when they are not uttering the wishful thoughts of a political party or sector of industry, they do not produce knowledge which a sensible person ought to trust unreservedly in deciding to build a factory or buy a block of shares. [….] [M]any university-based researchers are now so reliant on government contracts for research on practical problem that they cannot easily dissociate themselves from government policies. [….] In effect, to obtain resources for research, many post-academic human scientists are forced to relaunch themselves as technical consultants. They compete with one another for research projects on political, social or industrial problems commissioned by private or public organizations. Very often, however, their research findings and expert advice are desired as much to rationalize a particular policy on a contentious practical matter as to present an independent analysis of the situation.” (Ziman 2000: 177-178)[2] 

All of this by way of an indirect apologia on behalf of a view closer to the “philosopher as legislator” model, in other words, in defense of an introduction to metaphor by way of a few philosophical accounts, albeit accounts that are not non-cognitivist in any polemical or agonistic sense. While an avowed bias for pragmatics in the study of metaphor finds common ground among philosophers and cognitive scientists, philosophers of semantic suasion, notably Josef Stern (2000), have brought renewed philosophical respectability to “Literalist” (v. ‘Contextualist’) accounts of metaphorical interpretation.[3] While earlier and well-known analytic accounts of metaphor by the likes of Max Black[4] and Donald Davidson thought truth-conditions were irrelevant to metaphorical interpretation, both contemporary Contextualists and Literalists concur in the belief that metaphors express truths of a kind, the differences centered on the precise determination of the truth conditions of a metaphorical utterance, perhaps an implicit reference to the fact that we cannot abandon the dependency of the metaphorical on the literal in making such a determination. Indeed, there are, as Stern (2008) has argued, “semantic constraints on both metaphor and deferred reference imposed by the meaning of the literal vehicle.” And in the spirit of Black’s seminal thoughts on metaphor, Stern notes “how a metaphorical mode of expression can bear a kind of information apart from its truth-conditional content that carries explanatory power in belief-ascriptions” (Stern 2008: 276-277). At the very least, it would seem those who identify with Contextualism or Pragmatics will have to concede one facet of Stern’s Literalist brief: “that metaphorical interpretation falls in part under semantics” [emphasis added]. Stern’s analysis in fact softens the boundaries between Pragmatics and Semantics, for his theory of metaphorical meaning “takes into account both its context-dependence and literal dependence:”

“[T]he different metaphorical interpretations that utterances of one expression (type) can express in different contexts and on different occasions are their (propositional) contents, the factors that bear on the truth-value of their utterances. Because the individual features (e.g., being greater than her peers for ‘is the sun’ [as in ‘Juliet is the sun’]) expressed in these contents depend in part on the speaker’s extra-linguistic skills and presuppositions, the contents of these metaphorical interpretations are not themselves known solely in virtue of semantic competence. But it does not follow that metaphor lies entirely outside semantics. What the speaker does know in virtue of his semantic knowledge is the character of the metaphor, that is, a rule or directive to map the parameter of the context into the content of the metaphor in that context. Metaphorical character constrains which contents can be metaphorically expressed by which expressions in which contexts. And insofar as the function of meaning is generally to constrain which intentions can be expressed by which linguistic items on which occasions, we can takes its character to be the meaning of a metaphor.” (Stern 2008: 270)


Simone de Beauvoir in Harlem, 1947 Reply

There are myriad ways one might celebrate today’s holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. On my Facebook page, for example, I suggested we learn about—or recall—the other remarkable leaders of the civil rights movement, some of whom were mentors to King and others of his generation, establishing institutions and informal communication networks that served as the socio-cultural and political seedbed for the germination and later flourishing of the civil rights movement. I mentioned in particular such individuals as Bob (Robert Parris) Moses, Ella Josephine Baker, and Fannie Lou Hamer, among those ably introduced in Robert Payne’s brilliant book, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle (1995). I also had the impudence to ask that we take time to recall the life and work of Malcolm X as well, recommending Eugene Victor Wolfenstein’s Malcolm X and the Black Revolution (1981). Indeed, there’s a work that offers a provocative comparison of the lives and ideas of Malcolm X and King, James Cone’s Martin & Malcolm & America: A Dream or a Nightmare (1991). Alas, both the prize-winning biographer of Fannie Lou Hamer, the historian Kay Mills, and the (post)Freudo-Marxist social theorist and psychoanalyst Wolfenstein, recently passed away.

Here I thought I’d do something different and share a few passages from Simone de Beauvoir’s (1908-1986) journal that detailed her thoughts and feelings upon venturing into Harlem during a visit to America. Beauvoir came to the States in January of 1947, keeping a fairly “detailed diary of her observations which was published in France in 1948 as L’Amérique au jour le jour” and to little notice several years later in England, and in English, as America Day by Day. The book was published (by the University of California Press) yet again with a new translation by Carol Cosman in 1999 and an inviting foreword by one of our nation’s best and more prolific historians, Douglas Brinkley (which first appeared in the New York Times Book Review in 1996). Beauvoir was by now a well-known existentialist philosopher and writer with a public identity as a cosmopolitan French intellectual tied to yet distinct from her lifelong companion, Jean-Paul Sartre. She is also rightly regarded as one of the seminal theorists of contemporary feminism.

Brinkley writes that,

“with the passage of time, America Day by Day emerges as a supremely erudite American road book—that distinctive subgenre based on flight of fancy rather than flights from economic hardship, as in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. In broader sociological terms, her critique outpaces William Least-Heat Moon’s Blue Highways: A Journey into America [1983]. In the realm of pure prose style, it easily transcends Henry Miller’s The Air-Conditioned Nightmare [1945]. And, for my money, in the field of European highbrow loathing of the cruder aspects of our democratic experiment, it is preferable to Charles Dickens’s haughty American Notes for General Circulation [1842]. [….]

A reader is struck not only by the meticulous descriptive passages on American history and geography but also by Beauvoir’s ability to encapsulate our national psyche (‘Optimism is necessary for the country’s social peace and economic prosperity’) and to comment so deftly on its shortcomings (‘even people of goodwill…refuse to articulate clearly the current conflict between justice and freedom, and the necessity of devising a compromise between these two ideas; they prefer to deny injustice and the lack of freedom’). [….]

Clearly a voyeur of America’s transient underbelly, Beauvoir’s able, like George Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London [1933], to penetrate the haze and blue smoke of our nation’s tenderloin districts deeply enough to offer detached insights into desolation row. In Chicago with [Nelson] Algren as her guide, she learns firsthand about the world of morphine addicts and petty thieves, murderous gangsters, and midnight cops. ‘America is a box full of surprises,’ she writes, intoxicated by her walks on the wild side. [….]

Beauvoir’s peripatetic journey by automobile, train, and Greyhound bus took her from coast to coast and back, and illuminating sections of the memoir are devoted to Hollywood, the Grand Canyon, Reno, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and San Antonio. Always amused and exhilarated by the lapdog friendliness of urban and rural folk alike, she is also flabbergasted that these same good-natured people embody the volatile, schizophrenic mixture of ‘strictness and hypocritical license.’ An eternal rebel, she has an uncanny eye for the shallow extravagances of American culture and an abolitionist’s rage at the evil of segregation south of the Mason-Dixon line. While San Francisco and Chicago are celebrated in America Day by Day, other cities get scorched: ‘Williamsburg is one of the sorriest shams to which I’ve ever fallen victim,’ or ‘I dearly hope I’m never fated to live in Rochester.’ [….]

