El Proyecto Lectores para la Justicia, 2014, Timisoara, Rumania

THE PROJECT “READERS FOR JUSTICE”

By Andrea Fernández[1], Margarita Rico[2], Rita Tineo[3], Rosa Vila[4] & Sandra M. Wierzba[5] 

University of Buenos Aires (UBA), Argentine Republic

 

ABSTRACT

This paper deals with some essential aspects related to current trends in University teaching in the Republic of Argentina (more particularly in the Law field). It also intends to illustrate some new trends by recalling some experiences and ideas developed within the scope of a Research Project, namely, “Readers for Justice”[6], an Interdisciplinary Academic, Research and Extension  University initiative which gathers professional graduates, professors and students from different fields of knowledge  where Literature, and most specifically  fiction, is used as a bridge across a diversity of cultures, ideologies and levels of  education aiming at a more humanistic formation of university professionals. Finally, we will address the development of a Digital Library where users can find literary fiction readings where the focus is placed on legal topics, reflections and debates that the texts may prompt.

 

Key Words:

University; Law; Interdisciplinary, Literature, Fiction, Research, University Extension, Humanistic formation. Digital Library.

 

I.- Background. Some Characteristics of current Argentine University Teaching:

Our group was formed in a very prestigious Latin-American Public University founded in 1821. The University of Buenos Aires is part of an educational system that has 47 National Universities, 46 Private Universities and 15 other Superior Studies Institutions which include a foreign university (Bologne) and an International university (Flacso)[7].

In our country, students’ population has considerably increased since the reinstatement of Democracy in 1983. We have universities that are gratuitous and inclusive. They are available to those who would not normally have access to university education in other latitudes. The Law School, particularly, has over 210,000 students and a rate of 13,500 graduates per year as a whole [8]. These figures remain steady along time. The choice to pursue Law studies is, in essence, an individual vocational election, associated to the conception that this profession entails the possibility of economic progress and rapid access to power spheres[9]. Furthermore, in the City of Buenos Aires (the most important from the financial and political point of view), the lawyer-inhabitant ratio was 1 (one) licensed lawyer every 39 (thirty-nine) inhabitants in the year 2011[10].

The above mentioned phenomena are coupled with serious difficulties in reading and writing skills[11], which are, on the one hand, common to the globalized world due to the impact of image culture, but are also partly regional or local and affect different disciplines. This may be attributed to the degradation of education at the different levels derived from the successive socioeconomic crises suffered in Latin America. In this sense, the University language appears neutral[12], monotonous. In the field of Law, it seems to be intended to recreate the dominant legal discourse[13]. This, undoubtedly, calls for reflection, since lawyers[14] play an important role in society by concentrating the use of a portion of written culture through language, which is central for the control and regulation of social interaction. This status also derives from the highly representative nature of legal practice and the importance of the role that  lawyers play within the system of administration of justice as well as in the other branches of government.

Our Universities follow a technical teaching approach. At the School of Law, classes are mainly in the form of lectures which are highly theoretical and litigation-focused. Professors explain theoretical concepts related to law, court interpretation and the opinion of legal scholars. The work with case analysis has increased during the past 20 years. Although such analyses allow students to get involved in a situation by placing them in a reflexive role where real life and law mingle, they are, indeed, pedagogical resources that can be traced back to ancient times and have consolidated the technical educational method[15]. Bibliography consists mainly of Codes, Manuals, and theory books that embody the organized and specific theoretical concepts and the corpus of court decisions. Even though this kind of bibliographical approach is typical of subjects and courses that comprise “codified” law (e.g. Private Law, Penal Law), it plays a key role in the formation of future lawyers, since such subjects and courses are central and mandatory in the curricula. They are also regarded as “useful” by the students, as opposed to subjects such as “Philosophy of the Law” and “Sociology of the Law” which are, in general, considered of little interest[16].

To sum up, university students having difficulties with the use of language, a great number of Law students with a highly technical formation and a society showing a high degree of litigation, are, undoubtedly factors that generate a dangerous combination. As Law professors, we then have to reconsider the professional profile of the future lawyers that we are currently educating.

II.- The Birth of the Project “Readers for Justice”

From the initial perception of the above situation, some law professors and students of the School of Law of the University of Buenos Aires, started community work volunteering to help primary school children with school activities in 2009. During that time, we started thinking about the possibility of incorporating such extension activities to the undergraduate curricula so as to promote a more humanistic formation shaped by our reality. We also thought of settling community service and starting a pedagogically oriented research project to apply the results to academic contents.

