Thursday, December 2, 2010

Alan Dershowitz – "Life is Not a Dramatic Narrative" – article review and summary


In his "life is Not a Dramatic Narrtive" (1996) the famous O.J.Simpson trail attorney Alan Dershowitz argues with much vigor against the call to incorporate narratological elements into the discourse of law practice and studies. Stories have a purpose and meaning, Dershowitz says, but life does not, and any attempt to view the later as subjected to the rules and workings of the former will result in the distortion of truth.

Dershowitz line of argument stems for the Chekhov canon, "if in the first chapter you say that there is a gun hung on the wall, in the second or third chapter it must without fail discharge". In reality, though, there are countless guns hung on wall and only very few of them are discharged at a victim. Life is random, and purposeless, it is only us that attempt to ascribe it with some meaning and order, and meaning and order are not an integral part of it. Thus bringing the narrative into the courtroom confuses the working of fiction with the task of finding out the truth.

Another example used by Dershowitz to tell narrative from reality is that of a dream. In a story the inclusion of an ominous dream must be prophetic, for otherwise, were it meaningless, the dream would have not been part of the narrative. In reality, though, people dream all the time, sometimes horrendous dreams, without carrying them out, which makes the dream not only redundant in the attempt to track the truth, but also dangerous.
Dershowitz also argues, following Sartre, that a story is always constructed in hindsight. Its causal principles are only possible when all elements of the narrative relate and contribute towards a already known ending. Reality is chaotic, and endless facts scamper and skirmish about it with no teleology in mind.

Dreshowitz perceives narrative as something which distorts reality rather than mediate it. He is a positivist, believing that actual objective reality is available to our grasp if we only utilize the right methods, which are predominantly aimed at dismissing with deceiving elements, such as narrative. 

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