For women, and men, who want to experience vicariously Jack Kerouac’s open road with less machismo romanticism and more existential savvy, America Day by Day, hidden from us for nearly fifty years, comes to the reader like a dusty bottle of vintage French cognac, asking only to be uncorked.”

From American Day by Day:

“Of course, I want to get to know Harlem. It’s not the only black neighborhood in New York. There’s an important black community in Brooklyn, three or four areas in the Bronx, another called Jamaica in Queens, and few more on the city’s outskirts. In New York itself one finds neighborhoods here and there where black families live. Until 1900, other than the one in Brooklyn, the most important black community in New York was situated near West Fifty-seventh Street. Harlem’s apartment buildings were originally built for white tenants, but transportation was inadequate at the beginning of the century, and landlords had difficulty renting apartments in the eastern end of the district. At the suggestion of a black man, Philip A. Payton, who was involved in the rental business, blacks were offered the apartments on 134th Street. Two buildings were filled this way, and soon more. At first, the whites didn’t perceive this invasion of black people; when they tried to stop it, it was too late. Blacks gradually rented all the available apartments and began to buy the private houses that were going up between Lenox and Seventh Avenue. Whites then felt justified in moving; as soon as one black family was spotted in a block of buildings, all the whites fled as if they were running from the plague. The blacks soon took over the whole district. Social and civic centers were formed; a black community took shape. Harlem expanded spectacularly after 1914.

Those among the French who get down on their knees to worship all-powerful America adopt all its prejudices even more obsequiously than Americans do. One of them says to me, ‘If you like, we’ll go through Harlem by car; you can go through Harlem by car, but you must never go on foot.’ A bolder Frenchman declares, ‘If you’re determined to see Harlem, in any case stick to the larger avenues. If something happens, you can always take shelter in the subway. But above all avoid the small side streets.’ And someone else tells me with a shiver that at dawn some whites were found in the gutter with their throats cut. In the course of my life, I’ve already come across so many places where right-thinking people declare you could not go that I’m not too impressed. I deliberately walked toward Harlem.

I walk toward Harlem, but my footsteps are not quite as carefree as usual; this isn’t just a walk but a kind of adventure. A force pulls me back, a force that emanates from the borders of the black city and drives me back—fear. Not mine but that of others—the fear of all those whites who never take the risk of going to Harlem, who feel the presence of a vast, mysterious, and forbidden zone in the northern part of their city, where they are transformed into the enemy. I turn the corner of one avenue and I feel my heart stop; in the blink of an eye, the landscape is transformed. I was also told, ‘There’s nothing to see in Harlem. It’s a corner of New York where people have black skin.’ And on 125th Street I indeed discover the movie houses, drugstores, stores, bars, and restaurants of Forty-second or Fourteenth Street; but the atmosphere is as different as if I had crossed a chain of mountains or the sea. Suddenly, there’s a swarm of black children dressed in bright shirts of red-and-green plaid, students with frizzed hair and brown legs chattering on the sidewalks. Blacks sit daydreaming on the doorsteps, and others stroll with their hands in their pockets. The open faces do not seem fixed on some invisible point in the future but reflect the world as it is given at that moment, under this sky. There is nothing frightening in all this, and I even feel a new kind of relaxed gaiety that New York hasn’t yet given me. If I suddenly came upon Canebière [in southern France] at the corner of rue de Lille or Lyon, I would have the same pleasure. But the shift from my usual surroundings is not the only vivid aspect. Nothing is frightening, but the fear is there; it weighs on this great popular festivity. Crossing the street is, for me, like crossing through layers and layers of fear filling those bright-eyed children, those schoolgirls, those men in light suits, and those leisurely women.

One Hundred Twenty-fifth Street is a border—there are still few whites in evidence. But on Lenox Avenue, not a face that isn’t brown or black. No one seems to pay attention to me. It’s the same scenery as on the avenues of [downtown] Manhattan, and these people, with all their indolence and gaiety, seem no more unlike the inhabitants of Lexington Avenue than the people of Marseilles seem unlike the residents of Lille. Yes, one can walk on Lenox Avenue. I even wonder what it would take to make me flee, screaming, toward the protective entrance of the subway. It seems to me I would have as much difficulty provoking such an attack as I would provoking murder or rape in the middle of Columbus Circle in broad daylight. There must be some image of orgies going on in the heads of right-thinking people; for me, this broad, peaceful cheerful boulevard does not encourage my imagination. I glance at the small side streets: just a few children, turning on their roller skates, disturb the lower-middle class calm. They don’t look dangerous.

I walk on the big avenues and in the small side streets; when I’m tired, I sit in the squares. The truth is, nothing can happen to me. And if I don’t feel entirely secure, it’s because of that fear in the hearts of people who are the same color as I am. It’s natural for a wealthy bourgeois to be afraid if he ventures into neighborhoods where people go hungry: he’s strolling in a universe that rejects his and will one day defeat it. But Harlem is a whole society, with its bourgeois and its proletariat, its rich and its poor, who are not bound together in revolutionary action. They wan to become part of America—they have no interest in destroying it. These blacks are not suddenly going to surge toward Wall Street, they constitute no immediate threat. The irrational fear they inspire can only be the reverse of hatred and a kind of remorse. Planted in the heart of New York, Harlem weighs on the conscience of whites like original sin on a Christian. Among men of his own race, the American embraces a dream of good humor, benevolence, and friendship. He even puts his virtues into practice. But they die on the borders of Harlem. The average American, so concerned with being in harmony with the world and himself, knows that beyond these borders he takes on the hated face of the oppressor, the enemy. It’s this face that frightens him. He feels hated; he knows he is hateful. This thorn in his conciliatory heart is more intolerable than a specific external danger. There are fewer crimes in Harlem than on the Bowery; these crimes are only symbolic—not symbolic of what might happen but of what is happening, what has happened. Minute by minute the men here are the enemies of other men. And all whites who do not have the courage to desire brotherhood try to deny this rupture in the heart of their own city; they try to deny Harlem, to forget it. It’s not a threat to the future; it’s a wound in the present, a cursed city, the city where they are cursed. It’s themselves they’re afraid to meet on the street corners. And because I’m white, whatever I think and say and do, this curse weighs on me as well. I dare not smile at the children in the squares; I don’t feel I have the right to stroll in the streets where the color of my eyes signifies injustice, arrogance, and hatred.

It’s because of this moral discomfort, not timidity, that I’m happy to be escorted this evening to the Savoy by Richard Wright; I’ll feel less suspect. He comes to fetch me at the hotel, and I observe that in the lobby he attracts untoward notice. If he asked for a room here, he would surely be refused. We go eat in a Chinese restaurant because it’s very likely that they wouldn’t serve us in the uptown restaurants. Wright lives in Greenwich Village with his wife, a white woman from Brooklyn, and she tells me that every day that when she walks in the neighborhood with her little girl, she hears the most unpleasant comments. And what’s more, while we are looking for a taxi, men dart hostile looks at this black man with two white women. There are drivers who deliberately refuse to stop for us. After this, how could I claim to mingle peacefully in the life of Harlem? I feel myself stiffen with a bad conscience. While Wright buys tickets at the door of the Savoy, two sailors speak to Ellen and me, the way all sailors the world over speak to women at the doors of dance halls. But I’m more embarrassed than I’ve ever been before. I’ll have to be offensive or ambiguous—my very presence here is equivocal. With a word, a smile, Wright sets everything in order. A white man couldn’t have found just this world, this smile, and I know that his intervention, so simple and natural, will only aggravate my embarrassment. But I climb the stairs with a light heart: this evening Richard Wright’s friendship, his presence at my side, is a kind of absolution.”