From this initiative, the group enlarged with the incorporation of graduates, and university professors of different fields of study such as Translation, Engineering, Sociology and experts from other areas such as a Librarian, a fine arts expert, and high school teachers. The group is currently working under a University of Buenos Aires Science and Technology Research Program (UBACYT) accreditation. There are almost 30 people in the group and we chose to work under the name of “Readers for Justice”.

The original purpose has also been extended. We are attempting to boost a more imaginative education by working on new ways of thinking, and providing a more humanistic approach to contents delivered in university education. We also understand that this initiative could foster a more “liberal” education, giving a better background for the future graduates to perform roles different from those for which they have been traditionally trained.

Thus, as our group consists of several fiction fan readers and adults that have received formal education in times were school was different, and taking into account technology advancements and limitations, we decided to explore the effect that the promotion of fiction literature readings might have in university education from different disciplines. This is an approach which is different from that valuable Law and Literature movement of the USA and Europe. It has not been an easy task and we have had to tackle several cultural, budgetary and political issues.

We focused on reinventing a pleasant and significant reading experience that could show university students a kind of discourse different from that of their fields of study. We developed multiple activities where literary fiction proved to be not only extremely interesting for its contacts with real life and intensity, but also for its potential to reconcile Latin-American thought with its own traditions. As a matter of fact, and as opposed to the dominant position of German and French authors regarding Philosophy, and the predominance of Anglo-Saxon scholars in empirical investigation, Latin Americans have extensively contributed to humanities through literature[17].  Benedetti, Borges, Conti, Cortázar, García Márquez, Neruda and Rulfo are worldwide known for their valuable work. But Bodoc, De Santis, Giardinelli, Kohan, Martínez, Saccheri, Shua and many others form part of a generation of writers that are the source of our inspiration and help us to understand a reality that is subsequently analyzed and used by Law, for example.

We will now summarize some approaches and describe some experiences developed by our group, inspired on the idea of recovering the value of words and avoiding typical technical teaching. Above all, we intend to foster a University that remains as the home to classical knowledge, but also allows the generation of the necessary wisdom to improve the life of the community in which it is immersed.

III.-Some examples of Law in Literature:  New constructions based on texts written by the great Latin-American writer, Julio Cortázar

Cortázar’s literary works have been chosen to pay him an homage. In our country several educational and cultural initiatives are being developed this year to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

Cortázar was not only a very outstanding writer, but also someone who loved playing with his literature. Born in Brussels from Argentine parents in 1914, he lived in our country since the age of four[18]. He taught Literature in small towns of the interior of Argentina and published his first volume of short stories named Bestiario in 1951. In the same year, he was awarded a scholarship to travel to France to work as a translator for the UNESCO, and lived there until his death in 1984. He was always against the conventional ways of regarding things. He matched fiction and reality in his writings. His emblematic novel Hopscotch is an example of how a book could be a burst of light in the reader’s hands. There, the invitation to read by jumping chapters is a request to be free, to see things from different perspectives, to tackle changes. He also invented literary characters, which he called Cronopios, Famas and Esperanzas. Cronopios were creative and enjoyable creatures; Famas were strict and overbearing people and Esperanzas were striving persons. According to their characteristics, each of them was a mirror in which the reader could be reflected.

His work is still very appealing for young people due to the use of a playful style and  the way he breaks conventional patterns.  His particular manner of saying things, engages the reader.  The stream of consciousness, that is, the incorporation in his writing of thoughts and feelings of a particular character as they flow – even when they are not coherent or related to the idea developed – allows us to be immersed in external language and in internal language as well. For the freedom exercised in the use of language, Cortázar’s work has a lot to give to law students and to students from other university disciplines as well. Language, both spoken and written, is an important human heritage and, for that reason, students should develop an  efficient use of this  resource to better express their own viewpoint of the world and of themselves.

Lawyers and judges make use of language when drafting presentations and issuing court orders respectively. The judicial work is structured as a language system. However, most of the times, the words used are difficult to understand for ordinary people. It seems that the more difficult the language, the more important the writer will be. But, what happens with the reader? They are interested in knowing if they will be able to pay a debt, reach an agreement on the physical custody of a child or be put on probation. Claudio  Martyniuk[19] has expressed that legal language in particular “is made of countless formulas that are usually obscure and difficult to understand, thus turning into something magical. The subject-victim cannot fully comprehend how they produce their effect, how he could use it in his favour, what he can do with them or how he is condemned for them”. The great distance between what technical words mean and the understanding that recipients have calls for a revision of the manner in which we communicate. If we use more simple terms, we will be able to have a closer relationship with people.

