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Living Speech: Resisting the Empire of Force

5 out of 5 stars 1 customer review
ISBN-13: 978-0691125800
ISBN-10: 0691125805
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Editorial Reviews


"In Living Speech, White is rooted in his own proper study of the law, but he 'blurs' his work over in many directions, notably to classical drama, poetry, and philosophy, even with indirect traces and hints of theology. The effect is to summon readers--especially, but by no means exclusively, students of law--beyond the conventional limits and procedures of their discipline. . . . His book is an exercise in the humanities of a wise and urgent kind."--Walter Brueggeman, Michigan Law Review

"Living Speech provides readers with White's usual insights on the rhetorical power of language, ferreting out its influence through a range of life-constituting (or life-draining) texts that include examples from legal decisions, classical Greek drama, Plato, as well as poetry from Shakespeare, Dante, William Carlos Williams, and Robert Frost. . . . His passionate commitment to the struggle to recognize and to preserve the richness of our humanity and the need for human freedom and solidarity is inspiring."--Omar Swartz, Rhetoric Review

"This is a book about disrespect--and about the benefits of practicing it.... This is a compelling book--an appropriate tract for our times that deserves widespread and careful reading in an era deeply infected by the linguistic plagues James Boyd White disinfects through disrespect."--Thomas Holbrook, Federal Lawyer

"Drawing from a variety of examples, such as literature, judicial opinions, children's essays, Greek tragedy, and political correspondence, this book analyzes the force of language. White argues that speech is inherently objectifying, and every speech act is an occasion for gaining control of who we are and what we proclaim."--Law & Social Inquiry

"White is an interdisciplinary scholar who speaks to those interested in law, politics, literature, and ethics. His argument offers a way of understanding the present poverty of public discourse, and he invites individual citizens to speak more frankly, more openly , and with more candor in order to articulate their experience in ways that more fully present their own thinking rather than repeating political clichés. This can undo totalitarianisms of various kinds. Living Speech is an important book for thinking about how we speak with each other about justice, and so it is valuable to academics but also to leaders. In this work, White is both a scholar and a public intellectual."--Eloise A. Buker, Perspectives on Politics

From the Back Cover

"This is a magisterial work, evidencing the unique breadth of White's mastery of the worlds of law, language, and classical studies. It continues his immensely productive and path-breaking inquiry into the relations among legal texts, literary works, and the philosophical and political premises of human discourse."--Howard Lesnick, University of Pennsylvania

"What we know of the ethical uses of language in law, we know largely because of White's labors."--Robin West, Georgetown University


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691125805
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691125800
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,973,607 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Patrick Goold on December 19, 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a wonderful book! Through careful interpretations of Dante, of poems by Frost and Shakespeare, of speeches by Lincoln and judicial opinions by an array of judges, of Greek tragedy and a Platonic dialogue, White defines the category of 'living speech' and shows how its contradictory--obectifying, dehumanizing, trivializing and propagandizing speech--infects our thinking. Speech, for White as for the Constitution, includes the written word, and White analyzes an abundance of texts to show exactly how, for example, Lincoln's letter of appointment to General Hooker lives while Blackmun's opinion in Virginia State Pharmacy Board v. Citizens Consumer Council does not. It is not a matter of style alone, nor is it a matter of mere content. It is a difference of intent. White describes the difference; his straightforward and yet elegant writing inspires one to respect it. What White says of Plato's view of philosophy applies to White's ideal of living speech, "It is not the exposition of a certain set of propositions about the world but a mode of life and thought; its end is not a set of statements but an end of a different kind, the transformation of the mind and imagination of the reader." (131) I have found this book transformative. No sooner did I finish it than I ordered a copy for my daughter and two other books by James Boyd White for myself. This is humanistic scholarship of the highest order.
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