Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing Literature

Legal Fictions: Constituting Race, Composing Literature

Duke University Press
January 2014
176 pages
3 photographs
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-5595-3
Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5581-6

Karla FC Holloway, James B. Duke Professor of English; Professor of Law; Professor of Women’s Studies
Duke University

In Legal Fictions, Karla FC Holloway both argues that U.S. racial identity is the creation of U.S. law and demonstrates how black authors of literary fiction have engaged with the law’s constructions of race since the era of slavery. Exploring the resonance between U.S. literature and U.S. jurisprudence, Holloway reveals Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Charles Johnson’s Middle Passage as stories about personhood and property, David Bradley’s The Chaneysville Incident and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man as structured by evidence law, and Nella Larsen’s Passing as intimately related to contract law. Holloway engages the intentional, contradictory, and capricious constructions of race embedded in the law with the same energy that she brings to her masterful interpretations of fiction by U.S. writers. Her readings shed new light on the many ways that black U.S. authors have reframed fundamental questions about racial identity, personhood, and the law from the nineteenth into the twenty-first centuries. Legal Fictions is a bold declaration that the black body is thoroughly bound by law and an unflinching look at the implications of that claim.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Introduction: Bound by Law
    • Intimate Intersectionalities—Scalar Reflections
    • Public Fictions, Private Facts
    • Simile as Precedent
    • Property, Contract, and Evidentiary Values
  • 1. The Claims of Property: On Being and Belonging
    • The Capital in Question
    • Imagined Liberalism
    • Mapping Racial Reason
    • Being in Place: Landscape, Never Inscape
  • 2. Bodies as Evidence (of Things Not Seen)
    • Secondhand Tales and Hearsay
    • Black Legibility—Can I Get a Witness?
    • Trying to Read Me
  • 3. Composing Contract
    • “A novel-like tenor”
    • Passing and Protection
    • A Secluded Colored Neighborhood
  • Epilogue. When and Where “All the Dark-Glass Boys” Enter
  • A Contagion of Madness
  • Notes
  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
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