Around the second half of the 20th century, the American Bar Association Journal noted that law-related literature could teach lawyers how to write, read and speak more effectively[20]. Furthermore, the need for clarity in language has been specifically addressed by the Supreme Court of Justice of our country. Thus, the Supreme Court Bench Directive (Acordada) 4/2007 has established that the filing of written petitions for appeals before the Supreme Court have to “(…) express in a clear and concise manner all the allegations related to the federal jurisdiction(…)” and further, they must contain  “(…) the clear and precise expression of all relevant information regarding the case (…)”no generic and schematic expression of the grounds that may hinder the full understanding of the case will be allowed(…)”.[21]

III.1  “Good Investments” a metaphor of a complex world

This story was written by Cortázar and published in its original version in Spanish in 1969. The English translation appeared later, in the 80s, with other selected contents, in a volume named “Around the Day in Eighty Worlds”[22], as a reminder of Jules Verne’s famous novel.

Gómez, the main character, is a wan and modest man. His aim in life is to have only one square of land, far from the city to “feel at home” as the expression goes. It would be enough for him to settle his chaise-long, open the newspaper for reading elevating reports and eat his boiled corn. So, when he finally saves an adequate amount of money, he decides to buy a square yard of land. But, it’s not so easy. Nobody will have only one square of land. Many people might have many. And selling only one in the middle or on the edge of the others could cause several problems of property records, community life and taxes. Beyond that, it’s ridiculous because nobody has that sort of property to sell.

When Gómez is becoming discouraged, a neighbour called Literio offers him the one square yard of land he’s looking for. The notary and Literio laugh a lot when Gómez signs the paper that makes him the owner. Then, he takes his place on his property and spends the whole day reading and eating. At night, Gómez goes to sleep at the nearby town hotel and it is there where he notices that a Venezuelan oil company is searching for oil around his land. As the price increases five thousand dollars per minute, he finally sells his square yard and turns into a wealthy man. So, he purchases a high floor in a skyscraper with a terrace full of sun and without Venezuelan aggressive people coming to disturb him or blackened chicken running back and forth. And he opens his chaise longue and reads his newspaper while eating his boiled corn.

In the text, there are a lot of words and sentences related to different law issues (namely, property and its extension, lease and purchase agreements, etc.). Many branches of Law are also involved. This is how the story could trigger the debate on many judicial aspects. In addition, the short story playfully poses a question on today’s society transformation and the adaptation of human beings to the advantages and disadvantages related to progress. The polysemy of the title makes the reader wonder what valued investments are. Is it better to invest in feasibility studies to assess the oil exploitation business, as the Venezuelan company does, or to invest in a place, no matter how small, so as to find one’s inner being, as Gómez firmly believes? Can these two scenarios coexist? Although this story was written in 1969, it is nowadays very appropriate to think about the course of mankind in a world of  highly industrial development. Should culture, arts, literature be relevant in contemporary societies? Surely these issues, even if showing no rapid and tangible results, encourage the formation of professionals with a more humanistic perspective, in addition to their own specific skills.

Parker says[23] “Practising law –and learning law- is at heart an imaginative enterprise. In law, as in poetry, the mind works through metaphor. Metaphor is more than a means of expression: it is the “imaginative means by which we conceive the multiple relations of a complex world”[24]. Only through cognitive processes that are “imaginative, associative, and analogical are we able to adapt to the “contingent and changing situations” of our lives.

And Cortázar, whose work is full of novelty, can bring some fresh air to law teaching. The particular look at the surrounding reality, the invitation to analyse things from another perspective and the incorporation of brand new elements are typical characteristics to which Cortázar resorts.

In the judicial scenario, we often meet judges with a great technical knowledge of laws and the judicial system, but who are unable to look beyond the case and to draft human and creative solutions. Perhaps if they had read Cortázar´s books, they would have tried to take a look at the case “from the other side”, not only to be in their inner world but also to shift to that of the others, in an attempt to have a different viewpoint.