[cross-posted at the Ratio Juris blog]

Law & Literature: A Basic Bibliography 7

  • Amsterdam, Anthony G. and Jerome Bruner. Minding the Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000.
  • Atkinson, Logan and Diana Majury, eds. Law, Mystery, and the Humanities: Collected Essays. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008.
  • Ball, Milner S. The Word and the Law. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1993.
  • Bergman, Paul and Michael Asimow. Reel Justice: The Courtroom Goes to the Movies. Kansas  City, MO: Andrew McMeels Publ., revised ed., 2006.
  • Best, Stephen M. The Fugitive’s Properties: Law and the Poetics of Possession. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
  • Binder, Guyora and Robert Weisburg. Literary Criticisms of Law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.
  • Biressi, Anita. Crime, Fear and the Law in True Crime Stories. New York: Palgrave, 2001.
  • Black, David A. Law in Film: Resonance and Representation. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
  • Brooks, Peter. Troubling Confessions: Speaking Guilt in Law and Literature. Chicago, IL: University of  Chicago Press, 2001.
  • Brooks, Peter and Paul Gewirtz, eds. Law’s Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998 ed.
  • Bruner, Jerome. Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002.
  • Burgwinkle, William. Sodomy, Masculinity, and Law in Medieval Literature: France and England, 1050-1230. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  • Burnside, Jonathan. God, Justice, and Society: Aspects of Law and Legality in the Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  • Camus, Albert (Justin O’Brien, tr.). The Fall. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956.
  • Chaplin, Susan. The Gothic and the Rule of Law, 1764-1820. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Clemens, Justin, Nicholas Heron, and Alex Murray, eds. The Work of Giorgio Agambem: Law, Literature, Life. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008.
  • Coetzee, J.M. Waiting for the Barbarians. New York: Penguin Books, 1982 (1980).
  • Cormack, Bradin. A Power to Do Justice: Jurisdiction, English Literature, and the Rise of  Common Law, 1509-1625. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
  • Crane, Gregg D. Race, Citizenship, and Law in American Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Crotty, Kevin M. Law’s Interior: Legal and Literary Constructions of the Self. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
  • Curley, Thomas M. Sir Robert Chambers: Law, Literature and Empire in the Age of Johnson. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.    
  • Davis, William A. Thomas Hardy and the Law: Legal Presences in Hardy’s Life and Fiction. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 2003.
  • DeLombard, Jeannine Marie. Slavery on Trial: Law, Abolitionism, and Print Culture. Chapel  Hill, NC: University of North Carolina, 2007.
  • Denvir, John. Legal Reelism: Movies as Legal Texts. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1996.
  • Dickens, Charles. Bleak House. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996 (1852-1853).
  • Dolin, Kieran. Fiction and the Law: Legal Discourse in Victorian and Modernist Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Dolin, Kieran. A Critical Introduction to Law and Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Ferguson, Robert A. Law and Letters in American Culture. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984.
  • Finn, Margo, Michael Lobban, and Jenny Bourne Taylor, eds. Legitimacy and Illegitimacy in Nineteenth-Century Law, Literature, and History. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.
  • Fish, Stanley. Doing What Comes Naturally: Change, Rhetoric and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989.
  • Frank, Cathrine O. Law, Literature, and the Transmission of Culture in England, 1837-1925. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.
  • Gemmette, Elizabeth Villiers, ed. Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Drama. Troy, NY: Whitston Publ., 1995.
  • Gemmette, Elizabeth Villiers, ed. Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Short Stories. Troy, NY: Whitston Publ., 1995.
  • Gemmette, Elizabeth Villiers, ed. Law in Literature: Legal Themes in Novellas. Troy, NY: Whitston Publ., 1996.
  • Gladfelder, Hal. Criminality and Narrative in Eighteenth-Century England: Beyond the Law. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001.
  • Glover, Susan. Engendering Legitimacy: Law, Property, and Early Eighteenth-Century Fiction. Lewisburg, PA: Bucknell University Press, 2006.
  • González Echevarría, Roberto. Love and the Law in Cervantes. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005.
  • Goodman, Nan. Shifting the Blame: Literature, Law, and the Theory of Accidents in Nineteenth Century America. New York: Routledge, 1999.
  • Goodrich, Peter. Law in the Courts of Love: Literature and Other Minor Jurisprudences. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Green, Richard Firth. Crisis of Truth: Literature and Law in Ricardian England. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
  • Grey, Thomas. The Wallace Stevens Case: Law and the Practice of Poetry. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1991.
  • Grossman, Jonathan H. The Art of Alibi: English Law Courts and the Novel. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.
  • Gurnham, David. Memory, Imagination, Justice; Intersections of Law and Literature. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009.
  • Halberstam, Chaya T. Law and Truth in Biblical and Rabbinic Literature. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2010.
  • Hanafin, Patrick, Adam Gearey and Joseph Brooker, eds. Law and Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004.
  • Hanawalt, Barbara and Anna A. Grotans, eds. Living Dangerously: On the Margins in Medieval and Early Modern Europe. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.
  • Harmon, A.G. Eternal Bonds, True Contracts: Law and Nature in Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2004.
  • Hawley, William M. Shakespearean Tragedy and the Common Law. New York: Peter Lang, 1998.
  • Heald, Paul J., ed. Literature and Legal Problem Solving: Law and Literature as Ethical Discourse. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 1998.
  • Hegel, Robert E. and Katherine Carlitz, eds. Writing and Law in Late Imperial China: Crime, Conflict, and Judgment. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2007.
  • Heinzelman, Susan Sage. Representing Women: Law, Literature, and Feminism. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.
  • Heinzelman, Susan Sage. Riding the Black Ram: Law, Literature, and Gender. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2010.
  • Hepburn, Allan, ed. Troubled Legacies: Narrative and Inheritance. Toronto: University of  Toronto Press, 2007.
  • Hepner, Gershon. Legal Friction: Law, Identity, and Narrative Politics in Biblical Israel. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
  • Hofmann, Gert. Figures of Law: Studies in the Interference of Law and Literature. Tuebingen: Francke, 2007.
  • Hogan, Patrick Colm. On Interpretation: Meaning and Inference in Law, Psychoanalysis and Literature. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2008.
  • Hutson, Lorna. The Invention of Suspicion: Law and Mimesis in Shakespeare and Renaissance Drama. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Hutton, Chris. Language, Meaning, and the Law. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.
  • Jones, Timothy S. Outlawry in Medieval Literature. New York: Palgrage Macmillan, 2010.
  • Jordan, Constance, and Karen Cunningham, eds. The Law in Shakespeare. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Kafka, Franz (Breon Mitchell, tr.). The Trial. New York: Schocken Books, 1998 (1925).
  • Kahn, Paul. Law and Love: The Trials of King Lear. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000.
  • Kezar, Dennis, ed. Solon and Thespis: Law and Theater in the English Renaissance. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007.
  • King, Lovalerie. Race, Theft, and Ethics: Property Matters in African American Literature. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University, 2007.
  • King, Lovalerie and Richard Schur, eds. African American Culture and Legal Discourse. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
  • Kornstein, Daniel J. Kill All the Lawyers? Shakespeare’s Legal Appeal. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.
  • Larcombe, Wendy. Compelling Engagements: Feminism, Rape Law and Romance Fiction. Annandale, New South Wales: Federation Press, 2005.
  • LaRue, L.H. Constitutional Law as Fiction: Narrative in the Rhetoric of Authority. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995.
  • Ledwon, Lenora, ed. Law and Literature: Text and Theory. New York: Garland, 1996.
  • Lemon, Rebecca. Treason by Words: Literature, Law, and Rebellion in Shakespeare’s England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.
  • Levinson, Sanford and Steven Mailloux, eds. Interpreting Law and Literature: A Hermeneutic Reader. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1988.
