Barbara Johnson


Recent discussions of the relations between law and literature have tended to focus on prose - novels, short stories, autobiographies, even plays - rather than on lyric poetry. Literature has been seen as a locus of plots and situations that parallel legal cases or problems, either to shed light on complexities not always acknowledged by the ordinary practice of legal discourse or to shed light on cultural crises and debates that historically underlie and inform literary texts. But, in a sense, this focus on prose is surprising, since lyric poetry has, at least historically, been the more law-abiding or rule-bound of the genres. Indeed, the sonnet form has been compared to a prison (Wordsworth) or at least to a bound woman (Keats), and Baudelaire's portraits of lyric depression (Spleen) are often written as if from behind bars. What are the relations between the laws of genre and the laws of the state? The present paper might be seen as asking this question through the juxtaposition, as it happens, of two sonnets and a prisoners' association.

More profoundly, though, lyric and law might be seen as two very different ways of instating what a "person" is. There appears to be the greatest possible discrepancy between a lyric "person" - emotive, subjective, individual - and a legal "person" - rational, rights-bearing, institutional. In this paper I will try to show, through the question of anthropomorphism, how these two "persons" can illuminate each other.