 

III.2 Instructions on how to climb a staircase: An experience of Literature as a space for convergence of common interest with other disciplines

In the fifth Literature class that Julio Cortázar taught at Berkeley, he referred to one of his stories “Manual de instrucciones para subir una escalera[25], whose title can be quite disconcerting to someone about to read it. At the time, he told his students that while writing it, in addition to having enjoyed the humor, he had also thought about “all the other things we do, like climbing stairs, without thinking, and without knowing why we do them.[26]

Exploring everyday things through a critical review of humor is an invitation to penetrate reality, to strip it of its opaque suit, discolored by the passage of thoughts that skip over it and barely notice snippets of it. The senses don’t tend to stop and reflect on the daily and mechanical repetition of acts either, or on the customary nature of things. But reality is not austere, and this story is a trigger for adventure and amazement.[27] From this particular point of view, books have allowed us to connect with other professions. And that meeting has opened up other paths along which to delve deeper into the analysis of the different branches of Law. That is precisely why we are working to bring about the collaboration between different fields of knowledge. This joint task can be observed in action through a concrete experience. Along the next lines we will describe it for the purpose of showing how the linking function of the core topics of a piece of literary work could act like real communication cogs. In fact, in this particular case, these core topics brought together two disciplines which, at first glance are as different to each other as Law and Engineering.

Instructions on how to climb a staircase is a tale in which Cortázar magnifies the staircase and the process of climbing it. In a playful tone, he shows the reader how amazing this activity could be. For our work, we placed special focus on a particular funny explanation about the care that must be taken when climbing the first steps. With regard to this, the author not only mentions the coincidence of names for both feet but also -and due to this reason- warns the reader about the possibility of getting confused and raising the right and the left foot at the same time while climbing the staircase.

When reading this tale, the lawyers that form part of the “Readers for Justice” immediately jump into the idea of someone tripping up, falling down and getting hurt. In other words, we think about causing third-party damage. This tale has given them a chance to approach one of the essential elements of Civil Liability: Injury.

We live in a society that generates an exponential increase of risk, up to the point that in some cases it could affect the very survival of human life. This, and other reasons beyond this presentation, requires placing greater focus on the development of a special area of Tort Law: prevention. The role of prevention in Civil Liability is becoming of great significance in our legal system. Although, at the beginning, it was essentially designed to cover environmental damage and the protection of diffuse interests, nowadays its content also guarantees traditional individual damage. Considering the relation of this subject with Cortazar’s tale, it is possible to conclude that the injuries that could arise as a result of falling down the stairs may, perhaps, be prevented with the appropriate tools. And, as it will be seen in the following paragraphs, -in this experience of working together with other disciplines- Engineers were the ones to have the kit.

Prevention is related to a conception of law that focuses on avoiding damages rather than on compensating an actual loss. The traditional compensatory purpose of liability doesn’t provide an adequate answer to violated rights that in themselves require a different sort of protection. Physical, mental or emotional injuries cannot be replaced in monetary terms. Consequently, it would be better to come up with another system, more suited to the nature of these rights, and there is where the idea of preventative protection as being an absolute top priority comes into play [28]

This perspective of the prevention of damage also requires less adversarial training of lawyers.  A university education that stimulates a more flexible and versatile conducts.  It would be desirable that future lawyers were trained and formed to enforce prevention. Little could be expected if students are taught only to seek relief by bringing lawsuits. What they learn is important because these future operators of law are those who will create the laws, those who will apply them and those who will interpret them. Working in class with Cortázar’s tale and his playful tone is no doubt a counterpoint to the rigidity that is usually associated with the formation in the legal profession.

From the engineers’ point of view, this same story leads them to a different analysis. But, however, from another approach they arrive to the same conclusion as the one reached by lawyers. To illustrate this, a member of our research group, Silvia Ramos,[29] proposed her students to think as someone   “(…) who has no idea of how to climb a staircase [what is more, of someone who has never even seen a staircase] and who wants to climb one, or better yet, who needs to climb one”[30]. By following Cortázar’s tale, engineering students bumped into a series of complications to reach the top of the stairs. They took careful notes of the ambiguities they came across while following the author’s instructions, as well as of the technical requirements that were missing in order to successfully reach the last step. Afterwards, by applying their knowledge, they worked out different possible formulas to draft a clear set of instructions. They realized the importance of promoting consciousness about injuries that could be prevented[31]. Especially, by being aware of how confusing or deficient the drafting of instruction manuals could be.

So, the core topics of this short story written by Cortázar have allowed two disciplines to come together. Through this concrete experience we realized that both engineers and lawyers, each from their own areas of expertise and fields of specific knowledge, sought the same objective: to avoid damage to the community. Engineers did so by studying the steps and alternatives of an algorithm, focusing on the everyday aspects to prevent damage. Lawyers, on the other hand, did so by redesigning the traditional compensatory function of civil liability, changing the focus to prevention as a more efficient and appropriate mechanism inherent to the human condition.

We then can conclude that the neutral area which is created by reading fiction might also be used to come up with how to teach Law and how to provide training for professional practice as part of programmatic differences. “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators”, wrote Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1821. Why not? By asking ourselves about the flourishing and the development of the programs about Law studies, we are also looking for all the other worlds hidden behind the stairs; and this is a resounding call to encourage imagination and progress.

