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Abstract

Look at the monumental change that has been wrought between the Magna Carta or the Carta Forestae of Edward I and the prodigious legislation of the Tudors. In language, form, and style, these written laws seem almost unrelated; the former are as impenetrable and limited in scope as the latter are arrogant in their power and authority. Yet one grew with the utmost gradualness from the other. Listen to the miraculous changes that have been rung between the two-part organa and plainsongs of the thirteenth century and the prodigious motets of Thomas Tallis, with up to forty distinct vocal lines in mazy coalition. Here, too, there has been so much formal and stylistic development that it is hard to imagine that one is an ornate variation of the other. The languages of law and of music each effected changes in purpose and normativity that an inquiry into aesthetic and semiotic considerations will reveal. The similarities between these parallel historical transformations suggest that these changes extended far beyond the narrow boundaries of each discipline and implicated every corner of the lives of those who lived then.

This Article is about the purposes and means of reading legal texts, offering a broader understanding of the why and how of legal interpretation. Many modem readers-and writers too-treat reading as miners treat the earth. They are insensitive to the environment of the text, its connotative play of light and shadow. In fiction and nonfiction alike, they search for syllogisms, arguments that can be extracted and stored, and discard the rest as mere impedimenta. Ideas, facts, and events are nuggets of meaning; everything else is just a bunch of old rocks. The result of this discursive strip-mining is a wasteland in which more has been lost than gained, and much that has always been there is never found.

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