Excuse the bias, but the law and literature crowd are pretty switched on. You people are pretty open to new ideas, alternative viewpoints and novel contrasts and comparisons when it comes to literary works and their relationship(s) with law. However, the broader legal â€˜professionâ€™ perhaps sways to the more conservative side of that fulcrum when it comes to legal texts, notwithstanding the high-end literature analogies espoused by some high-end silks. (Though, if you have ever unfortunately been â€˜trappedâ€™ in conversation with some silks, you might be inclined to remember Charles Dickensâ€™ Bleak House.)
So, it is with this in mind that I would like to discuss what is to me the preeminent jurisprudential legal text from â€˜Australiaâ€™. It is a book that is not found in the â€œlawâ€ section of any bookshop (well, none that I know of as yet, though as youâ€™ll see below, Iâ€™m working on that). It is not a book that compartmentalises areas of law and details each prescriptive principle. It is not a book that seeks to elucidate the nuanced points of the common law tradition. Nor is it a book that eeks out a new legal theory.
The book, which I contend is the preeminent â€˜Australianâ€™ jurisprudential legal text, is Bill Neidjieâ€™s Story About Feeling. It is a legal text that illustrates how the nomos moves through the physis, rather than standing in sophist opposition, and it does so on both the macro and micro levels. It speaks of a law, the Djang, which is both cosmological and earthly-bound, and as earthly-bound creatures, it demonstrates how the Djang is very much a part of us all. It is a text that expresses the permanence of the Djang. Yet it is not a text that is dictatorial, although it does enunciate very clear legal principles that it asks adherence to.
At one (superficial) level Story About Feeling could be viewed as a collection of recitals, poems if you want, but that level truly misses the oral traditions from which the collection derives. I have often seen this text placed in the â€œpoetryâ€ section of a bookstore and wondered, â€œWhy is this here?â€ and â€œWhat other jurisprudential treasures might I find in here?â€ (none as yet, but Iâ€™m always looking). Â At another (perhaps less superficial, but still well off-the-mark) level Story About Feeling could be read as a collection of â€˜new-ageâ€™ spiritualism signposts. Sadly (or thankfully, Iâ€™m not quite sure yet), I once saw this distinguished text placed under the banner of â€œnew-ageâ€ in a bookstore and thought, â€œHow could anyone think that the contents of the book were new-age? The oratories have connections spanning back millennia.â€
I should state quite clearly that when I have encountered Story About Feeling in a bookstore under a â€˜incorrectâ€™ theme, I have gathered the available copies and moved them to either the â€œlawâ€ section, or if that is unavailable, to the â€œmust readâ€ section or equivalent. And to date, I have only been asked to leave one bookstore! I do love this book!
It is absolutely beautiful how the jurisprudential essence of the book is neither lost nor overbearing. Story About Feeling captures the cadence of candid speech, with an earnestness and urgency of tone that reinforces the fact that this is a man speaking in wholehearted belief. These are stories imbued with humour, beauty and purpose, all the while gently instructing all those fool or brave enough to take this land of ours as home in how to care for it, and ourselves. It is nothing if not a gentle reminder that respect for all life â€“ man, animal, tree, plant, water, earth â€“ is imperative, and that any distinction we make between these things is fundamentally spurious.
Now, you may not agree with me, nor my submission regarding Story About Feeling, but that is not the complete point of what I have written here. Sure, I want more people to read this book, unquestionably I do, but I also want people to be more alive to literary texts that may not first appear to be legal, yet which are just waiting for their law to flow out. Get out there and find them. Importantly, what I want to express to you is this: great jurisprudential and legal texts are all around us, they may just not â€˜lookâ€™ the way we might expect. However, we should always be on the lookout for them in all their peculiarly magnificent varieties.
p.s. Read Story About Feeling!