IV.- How reading fiction contributes to a more humanistic Education. Black and white, shades and flying colours in the teaching of Foreign Languages Reading Comprehension and Translation in law-related environments.

Many times we have to stick to the letter of the law. However, we are aware that life cannot be measured in terms of black and white. There are shades of color that can show us creative ways to provide new interpretation to what has already been settled in harmony with changing times. This is quite a major task. Eventually, if we truly believe that Literature can be the engine to start a change, no matter its pace, we will come off with flying colors.

 

IV.1 Black and white

As members of the University Community, we are all aware of the social purposes it serves. In the foundational documents of our University we can find these social awareness enshrined in several articles where it is expressly stated that the aim is to form good citizens by providing free access to higher education, fostering the construction of a national cultural identity to face the challenge of economic expansion and the increase of population diversity that arises from the different immigration waves. That is the letter of the law. Over the past 192 years the University has evolved, in manners that differ from the original intentions.

Then again, the University Community has to find new forms of re-invention to re-interpret the Black and White and find the Shades.

 

IV.2 Shades

It is no surprise that from the particular inception of our university, a portion of those who choose to complete university studies also choose to stay and start a teaching career. This is highly idealistic per se, since the remuneration is not very rewarding. However, this is a fact, some of us do choose to follow this path. The combination of teaching- research and extension provides a chance of interaction. This is not a minor chance. Within the same scenario, both law and translation professors, graduates and students have multiple possibilities for enriching interaction. This constitutes unique opportunity to exchange opinions, points of view and personal experiences since our School provides education and formal training to students in law but also in translation studies.

Shades not only refer to the possibility of reframing the letter of the rules and regulations, they may also refer to an array of different elements, perhaps more personal in nature, that help build strategies to transmit knowledge and experience.

Here, we will introduce some practical examples of how the resort to literature enhances comprehension, enriches learning experiences and gets students involved in a comprehensive learning process. The study of Translation skills has proved to be complex. Students must acquire a deep understanding of the cultures which languages they want to master. Apart from learning about mental processes, they have to learn about linguistics, history, literature, law, grammar, syntax. Essentially, to teach translation you must resort to varied methods. Is translating poetry and literature a single task? What does one need to know? Techniques may be sometimes rather unorthodox  but  creative. Let’s assume that you have to train your students to translate a short story written by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849): The Cask of Amontillado.[32]  There are two characters: Montresor and Fortunato. Throughout the story you can learn  that Fortunato ends up being not so lucky as his name might suggest, since he is buried alive by Montresor. The language is so vivid that you can feel the horror. This feeling increases if you read the story aloud to your students. They really catch the whole atmosphere, they can feel the dumpiness of the walls, they can even recreate the whole scene. They are able to discover treason, revenge, impunity, envy.  But most of all, they can  discover the personal bias, i.e. each individual’s understanding of the story is shaped by their personal experience. This can be easily demonstrated by a very simple task. The translation exercise need not be, at first, a transfer from one language to another.  A creative approach could consist of requesting students to draw both Montresor and Fortunato, following the information provided by the author in the story. The description of both characters is practically non-existing. Poe wrote, all in all, two lines about both of them. However, students discover that from those lines they can manage to draw a mental picture by paying attention to the  words they use, and the tone of one and the other. The facts are that Fortunato is wearing a tight-fitting parti-striped dress and a conical cap and bells; Montresor is wearing a black Roquelaure and a black silk mask.

Then the shades will become apparent. It is a fact that student’s drawings will be different. Then, it is time for debating  linguistic concepts such as the concept of semantic field, the Saussurian concept of significant and signifier and mental image, the concept of convention related to the meaning of lexical units, and even, explore Plato’s  world of ideas and the myth of the cavern. But best of all, students realize that there is something called “subjectivity” that will taint, and condition their perception of reality. They, then, have great chances of understanding  that every reader somehow negotiates with the text on the basis of personal experience. And to their dismay, they will also understand that Translation is sometimes almost utopic. It involves more than a technical knowledge of languages, it implies the understanding of different cultures.