  • Lockey, Brian C. Law and Empire in English Renaissance Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Macpherson, Heidi Slettedahl. Courting Failure: Women and the Law in Twentieth-Century Literature. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2007.
  • Majeske, Andrew J. Equity in Renaissance Literature: Thomas More and Edmund Spenser. New York: Routledge, 2006.
  • Mangham, Andrew. Violent Women and Sensation Fiction: Crime, Medicine, and Victorian Popular Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.
  • Marcus, Sharon. Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007.
  • Markesinis, Basil. Good and Evil in Art and Law. New York: Springer, 2007.
  • Marshall, Bridget M. The Transatlantic Gothic Novel and the Law, 1790-1860. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.
  • McCarthy, Conor. Marriage in Medieval England: Law, Literature, and Practice. Rochester, NY: Boydell, Press, 2004.
  • Melville, Herman. Billy Budd, Sailor (and Selected Tales). New York: Oxford University Press, 1997 (1924 and 1962).
  • Meyer, Michael J., ed. Literature and Law. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2004.
  • Miller, Arthur. The Crucible. New York: Penguin Books, 2003 ed. (1952).
  • Morawetz, Thomas. Literature and the Law. Frederick, MD: Aspen Publishers, 2007.
  • Morris, Norval. The Brothel Boy and Other Parables of the Law. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
  • Nabers, Deak. Victory of Law: The Fourteenth Amendment, the Civil War, and American Literature, 1852—1867. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.
  • Neusner, Jacob. Law as Literature. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007.
  • Nussbaum, Martha C. Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1995.
  • Posner, Richard A. Law and Literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, third ed., 2009.
  • Raffield, Paul. Shakespeare’s Imaginary Constitution: Late Elizabethan Politics and the Theatre of Law. Portland, OR: Hart, 2010.
  • Raffield, Paul and Gary Watt, eds. Shakespeare and the Law. Portland, OR: Hart, 2008.
  • Redhead, Steve. Unpopular Cultures: The Birth of Law and Popular Culture. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995.
  • Reichman, Ravit. The Affective Life of Law: Legal Modernism and the Literary Imagination. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2009.
  • Renaud, Gilles. Les Misérables on Sentencing: Valjean, Fantine, Javert and the Bishop Debate the Principles. Melbourne: Sandstone Academic Press, 2007.
  • Ritscher, Lee A. The Semiotics of Rape in Renaissance English Literature. New York: Peter Lang, 2007.
  • Rockwood, Bruce L., ed. Law and Literature Perspectives. New York: Grove, 1996.
  • Rodensky, Lisa. The Crime in Mind: Criminal Responsibility and the Victorian Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  • Ronner, Amy D. Law, Literature, and Therapeutic Jurisprudence. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2010.
  • Rosenshield, Gary. Western Law, Russian Justice: Dostoevsky, The Jury, and the Law. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005.
  • Ross, Charles. Elizabethan Literature and the Law of Fraudulent Conveyance: Sidney, Spenser, and Shakespeare. Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003.
  • St. Joan, Jacqueline and Annette Bennington McElhiney, eds. Beyond Portia: Women, Law and Literature in the United States. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press, 1997.
  • Sanders, Mark. Ambiguities of Witnessing: Law and Literature in the Time of a Truth Commission. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007.
  • Sarat, Austin, Matthew Anderson, and Cathrine O. Frank. Law and the Humanities: An Introduction. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
  • Scase, Wendy. Literature and Complaint in England, 1272-1553. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  • Schaller, Barry R. A Vision of American Law: Judging Law, Literature and the Stories We Tell. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.
  • Schmidgen, Wolfram. Eighteenth-Century Fiction and the Law of Property. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Schramm, Jan-Melissa. Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Literature, and Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
  • Schramm, Jan-Melissa and Gillian Beer, eds. Testimony and Advocacy in Victorian Law, Literature and Theology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Shapiro, Fred R. and Jane Garry eds. Trial and Error: An Oxford Anthology of Legal Stories. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998.
  • Slaughter, Joseph R. Human Rights, Inc.: The World Novel, Narrative Form, and International Law. New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.
  • Smith, Carl S. Law and American Literature: A Collection of Essays. New York: Knopf, 1983.
  • Sokol, B.J. and Mary Sokol. Shakespeare, Law, and Marriage. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Thomas, Brook. Cross-Examinations of Law and Literature: Cooper, Hawthorne, Stowe & Melville. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
  • Thomas, Brook. Civic Myths: A Law-and-Literature Approach to Citizenship. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007.
  • Thomas, Jeffrey E. and Franklin G. Snyder, eds. The Law and Harry Potter. Durham, NC:  Carolina Academic Press, 2010.
  • Thompson, Carlyle Van. Black Outlaws: Race, Law, and Male Subjectivity in African American Literature and Culture. New York: Peter Lang, 2010.
  • Tomain, Joseph P. Creon’s Ghost: Law, Justice, and the Humanities. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
  • Turner, J. Neville and Pam Williams, eds. The Happy Couple: Law and Literature. Sydney: Federation Press, 1994.
  • Tushnet, Mark V. Slave Law in the American South: State v. Mann in History and Literature. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2003.
  • Visconsi, Elliott. Lines of Equity: Literature and the Origins of Law in Later Stuart England. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008.
  • Ward, Ian. Law and Literature: Possibilities and Perspectives. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  • Ward, Ian. Shakespeare and the Legal Imagination. London: Butterworths, 1999.
  • Ward, Ian. Law, Text, Terror. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.
  • Watson, Jay. Forensic Fictions: The Lawyer Figure in Faulkner. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1993.
  • Warren, Joyce W. Women, Money and the Law: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Gender, and the Courts. Iowa City, IA: University of Iowa Press, 2005.
  • Weaver, Jace. Other Words: American Indian Literature, Law, and Culture. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001.
  • Weiner, Susan. Law in Art: Melville’s Major Fiction and Nineteenth-Century American Law. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.
  • Weisberg, Richard H. The Failure of the Word: The Lawyer as Protagonist in Modern Fiction. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.
  • Weisburg, Richard H. Poethics, and Other Strategies of Law and Literature. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992.
  • White, Edward J. Commentaries on the Law in Shakespeare. Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific, 2002.
  • White, James Boyd. When Words Lose Their Meaning: Constitutions and Reconstitutions of Language, Character, and Community. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1984.
  • White, James Boyd. Heracles’ Bow: Essays on the Rhetoric and Poetics of the Law. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985.
  • White, James Boyd. Acts of Hope: Creating Authority in Literature, Law and Politics. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1994.
  • White, R.S. Natural Law in English Renaissance Literature. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. 
  • Williams, Melanie. Empty Justice: One Hundred Years of Law, Literature and Philosophy. London: Cavendish, 2001.
  • Wilson, Luke. Theaters of Intention: Drama and the Law in Early Modern England. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2000.
  • Winter, Steven L. A Clearing in the Forest: Law, Life, and Mind. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2001.
  • Wishingrad, Jay, ed. Short Fictions: Short Stories About Lawyers and the Law. New York: The Overlook Press, 1992.
  • Woodmansee, Martha and Peter Jaszi, eds. The Construction of Authorship: Textual Appropriation in Law and Literature. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1994.
  • Wright, Nancy E., Margaret W. Ferguson, and A.R. Buck, eds. Women, Property, and the Letters of the Law in Early Modern England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004.
  • Yoshino, Kenji. A Thousand Times More Fair: What Shakespeare’s Plays Teach Us About Justice. New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2011.
  • Ziolkowski, Theodore. The Mirror of Justice: Literary Reflections of Legal Crises. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003 ed.
  • Zomchick, John P. Family and the Law in Eighteenth-Century Fiction: The Public Conscience in the Private Sphere. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
  • Zurcher, Andrew. Spenser’s Legal Language: Law and Poetry in Early Modern England. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2007.

