Wai Chee Dimock


Does the radius of the "interdisciplinary" extend so far as to encompass literature, law, and science? Do these three fields meet in any meaningful ways, in ways that bear on all three, clarifying the claims, the limits, and the premises of each? In answering "yes," I want to argue not for a necessary, determinate connection between these fields, but for a dynamic continuum evolving through them, tracing a deep-rooted genealogy among some of their operative terms. Such a continuum makes it possible to imagine many specific contexts in which literature, law, and science do indeed come into contact and-intersecting as well as diverging-reciprocally define each other's boundaries.

This Essay is an attempt to imagine one such context. Most particularly, it is an attempt to gather together (and to tease apart) some of the spatial postulates in law and literature, juxtaposing them against the scientific debate about "absolute" versus "relative" space. That debate, a turning point in modern physics - the point at which the world of Newton gives way to the world of Einstein - would seem to issue a corresponding challenge to other domains of thought. This Essay takes that challenge seriously. In what follows, I appeal to Einstein's "nonabsolute space" to develop an interlocking set of arguments about law and literature: arguments that ponder the meaning of spatial adjudication, both as it informs claims to rights in legal and ethical discourse and as it informs conflicts between neighbors in fiction.