Being creative is part of the teaching process. Literature has a great potential to explore its use in the classroom. In teaching translation students Translation Theory and Practice in legal environments you may find that literature can be resorted to many times to explain some particularly difficult concepts. For example, whenever our students have to translate English real property documents and to read theory (English Property Law), they may have difficulty understanding the concepts of Estates and Tenures, and particularly Estates in fee simple, in fee tail and pour autre vie.  Clearly, the difficulty lies in the fact that those concepts are alien to our legal system. Then, you can debate further on the differences between the Common Law System and the Roman Law System. Sometimes they understand the text, because they understand the language. However, it is extremely hard for them to understand some concepts. What happens in this case? There is something missing: the mental image, the other side of the coin, they have the signifier but they do not have the signified. This may not make sense to them. Then, a useful tactic would be to  resort to Jane Austen. In her Pride and Prejudice[33], and reading about the Bennets you may feel sorry for Jane, Elizabeth and her sisters because they have to marry well. Otherwise, upon their father’s death they will have to leave their home because it is entailed and the next of kin to inherit the estate is Mr. Collins, their male cousin. Again, and by sharing the Bennets’ woes, the students get involved, and are more likely to understand the ordeal and  consequently, the meaning of an Estate in fee tail. This may be a very good starting point to embark on a translation.  A possibility to explore whether there is a functional equivalent in Spanish i.e. a legal concept embracing that reality; a system of landholding and of inheritance similar to that present in Austen’s novel. It may also trigger a debate on decision-making, since the students may analyze whether to translate literally or not, and also assess the possibility of a biased meaning and the emerging consequences that may derive from a mistranslation within a legal environment (i.e. civil liability).

In teaching law students Foreign Language Reading Comprehension Skills you may resort to a short story in Spanish by Julio Cortázar which perfectly illustrates a false belief students have. The Story is “Lucas, sus clases de español[34]. There, the protagonist is hired to teach Spanish to French students. Following the Academy Director’s instructions, he chooses a newspaper article about bullfighting, on the false belief that tourists are only interested in bullfights and that they will understand a newspaper article. Obviously, the students resort to their bilingual dictionaries and though they find all the words, they do not understand the text. What happens there? Some students may say: “the same happens to us, we do not understand”. Why is that? Students, then, become aware about context, culture, theme, register. They learn that it is not merely a question of looking up in the dictionary those words that you don´t know. Reading comprehension is more complex than that. In the legal field, it involves not only the determination of the superstructure, the macro-structure and the micro-structure of a text but also the use of different techniques to determine the semantic field. Furthermore, it involves, of course, the efficient use of dictionaries and other terminology resources such as technical glossaries as well as the recognition of the basic grammar and syntax of the foreign language so that the dictionary search is successfully conducted.

No surprise, again, literature is a useful and innovative resource. Why does this happen? We venture an opinion. Literature is about emotions, human emotions, it has the power to attract you, involve you in situations. It allows you the possibility of experiencing and interpreting situations through your personal prism. This is not minor. It increases creativity, makes students protagonists, makes them feel reality.

IV.3. Flying colours

Literature can bridge gaps created by social inequity. Our students may become aware of the social role they may play within the community that funds their education, and in the opinion of many experts, it is a good way of building citizenship.

In short, literature may be considered either as a method, an approach or a tool to help us teach our students and transfer them knowledge and expertise. But certainly, and most importantly, Literature is, above all, a LEGACY.

 

5. Extension activity: Reading to the Community Project

 

V.1. Introduction

This research project has been developed around the idea of constructing bridges that may allow the emergence of professionals with a more humanistic profile. It also intends to connect people through social interaction. It is intended as a continuum: research-training-extension scheme. This scheme evolves by carrying on a research into the effects that the reading of literary works may have on law students. Then, it evolves further by training students through the incorporation of selected readings which are related to the different fields of the law they have to learn. Lastly, it generates an environment where university students reach the community by undertaking extension activities. These extension activities have a direct impact on all actors.

As part of our research project we are reading to the community.  Reading stories to people we do not know, of different ages, at many different places, sharing a moment of our lives. Before starting, we asked ourselves several questions: What happens when reading aloud to an audience? (both, to the reader and the audience). Can reading literature help us question our view of the world in order to incorporate other people´s life experiences? Can reading fiction help us remember our past, improve our understanding of the present and create a better future? Is it possible that reading activities can become tools of social improvement in order to contribute to the purposes set forth by University of Buenos Aires By Laws? Is it possible to improve writing and communication skills by reading aloud to others?  Are there changes in concentration in those students who participate in the activities? Can we develop more citizenship awareness just by sharing a reading project?

 

V.2. Getting started

Those interested in the activity come from different walks of life and professions, increasing diversity and enriching the experience:  law graduates, students and professors, translators, teachers of primary and secondary schools, a librarian, an artist, psychologists, etc.