I welcome suggestions for additional titles. And I will send along a Word doc. version upon request. (At a future date this compilation will be made available at the Ratio Juris blog for download as a Word doc.)

Sufi Poetry–I 3


“The Arabic world abounds with poetry festivals. Iran’s heritage of great love poetry is close on the lips and in the hearts of a large percentage of Iranians. Throughout much of the classical Islamic world, poetry is at the center of cultural life.”—Michael Sells

Having completed our propaedeutic for poetry and Islam,* in this series of posts I’ll share some representative poems from the Islamic mystical tradition, that is, Sufism. These will be prefaced by introductory biographical sketches designed in part to shed light on the specific subject matter of the poems. Ideally, of course, one would have some familiarity with the Islamic religious tradition generally and Sufism in particular, yet it’s often been said these poems can be appreciated and enjoyed absent such knowledge, if only because they are constructed from words possessing both an indispensable exoteric or outward (zāhir) meaning and an esoteric or inward (bātin) meaning, a contrast that should not be construed as simply coextensive with the difference between the literal and the figurative. All the same, I believe the ideal reader will benefit from an acquaintance with a handful of essential Islamic terms and a basic Sufi vocabulary.

*  *  *  Our poems are in English translation (largely from Arabic and Persian) and it therefore seems appropriate to say a thing or two about issues invariably raised with the translation of literature and especially poetry. Here I’ll defer to the sensitive and sensible observations of the Palestinian poet, translator, and critic, Salma Khadra Jayyusi. In introducing her edited volume, Modern Arabic Poetry: An Anthology (1987), Jayyusi is rightly impressed by “how very similar poetries are, and how unprejudiced and competent poets easily assimilate and interpret the verse of other poets of a completely different language and culture. In this sense it is possible to say that poetry has many tongues but a single language.” Nevertheless,

“Some critics believe that since perfect equivalence in translation is not attainable, there is no point in attempting the task of translation at all. But what a loss it would be if no one could come to know the great poets of the human race who wrote in languages different from their own! In most cases, the only way to read the poetry of other cultures is through the medium of translation. This makes the task of translation not only a major aesthetic undertaking, but also a crucial cultural responsibility: poetry is the main vehicle for expressing the emotional experience of a people, and for revealing their deeper consciousness of the world, and it may bring the reader into a more intimate knowledge of other people’s actual life situations. [Poetry is thus like mythic literature or modern fiction, all of which communicate truths of a kind and different kinds of truth having to do with the human condition, questions of value and meaning, and the motley nature of the human character.]  If we think about it, even when poets read a foreign poetry directly in its original tongue, they tend to go through a process of translation in order to benefit from this poetry in their own work. What usually happens is that they translate this poetry in their own minds, often as they are reading it. In short, the process of translation goes on, in one way or another, all the time.”

*  *  *  The following will suffice as an introduction to a few fundamental Sufi concepts:

The Sufi Path has been described by some as primarily “a path of love,” one in which “the human soul searches out God, and if the grace of God falls upon the searcher, then he or she finds fanā’ (annihilation) in God and ultimately baqā’ [‘abiding’] or eternal existence in the consciousness of God” (Jamal, tr. and ed. 2009: xx). I’m inclined to disagree with arguments on behalf of the primacy of love in Sufism, however accurate the definitions here of fanā’ and baqā’.  Fortunately, I can appeal to one of the foremost experts on Sufism in our time, the Iranian born Islamic philosopher, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, for a different characterization, one that posits instead the primacy of “gnosis,” all the while recognizing a prominent role for love in Islamic spirituality:

“According to Sufism, the supreme goal of human life is to attain Truth, which is also Reality, the source of all reality, and whose attainment, as also stated by Christ, makes us free, delivering us from the bondage of ignorance. Although deeply involved with love, and also on a certain level with action, Sufism is at the highest level a path of knowledge (ma‘rifah in Arabic and ‘irfān in Persian), a knowledge that is illuminative and unitive, a knowledge whose highest object is the Truth as such, that is, God, and subsequently the knowledge of things in relation to God. [….] The knowledge of the Truth is like the light of the sun while love is like the heat that always accompanies that light” (Nasr 2007: 30).

And now we can proceed to account for the relation between the attainment of fanā’ and baqā’ and this Truth, this Reality, or God. Fanā’ is the spiritual experience of loss of individual identity or sense of self in the unity and oneness (tawhīd) of God. God is, so to speak, and in the end, the only (or ultimate) Reality. Fanā suggests the end of purely individual awareness, a condition later symbolized with the metaphor of the Black Light, “the light of bewilderment; when the divine light fully appears in the mystic’s consciousness, all things disappear instead of remaining visible (medieval and Renaissance mystics in Germany would speak of the überhelle Nacht). Such is the experience of fanā’—a blackout of everything until the mystic perceives that this blackness is ‘in reality the very light of the Absolute-as-such’…” (Schimmel 1975: 144). Baqā, on the other hand, “refers to the paradoxical experience of surviving an encounter with the divine,” an encounter which results in the utter effacement of individual identity (Renard: 21) (in which case we might ask, ‘who’ or ‘what’ is having the mystical experience?), and is seen as the complementary correlative of fanā. Such subsistence in God finds the soul “travers[ing] ever new abysses of the fathomless divine being, of which no tongue can speak” (Schimmel 1975: 306), reminding us of what philosophers of mysticism have labeled “pure consciousness events” (PCE), the alleged “’emptying out’ by a subject of all experiential content and phenomenological qualities, including concepts, thoughts, sense perception, and sensuous images” (Jerome Gellman), as well as the theological rationale for apophatic mysticism.  Nasr proffers the following description: “to be fully human is to realize our perfect solitude and to remove the veil of separative existence through spiritual practice so that God, transcendent and immanent within us, can utter ‘I’” (Nasr: 13). Subsistence in God has also been defined as “the annihilation of annihilation” (fanā’ al-fanā’). It is this summit of mystical experience that is said to be responsible for spontaneous ecstatic utterances (shathīyāt) on the order of Hallāj’s notorious proclamation, “I am the Truth.” Nasr explains: “It is through alfanā’ that human beings gain the ‘Truth of Certainty’ (haqq al-yaqīn). The person in whom such a truth has become all-pervasive is called muhaqqiq, literally, the person in whom Truth has become realized [This sounds remarkably similar to Gandhi’s unconventional conception of avatāra in Hinduism, which is traditionally understood to mean a divine ‘descent’ or ‘incarnation,’ but which Gandhi interpreted to indicate man’s wish to become like God. In the words of Margaret Chatterjee’s discussion of Gandhi’s account, ‘It is possible for every human being to become perfect, as God is, and it is necessary for us to aspire towards it.’] ; this person has become embellished with the Qualities of God…” (Nasr: 135-136). The Qualities of God are equivalent to the “names of God” as well as the “character traits” (akhlāq) of God, as in the hadīth attributed to the Prophet: “Assume the character traits of God” (takhallaqū bi akhlāq). And yet “these states are granted only to the saintly and God-graced few. For most, the Path is a path of loving God through his manifestations [what Hindus call ‘bhakti yoga,’ the path of love and devotion to God most accessible to the masses, the path of knowledge or wisdom, jñāna yoga, being the prerogative of the few]. This is the message Sufism conveys to the common believer: love God, love God’s creation and praise Him and remember Him all the time” (Jamal: xx). Profane or romantic love, that is, the “love of created things” (‘ishq-e majāzī), while in the end illusory, is no less important insofar as it can serve as a bridge to true love, that is, the love of God.

