Legal Fictions

Constituting Race, Composing Literature

Legal Fictions

Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: 3 photographs Published: January 2014

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Law, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism

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.


"Holloway has written a sterling account of the convergence of literary and legal narratives in constructing American racial identities . . . This book will engage scholars in African American studies and American studies in the coming years."  — D. E. Magill, Choice

“Holloway's writing is elegantly structured and multifaceted; the analytical language she uses is bright with imagery.” — Jo Manby, Ethnicity and Race in a Changing World

“Karla FC Holloway’s most recent book is a remarkable creative and critical work that pushes the boundaries of interdisciplinarity in law, literature, history, and critical race theory. … Holloway uses the marginality of black literature as an argument for its central role in the legal and literary construction of nation and nationality. Finding the margins at the center and the center in the margins is precisely the kind of appealing paradox that makes this book so powerful.” — Dan Farbman, Law, Culture, and the Humanities

"Legal Fictions represents a culmination (if not the culmination) of Karla FC Holloway's rich corpus of criticism and theory. As a consideration of law and literature in the construction of race and legal fictions, it is an original intervention sure to inform understandings of, and scholarship about, both. This book is Holloway at her best: intelligent and thoughtful, fully in command of the critical vocabularies that she introduces, and thoroughly knowledgeable about the fields that she traverses." — Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University

"In this wonderful book, Karla FC Holloway illuminates legal texts with techniques and insights derived from literary criticism and offers new interpretations of fictional works by bringing to bear upon them knowledge derived from a deep immersion in legal studies. This is, in short, a remarkable example of productive interdisciplinarity from which all sorts of readers will learn a great deal." — Randall Kennedy, author of Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Karla FC Holloway is James B. Duke Professor of English at Duke University, where she also holds appointments in the Law School, Women's Studies, and African & African American Studies, and is an affiliated faculty with the Institute on Care at the End of Life and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine. She serves on the Greenwall Foundation's Advisory Board in Bioethics, and was recently elected to the Hastings Center Fellows Association. Holloway is the author of BookMarks: Reading in Black and White and Codes of Conduct: Race, Ethics, and the Color of Our Character, as well as Private Bodies, Public Texts: Race, Gender, and a Cultural Bioethics and Passed On: African American Mourning Stories: A Memorial, both published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Introduction: Bound by Law 1

Intimate Intersectionalities—Scalar Reflections 5

Public Fictions, Private Facts 9

Simile as Precedent 13

Property, Contract, and Evidentiary Values 17

1. The Claims of Property: On Being and Belonging 23

The Capital in Question 27

Imagined Liberalism 35

Mapping Racial Reason 41

Being in Place: Landscape, Never Inscape 49

2. Bodies as Evidence (of Things Not Seen) 55

Secondhand Tales and Hearsay 59

Black Legibility—Can I Get a Witness? 72

Trying to Read Me 77

3. Composing Contract 89

"A novel-like tenor" 93

Passing and Protection 96

A Secluded Colored Neighborhood 102

Epilogue. When and Where "All the Dark-Glass Boys" Enter 111

A Contagion of Madness 113

Notes 127

References 139

Acknowledgments 145

Index 147
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5595-3 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5581-6
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