Most volunteers participated in trainings given by renowned Argentine story tellers where they become familiar with basic story tellers techniques and tools.  At the training sessions, participants slowed down while reading, experienced using varied reading speeds in order to explore different effects (both in the reader and in the (listener), did exercises to expand and explore our senses and shared reading preferences and opinions.  It was necessary to guide volunteers in the process of choosing the right books/stories to read since many had no experience in reading to children.  As not all participants had books at home where to choose from, the National Reading Plan of the Argentine Ministry of Education (“Plan Nacional de Lectura”) donated some books with short stories written mainly by Argentine authors in order to help building a library.  We managed to purchase some books and there is now a small “Paper back library” of Readers for Justice in the School of Law library, where participants can get books to read and enjoy at home and constitute the first “Fiction Books” that are part of the university library.

We focused on two of the many questions that guided this project.  The first one, “What are the effects of reading aloud to others? (both, to the reader and the audience)”.  Our hypothesis was that by reading aloud to others, students could improve their reading comprehension abilities and enhance their understanding of different realities.

Our university students read, but most of their readings are academic.  They generally read manuals, codes and court cases, and they have little free time (and in many cases no experience) in reading for pleasure.

In our experience, “books are not only important in themselves, they are important because at both ends there are people.   Rooted deeply in reading aloud is the concept of sharing: “the reader must use many skills, promote listening, overcome inhibitions; the listener, when circumstances are right, might discover the pleasure of reading.”[35]

There are many theorists who have already researched on how people start to read, and in words of the French anthropologist  Michèle Petit  “(…) to make texts our own we need to find someone who has let in books, stories, tales, poetry, aesthetically displayed words.  Someone who can find the unique voice of a writer, of a story teller.  Someone who opens spaces, shares time, not thinking in an immediate educational outcome, someone who is available to the child, teenager or grownup, who shares a moment and who listens.  The youths who always lived apart from books and now feel close to them say that everything started in sharing situations, gratifying interchanges in the library or in the school or in a reading center, or an NGO.”[36]

When looking back at our own story as readers we all probably remember the first books that were read to us, who read them, which one was our favorite (the one we read thousands of times until we could repeat some parts by heart with our eyes closed), why we chose some types of books and not others, what made us tickle at different ages, those books that changed our perception of the world, those we read at different ages and how our understanding changed with the passing of time.

But what happens if the only reading activity we do is what teachers ask us to do?  If whenever we have free time we never ever chose to read a book? If none of our close relatives and friends read for pleasure? This is the case with many students of the School of Law.

Another interesting point to highlight is the individual experience of choosing books for specific audiences, going to libraries, asking librarians about what types of books are adequate for a particular age group, going back to our own reading preferences and remembering why and when we chose a certain book.

Every reader had their own experience, their own learning and discovery process.  Every reading constitutes a new challenge, a new learning, a new surprise.

Most readers agree that it is necessary to like  or feel the story chosen to be read.  The connection with  the audience is much easier when we love what  we read.  The purpose of reading to others is neither patronizing nor teaching: It is sharing a moment of our lives, sharing what we love doing with people who might not have had the chance yet of discovering books.

After reading at schools, Noelia López[37], one of our readers, beautifully summed up her experience: “This activity made me improve my patience, be calm and slow down.  I realized it is necessary to read slowly and changing pitches in order to make stories more interesting for the listener. I had to learn the technique: keeping an upright position, introducing the topic, reading slowly, making eye contact with the audience (for them to remember I am there and for me to remember they are there), showing images (should there be any). I learned to fight my negative inner voice while reading (they do not understand what I read, they are bored, etc.).  I realized that, if I read at the right pace for them to understand my words and imagine the story, everything is ok.”

The other hypotheses we are going to try to prove are: “Can reading fiction help us question our view of the world in order to incorporate other life experiences?  Can it help us remember our past, improve our understanding of the present and create a better future?”

Reading a book is visiting a place where two subjectivities meet, two subjectivities that may be from different centuries, from different cultures or languages.  When we read (to ourselves or to others) the words connect our individual self with the social self.   Reading literature makes us rethink the world, change perspectives, ponder, question our beliefs and opinions, discuss and rebuild our views.  It is thus necessary to train good readers, readers who know when a book is not well written, readers who are not afraid of exploring the worlds described in the stories, readers who have opinions and  are open to change them or consider other  perspectives.  This flexibility helps readers redefine themselves.

 

V.3. Conclusion

Our experience of reading to the community is a learning process both for the university readers and the audience.  Each and every person decides to set off in their experience for subjective reasons, trying to answer a question, eager to share what they love. Participating in the activity is a personal election that many others started before us and now it is our time.

Most of the questions we asked at the outset of the project are yet to be answered.  And we are enjoying the journey.