*  *  *  Rābi`a al-`Adawīyya, our first poet, was born in Basra, the city of date palm forests and salt marshes at the head of the Persian Gulf, in 95/714 or 99/717-8. She died in the former garrison town in 185/801. Rābi`a represents the pinnacle of the Basran tradition of women’s ascetic spirituality within Islam. Within Sufism, she is one of the (if not the) earliest exponents and dramatic exemplars of “love-mysticism.” As John Renard notes in his Historical Dictionary of Sufism (2005), “She is one of the few women who consistently merited a place in hagiographic anthologies over the centuries.”

Aptly described as an “ascetic of extreme otherworldliness” (Smith 2001: 105), Rābi`a’s life was bound by an ascetic triune of prayer, poverty (faqr) and seclusion that encompassed the threefold prescription of Sufi conduct: “little food, little sleep, little talk.” Her uncompromising and lifelong ascetic regimen required periodic desert sojourns and the construction of a simple hut for devotional retreat. She defined for the Sufi novice the requisite path of renunciation, the underlying rationale for which is a single-minded and wholehearted love (mahabba) of God.

Physically frail and frequently ill, Rābi`a was no less renowned for the rigors of her asceticism (both ill-health and longevity have been attributed to her vigilant asceticism!). She is reputed to have refused several offers of marriage, preferring the celibate life. Although no school was founded in her name, women and more often men, came for spiritual advice and instruction in deference to her informal mastery of early Sufi doctrine and practice.

The picture of a “highly-strung and emotional recluse” painted by an early biographer suffers in comparison with Sulamī’s portrait of her in his Dhikr an-niswa al-muta `abbidāt as sūfiyyāt (Memorial of Female Sufi Devotees) as “a rational and disciplined teacher who demonstrates her mastery of important mystical states, such as truthfulness (sidq), self-criticism (muhāsaba), spiritual intoxication (sukr), love for God (mahabba), and gnosis (ma`rifa)” (Cornell 1999: 62).

No matter how wondrous, God’s works are but veils obscuring His beauty and essence, obstacles in the way of eventual union of the lover with the Beloved. Thus Rābi`a’s conception of repentance (tawba) is more than mere remorse for sinning and the corresponding resolve to sin no more: repentance denotes the determination to turn away from all save God. Yet, perchance paradoxically, for Rābi`a tawba is a “gift [of grace] from God.” As such, it is a prelude to or necessary condition for a host of psycho-spiritual virtues and emotional dispositions; but most importantly, tawba allows for the abnegation of personal will in the will of God (theologically derived from tawhīd, the acknowledgement and awareness of the oneness of God). In addition to the longing of the lover for the Beloved (shawq), or the yearning of the soul purged of nafs (baser passions, selfish desires) to experience intimacy with God (uns), Rābi`a’s love mysticism therefore entails utter acquiescence of the lover in the will of the Beloved (ridā’, lit. contentment or satisfaction). Not surprisingly, ridā’ signifies God’s satisfaction with his loving servant’s obedience, which is metaphysically if not logically prior to the subjective experience of ridā’, that is, the lover’s contentment with her lot in life, her share of misfortune, adversity or suffering. Like the God of the Hebrew Bible, Rābi`a’s God is a jealous God “who will suffer none to share with Him that love which is due to Him alone” (Smith 2001: 131), hence the prohibition of idolatry (shirk in Islam, the theological converse of tawhīd). Finally, disinterested love of God means the obedient servant is ideally motivated by neither hope for eternal reward (Paradise), nor fear of eternal punishment (Hell). In a theistic variant of Euthyphro’s question, Rābi`a asks, “Even if Heaven or Hell were not, does it not behove us to obey Him?”

While a foretaste of the union of the lover with the Beloved is possible in this vale of tears, only death can bring about kashf, the final unveiling of the Beloved to his lover(s). And it is thus mahabba that, in the end, makes possible knowledge (ma`rifa) of God. Ascetic practice serves both to heighten the sense of separation from, and intensify the longing for, the Beloved: acute awareness of the sin of separation assuming the form of grief and sorrow in Basran mysticism. Such lamentation was often vividly expressed—Rābi`a included—through incessant weeping (bukā’), the prolonged practice of which sometimes led to blindness (Cornell 1991: 61).

Although love for the Creator turned her away from love of created things, she faced her separation from the Beloved with a patience (sabr) and gratitude (shukr) that transcended any feelings of grief and sorrow, befitting one enthralled by a vision of eventual union with the Divine.

Rābi`a’s poetry illustrates the fact the “early Sufis were mystics and philosophers first and poets second. Their greatness, in other words, lies not in their poetry but in their lives and utterances” (Mahmood Jamal). Most Sufis would no doubt prefer to be remembered for “their lives and utterances,” but several later Sufis, most conspicuously and deservedly, Rūmī, are best known in the first instance as poets.


You Have Infused My Being

You have infused my being

Through and through,

As an intimate friend must

Always do.

So when I speak I speak of only You

And when silent, I yearn for You.


If I worship You

O Lord, if I worship You

Because of fear of hell

Then burn me in hell.

If I worship You

Because I desire paradise

Then exclude me from paradise.

But if I worship You

For Yourself alone

Then deny me not

Your eternal beauty.


My Rest is in My Solitude

Brethren, my rest is in my solitude,

And my Beloved is ever in my presence.

Nothing for me will do but love of Him;

By love of Him I am tested in this world.

Whereso I be I contemplate His beauty;

He is my prayer-niche; He mine orient is.

Died I of love and found not His acceptance,

Of mankind I most wretched, woe were me!

Heart’s mediciner, Thou All of longing, grant

Union with Thee; ‘twill cure to the depth.

O Thou, ever my joy, my life, from Thee

Is mine existence and mine ecstasy.

From all creation I have turned away

For union with Thee mine utmost end.

(Martin Lings, tr.)


In My Soul

In my soul

there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church

where I kneel.

Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.

Is there not a region of love where the sovereignty is

illumined nothing,

where ecstasy gets poured into itself

and becomes lost,

where this wing is fully alive

but has no mind or body?

In my soul

there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church

that dissolve,

that dissolve in God

(Daniel Ladinsky, tr.)

*Our earlier introductory posts on the subject are found here, here, here, and here. 

Please Note: The poem, “If I Worship You,” is virtually identical to a prayer attributed to St. Francis Xavier, which I discovered in reading James Kellenberger’s discussion of motives for religious belief in The Cognitivity of Religion: Three Perspectives (1985: 125). Unfortunately, Kellenberger does not provide us with a reference. Another version, much longer, but containing the same religious sentiment regarding heaven and hell, is found here. Many of the poems of Rābi`a have not been authenticated, so it’s possible that this is properly attributed to St. Francis Xavier, although he lived and died in the sixteenth century (and visited parts of the Islamic world in his extenstive missionary travels) and Rābi`a in the ninth, so perhaps the borrowing runs in the other direction! I’ve yet to come across any discussion of this in the scholarship on Rābi`a.


