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"Sentences and Words" by Prof. Nili Cohen: There are books in Jerusalem Israel today


Prof. Neely Cohen, laureate of the Israel Prize for Legal Research, presents in her new book a collection of fascinating articles she has written over the years, in which she analyzes literary works using legal tools. The world of law

Two cultural fields that are in crisis lately are discussed together in the book "Laws and Words" - literature and law.

While the literary field is losing its importance and the sympathy of the public, the debate surrounding the legal system these days stems from a dispute over the degree of power given to it.

Both systems deal with words and their relation to the world.

While literature often deals with fictitious worlds, the legal system operates in front of reality itself, except that it has the authority to interpret reality according to the tools at its disposal, thus giving them a meaning that goes beyond the dry sum of events.

It is the interpretation of reality and texts that leads the action in both fields.

Prof. Neely Cohen, laureate of the Israel Prize for Legal Research, presents in her new book a collection of fascinating articles she has written over the years, in which she analyzes literary works using legal tools.

In this way, it gives the literary reading an additional dimension through which to understand the works, as well as a gateway to the space of deliberations and decisions of the legal world.

Cohen claims that law and literature are inextricably intertwined, and that legal foundations can be found in almost every literary work.

In her eyes, both of them represent the drama that life gives us, and the "complicated cocoon" they cause, until "we are all under enormous tension arising from the question of whether it will be possible to untie the cocoon".

As part of this cocoon, Cohen also places on the table the question of the scope of the court's control - it is the most significant issue in the public discourse today.

"The control of the law means submission to its coercive power. The lack of control of the law means full freedom of action for the individual without the threat of legal sanction."

Cohen wants to walk between the drops and through the discussion between judicial activism and legal restraint, she announces that she wants to discuss the areas of the legal sphere, where the control of the law is looser.

Cohen navigates in her articles among a multitude of creators and thinkers through which she examines basic general principles.

In the first part devoted to the discussion of competing values ​​in law, she examines the relationship between choice and fate, memory and forgetting, truth and ritual, and between sight and blindness.

The second part of the book is dedicated to love and family stories from a legal point of view, the third examines betrayed wills and the fourth the relationship between art and freedom.

As befits a jurist, the book is replete with bibliographic references and sources, the list of which alone is a hundred pages long, and in this respect it is a book rich in materials for reading and thought.

For example, to discuss the relationship between choice and fate in an excerpt from a British play by Somerset Maugham, in a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, in the philosophical teaching of Friedrich Nietzsche, in excerpts from Ancestors and the thought of John Rawls.

The climax of the section is in the discussion of whether Oedipus, in the famous play of Sophocles, murdered his father, even if he did not know when the person he was killing was the one whose blood was flowing through his veins?

"Suppose, as in the Greek tragedy, that Oedipus was justified in killing Laius as a mere human being," writes Cohen, "and the only crime involved in his act was that he killed his father. Would our criminal law hold Oedipus responsible for this crime of patricide? The answer is negative. As a general rule, an act alone is not enough to impose responsibility. A condition for imposing criminal responsibility is the existence of guilt, that is, that the act be accompanied by an appropriate attitude of criminal thought."

In another article, using the story of the Odyssey and Odysseus' request to his assistants to chain him to the ship to avoid being drawn to the sirens, Cohen examines whether the future can be enslaved by the present, and the value of an oral contract.

An issue that comes up in several of the various articles throughout the book is the issue of the status of marriage and the changes that marriage promises have undergone from a legal point of view over the years.

She analyzes the ills of various wills, starting with Kafka and his written request from his friend Max Broad to burn his writings after his death to a verdict regarding a woman who committed suicide and asked that her money not be given to her abusive husband.

The meeting between the two worlds, the legal and the literary, while giving expression to their history and social developments, gives readers a unique prism that each reader will find in it for new reasons.

The feeling is somewhat similar to looking at a kaleidoscope - the different parts of the observation connect and reflect each other and thus present a unique and original image.

Alterman, Shakespeare, Agnon, Brodsky, Oscar Wilde and Saramago meet with each other and with fateful judgments.

Cohen, who founded the "Law and Book Club" at Tel Aviv University, does not operate in a vacuum.

The connection between literature and law, as she presents it in the first part of the book, was raised by American jurists in his work in the 1970s and sought to establish the nature of the relationship between the two fields.

Like other fields of research, different schools of thought have emerged in this field as well.

One school of thought concentrates on legal analysis of literary works, one focuses on legal rhetoric and another refers to the connection between law and literature as capable of bringing about social changes, with the understanding that literature sharpens the sensitivity of its readers.

It seems that Cohen adopts something from each of the different schools of thought, and especially connects what is called her personal passion for the two fields.

She goes on to explain the nature of the connection between literature and law, as two cultural elements that use words to interpret and influence life.

Cohen also emphasizes the difference between the literary interpretation and that of the sentences - "the horizon of the interpreters of the law must be narrower, more modest", she claims.

"It is important to repeat and remember that the main roles in its interpretation are played by the text itself and its authors, aka the legislator, the contractual parties, the writers of wills, and all those who give validity to the legal text."

This point stems, among other things, from the integration between the interpretation and the text - the literary interpretation remains outside the work, while the legal interpretation becomes part of the legal text itself.

"The text colored by the interpreter's colors detaches itself from the original author, makes the interpreter an active partner in the legislative process, and sometimes even controls him over the original text."

In a period of deep controversy over the place of law in social life in Israel, "Laws and Words" presents a discussion that takes place in an intermediate space, one that allows one to look at things in depth and to present the variety of methods and concepts that can be used to look at the various cases.

Cohen does not lead the reader down a declared interpretive path, but rather allows him to examine the proposed issues from a wide range of ethical and interpretive directions, which are a special gateway to legal ways of thinking.

 Sentences and Words, Neely Cohen, Yedioth Books, 429 p.

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Source: israelhayom

All life articles on 2023-02-02

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