Cornell, Rkia E., tr. Early Sufi Women—Dhikr an-niswa al-muta `abbidat as sufiyyat, by Abu `Abd ar-Rahman as-Sulami. Louisville, KY: Fons Vitae, 1999.

Jamal, Mahmood (tr. and ed.). Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi. London: Penguin Classics/Books, 2009.

Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. Modern Arabic Poetry: An Introduction. New York: Columbia University Press, 1987.

Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition. New York: HarperOne, 2007.

Renard, John. Historical Dictionary of Sufism. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005. 

el-Sakkani, Widad. First Among Sufis: The Life and Thought of Rabia al-Adawiyya, the Woman Saint of Basra. London: Octagon Press, 1982.

Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1975.

Smith, Margaret. Muslim Women Mystics: The Life and Work of Rābi`a and Other Women Mystics in Islam. Oxford, UK: Oneworld, 2001.

Cross-posted at

On the “Environmentalists’ Dilemma” Reply

I’m grateful to Allen for bringing these thoughts to the table for discussion.

I suspect the portrait of the “environmentalist’s dilemma” is a bit exaggerated on both sides. It reminds me of the first vociferous “debate” in the environmental movement between so-called “Deep Ecology” and “Social Ecology” Greens (the latter largely the acolytes of Murray Bookchin). This debate was perhaps more imagined than real (insofar as it took place among a handful of writers and intellectuals and was less apparent ‘on the ground’), although it did reflect underlying tensions and questions within the Green movement having to do with the kinds of worldviews that inspired and motivated those engaged in environmentalist/ecological politics in the broadest sense. On one side, the more (loosely) spiritual-oriented folks were busy canvassing if not rummaging through the globe’s various worldviews for philosophical perspectives they believed evidenced a more holistic and harmonious metaphysical and ethical picture of mankind’s relation with the natural world; on the other side (and again, loosely), were those of Left and New Left vintage who understood the new ecological politics to emerge from within a tradition that was more beholden to the likes of Marx and Kropotkin or the Wobblies and the SDS, and thus were prone to carcicaturing their ecological counterparts as New Age whackos with irredeemably bourgeois sensibilities afflicted by historical amnesia utterly lacking in “true” socio-political and economic sophistication when it came to social analysis and understanding the dynamics of social change. There were truths to be learned from both camps, although egos and polemicizing served to obscure that fact (in time, both sides began to dismantle their character armour somewhat and the debate itself virtually vanished).

Robert E. Goodin’s book, Green Political Theory (1992) helps us to understand some of the reasons that animate the above debate as well as a more significant divide within “green political theory” and praxis. Goodin writes of a “green theory of value” that, in short, “provides the unified moral vision running through all the central substantive planks in the green political programme.” Conceptually and politically distinct but thought by many to strictly follow from this green theory of value is a “green theory of agency” that tells us how to go about pursuing the green theory of value(s). Goodin points out that part and parcel among those who concentrate their energies on the “agency” aspect of green politics are a belief in and commitment to the propogation of views revolving around choices of personal life-style, questions of New Age cosmology, and the desire for transformations of consciousness, views that tend to trivialize or crowd out more pragmatic and practical orientations and strategies that rely on conventional politics for the realization of the green theory of value. Those cleaving to such views make the price, so to speak, for subscribing to or endorsing a green politics too high for the vast majority of citizens and thus, in the end, prolong the realization of a green theory of value(s). Some years ago I wrote that while I thought Goodin was a bit hard on some of the “agency” folks, he made a compelling argument. On the other hand, he may not have sufficiently appreciated the very real obstacles presented by conventional politics for the realization of green values (this would be the position, say, of the late Rudolf Bahro or even the late Arne Naess).

The “economists” of the post would therefore be identical with or at least similar to the practical or pragmatic folks (including those willing to ‘dirty’ their hands in conventional politics) Goodin believes better capable of implementing green moral values, in other words, more likely than those “moralists” who, fewer in number, can be a bit too self-righteous or unrealistic in their advocacy of wholesale lifestyle and worldview (‘belief’) changes of the sort that could not, it seems clear, occur anytime soon, a fact with dire consequences if one is convinced of the necessity and urgency of the green political program.

In several respects, I think Goodin’s argument provided a way out of the impasse, in any case, it addressed questions of a more down-to-earth sort than those intrinsic to the theoretical and rarefied debate that took place between the deep ecology and social ecology greens and it made the larger point that “being green” did not strictly entail adopting wholesale the idiosynractic or unfamiliar worldviews of green intellectuals and movement leaders, nor did it mean adopting a radically new lifestyle on the order of the hippies and countercultural devotees of an earlier era.

It often seems to be the case that those who provide the vision and leadership of the green movement are more toward the “moralist” and “agency” end of the spectrum, for what has motivated their own idealism, activism and politics is often a conversion of some sort, to a new worldview (or the radical transformation of an existing one) and or a new lifestyle, the presumption or assumption being that it’s changes of THAT sort that are necessary for others to begin the turn toward ecological and environmental thinking and praxis. But to support and vote for green politics rarely requires such dramatic and wholesale changes among the masses. For us, the changes are more likely of a piecemeal kind (e.g., recycling, buying a more fuel-efficient car, less wasteful consumption decisions generally) and often at the ballot box (voting for a more environmentally sound politics that facilitates the progressive and wider adoption and realization of green values). And with regard to worldviews, this more often that not means people will come to simply modify their existing belief systems in ecological and environmentalist ways (see, for instance: Thus, in effect, we overcome the “environmentalists’ dilemma” on the ground, not unlike, at least in some measure and certain respects, Thoreau himself did.

With a brief nod to a literary dimension, it bears noting that “social ecologists” rightly took to task the ideas and tactics of those in the environmental movement who belonged to groups such as Earth First! (and the early writings of its co-founder, David Foreman), that wing of the movement farthest from a Gandhian-like practice of nonviolence (some would claim their praxis was nonetheless a species of nonviolence). These radical ecologists were avowedly inspired by the writings of Edward Abbey (e.g., The Monkeywrench Gang, 1975) who, while not accountable for their actions, most notoriously “eco-sabotage” (or ‘monkeywrenching’), seems to have endorsed them. Insofar as these actions were ‘underground’ (i.e., intentionally not public), and involved destruction of property or possible harm to living beings, they were understandably anathema to others in the environmental movement. Earth First! philosophy or political theory, such as it was, came dangerously close to if not actually espousing an ecological version of Malthusian Social Darwinism, the fundamental or representative ideas of which are enshrined in Paul Ehrlich’s writings (e.g., The Population Bomb, 1968) as well as Garrett Hardin’s formulation of “Tragedy of the Commons” idea (incisively critiqued by Partha Dasgupta, among others), alongside his later and more disturbing notion of “lifeboat ethics” (for a nice discussion of this variation on Malthusian themes, please see Robert C. Paehlke’s Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics, 1989).

The environmentalist “economists” cited in the post are of course constrained in part by conceptual and value presuppositions and assumptions that heretofore have helped define their discipline (cf. S.M. Amadae’s Rationalizing Capitalist Democracy: The Cold War Origins of Rational Choice Liberalism, 2003, and works by Philip Mirowski), especially insofar as they are trained in and beholden to essential tenets of neo-classical economics. Alas, this kind of economics has become increasingly obtuse when it comes to forthrightly addressing questions of ethics or morality (environmentalist or otherwise). Amartya Sen details some of the historical and conceptual shortcomings of the discipline in his book, On Ethics and Economics (1987). In addition to informing his colleagues of how economics  can benefit from a more intimate relation with ethics, Sen makes a subsidiary point regarding the benefits that follow from ethical thinking being informed by a basic knowledge of economics. Another important work by way of addressing the moral shortcomings of contemporary economics as a social science discipline and thus useful for environmentalists of an economics suasion, is Daniel M. Hausman and Michael S. McPherson’s Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy (2nd ed., 2006). A book I believe sets the standard for a morally and ecologically sensitive economics, is Partha Dasgupta’s Human Well-Being and the Natural Environment (2001). Finally, a fine example of the  increasing sophistication of environmentalist reasoning and praxis is Moral and Poltical Reasoning in Environmental Practice (2003), edited by Andrew Light and Avner de-Shalit. The entry on “environmental ethics” in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) is helpful by way of ascertaining to what extent our “dilemma” may afflict environmentalists as well as thinking though these topics more generally.

A word of caution: I think some environmentalists who are making their argument within the parameters of economics, try too hard to demonstrate their capitalist bona fides, thereby unnecessarily constricting the imagination of prospects and possibilities for a more ecologically and environmentally sustainable tomorrow. In short, and by way of a conclusion, we might say that the “Environmentalists’ Dilemma” arises in the first instance because the profession of economics is morally impoverished, a conceptually contingent and remediable state of affairs, foreshadowed in fine fashion, as Allen helps us see, in Thoreau’s Walden.

Readers may also be interested in a compilation from several years ago of titles on “environmental and ecological worldviews:”

Islam & Poetry: Addendum 1

In the final introductory post on Islam and Poetry (Part 3), I wrote in response to several lines from Sanā’ī’s Hadiqa al-haqīqa (Enclosed Garden of the Truth) that what Sanā’ī “lack[ed] in aesthetic unity [he] makes up for in rather proud religious purpose.” My original and somewhat sarcastic response to the quoted passage is akin to the manner in which others have reacted to the following final verses from Farīd al-Din ‘Attar’s celebrated mystical epic, the Mantiq al-tayr  (The Conference of the Birds):

This book is the adornment of time, offering a portion to both elite and common.

If a frozen piece of ice saw this book, it would happily emerge from the veil like the sun.

My poetry has a marvelous property, since it gives more results every time.

If it’s easy for you to read a lot, it will certainly be sweeter for you every time.

This veiled bride in a teasing mood only gradually lets the veil fall open.

Till the resurrection, no one as selfless as I will ever write verse with pen on paper.

I am casting forth pearls from the ocean of reality. My words are finished and this is the sign.

If I praise myself a lot, how can that praise please anyone else?

But the expert himself knows my value, because the light of my moon is not hidden.

These lines are in fact missing from the well-known English translation of the epic poem by Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis (1984). In the Introduction, Davis notes that they have translated the entire poem “with the exception of the invocation and the epilogue. The invocation, a traditional prelude to long narrative poems in Persian, consists of praise of God, of the Prophet [Muhammad] and of the founders of Islam. [….] The epilogue, again a traditional feature of such poems, consists largely of self-praise and is a distinct anticlimax after a poem devoted to the notion of passing beyond the Self.” One wonders if that is sufficient justification for omitting the end of the poem (and the invocation for that matter!).

In his essay, “On Losing One’s Head: Hallājian Motifs and Authorial Identity in Poems Ascribed to ‘Attār,”* Carl Ernst well captures the puzzlement that inevitably follows reflection on such lines from renowned Sufi poets like Sanā’ī and ‘Attār. Discussing the aforementioned epilogue from the Mantiq al-tayr, Ernst writes that

“This passage is remarkable for the boast it contains in which ‘Attār claims that no one has ever annihilated his ego as successfully as he. Conjoined as it is with a bold advertisement of the quality of ‘Attār’s literary works, this paradoxical boast of ego-annihilation raises a difficult question regarding the nature of authorship of Sufi writings. If the goal of the Sufi is the annihilation of the self, what sort of self may be ascribed to the authors of the central writings of Sufism? As ‘Attār himself remarked in comparing Hallāj’s utterances with Moses’ encounter with the burning bush on Sinai, it was not the bush that spoke, but God. ‘Attār’s declaration is a specimen of the rhetoric of sainthood which permitted the spiritual elite to engage in a boasting contest (mufākhara) to demonstrate the extent of God’s favours to them.”

Familiarity with this “boasting” rhetoric of sainthood should temper if not eliminate the reaction I had to the lines from Sanā’ī’s Hadiqa al-haqīqa as well as help one appreciate why the omission of the epilogue from the Mantiq al-tayr might be troubling. With Ernst, we need to consider the extent to which the Sufi tradition incorporated the pre-Islamic Arabic tradition of mufākhara into “its earliest dialogical pronouncements,” a fact “explicitly recognized in early Sufi manuals of conduct,” and thus “what is distinctive about the Sufi rhetoric of sainthood is that unabashed boasting is permitted and even encouraged as a means of indicating one’s direct contact with God” (From Ernst’s Ruzbihan Baqli: Mysticism and the Rhetoric of Sainthood in Persian Sufism, 1996: 45 and 146 respectively). Thus what at first glance appears as grandiose self-praise, the very antithesis of selflessness, turns out to be a refrain from the traditional rhetoric of sainthood, one in which it could be said that we witness “the flickering of the authorial ego in the storm of divinity.”

Finally, yet another perspective is provided by the following lines from ‘Attār’s Mantiq al-tayr, reminiscent of the disparaging comments Rūmī came to write about his own poetry:

With his dying breath that sage of faith [Sanā’ī] said,

‘If only I knew long before this

How more honorable is listening to speaking,

When would I have wasted my life with words?’

If words were as fine as gold,

Still, they would be inferior to unuttered words!

Doing it is the lot of true men!

Alas, my fate was just talking about it.

Such sentiment, held in common by both the “practical” man and the true mystic, arguably contains an implicit critique of the limitations of reason, in particular of the, in the end, spiritual constraints of both theology and philosophy (especially a rationalist metaphysics), when viewed in the supernal light of Divine silence. Put differently, words, or reason, can only “point” or indirectly refer to that kind of mystical experience which has, I think, been properly characterized as a “pure consciousness event”  (i.e., consciousness without an object), involving a non- or para-cognitive form of “knowing” or awareness said to encompass one’s entire being and thus beyond the realm of subject-object duality.

*In Leonard Lewisohn and Christopher Shackle, eds., Attar and the Persian Sufi Tradition: The Art of Spiritual Flight (London: I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, 2006: 330-343). This essay is also found online here.

The (original) image is here.

For an illuminating analysis of Habīballāh’s painting (the image above) as a “complete visual rendition of ‘Attār’s entire cosmology,” please see Michael Barry’s essay, “Illustrating ‘Attār: A Pictorial Meditation by Master Habīballāh of Mashhad in the Tradition of Master Bihzād of Herat,” in Lewisohn and Shackle, eds., pp. 135-164.

Brief biographies of both Sanā’ī and ‘Attār (the former penned by yours truly) can be found in Oliver Leaman, ed., The Biographical Encyclopedia of Islamic Philosophy, 2 Vols. (A-I and J-Z) (London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2006).