Poem by Walt Whitman 1819-1892[38]

Full of life now

Full of life now, compact, visible,

I, forty years old the eighty-third year of the States, 

To one a century hence or any number of centuries hence,

To you yet unborn these, seeking you.

When you read these I that was visible am become invisible,

Now it is you, compact, visible, realizing my poems, seeking me,

Fancying how happy you were if I would be with you and become your comrade;

Be it as if I were with you (Be not too certain but I am now with you).

Translation  by  J.L.Borges:

Lleno de vida ahora

Lleno de vida ahora, concreto, visible

Yo, de cuarenta años de edad, en el año octogésimo tercero de los Estados,

A quien viva dentro de un siglo, dentro de cualquier cifra de siglos,

A ti, que no has nacido aún, a ti te buscan estos cantos.

Cuando los leas, yo, que era visible seré invisible,

Ahora eres tú, concreto, visible, el que los lee, el que los busca,

Imaginando lo feliz que serías si yo estuviera a tu lado y fuera tu amigo;

Sé tan feliz como si yo estuviera a tu lado.  (No estés demasiado seguro de que no esté contigo.)

VI. – Interdisciplinary Digital Library of Readers for Justice[39]:  Comments on an experience

VI. 1. -Background:

University courses, academic events and specialized texts often provide interesting examples of how Literature interacts with many distinct fields of knowledge. Such interactions are expressed in oral presentations, essays and epigraphs. However, such interrelationships are not generally available in Interdisciplinary Libraries, probably because the compilation of such database is complex.  In this sense, it should be noted that literary works –more than any other piece of writing- allow multiple interpretations. Moreover, every fiction work entails, at least, an indirect reference to the idea of Justice and Law.

Aware of the complexity of the task we started this quest of building an Interdisciplinary Digital Library (IDL) on the understanding that an interdisciplinary approach to literature and an exploration of different paths through Literature are particularly interesting and valuable resources. We also believe it is possible to design contents that may contribute to overcome the pointed out difficulties.

We believe that if we use a legal perspective to make collective readings of literary works and if we share the construction of new meanings and systematize the data using common criteria, we will improve courses of study, new meanings will be generated by different actors and we will contribute to the socialization of knowledge”.

VI.2-. Criteria for the compilation of this Library

We based our work on the “Field Based Thesaurus” of the Argentine Law Information Technology System of the Argentine Ministry of Justice and Human Rights. This is a catalog that provides a quick legal terminology locator compatible with other specialized thesaurus. It is organized taking into account different law fields that, in turn, include different subdivisions (e.g. Main Field Private Law. subdivision: obligations and contracts – Parental Liability). We have adapted the thesaurus structure in order to create this database. Consequently, we have significantly reduced the number of legal terms in the subdivisions and we have kept those that are typically familiar to the average person and are consistently found in Literature.

Then, we have started by selecting and analyzing texts using the following guidelines:

 

Basic Information:

a. Reference to the basic information of each work (Bibliographical cataloging process) (author, title, ISBN, Publishing House, number of pages, place and year of publication);

b. Brief description of the relationship between its contents and the law/justice;

c. Indexing pursuant to the Adapted Field Based Thesaurus.

 

Extended Information: It provides possible relationships between the literary work and Law or justice by: a. Quotes;  b. Questions, and  c. Comments

 

 

VI.3. Reflections about the experience

At first, only some group members uploaded the material.  Later, some collaborating students started the uploading , as part of their university tasks.  At present, uploading can be done by professors, new collaborating students and also by graduate and undergraduate students who may choose to complete this task as a requirement to get credits in certain subjects and courses.

The first idea was to upload some books to set up the IDL.  At present, we are trying to incorporate longer and deeper comments, so as to increase our IDL´s conceptual richness.  Therefore, not all books are described with the same depth.

The activity of building the IDL entails a lot of effort, especially if one is keen on reading for pleasure. However, it is much easier for those readers who enjoy reading with a pencil in hand, marking books, inserting comments and discovering interactions between fiction and their own discipline.  For them, this is a really pleasant activity.

So far, texts have been chosen based on the tastes and interests of the readers/contributors who are working on the IDL.  The approach is based on the knowledge and opinion of each reader/contributor, but there are some specific requirements jointly agreed upon beforehand that must be complied with (indexing, interrelation, questions, etc.). We are aware that the selection of texts or its comments might raise some issues, either ethical or of a different nature. However, this has not happened so far. If that be the case, we will work out a solution.

After analyzing a text, there is an interchange between the reader/contributor and another project member.  Besides some formal aspects (checking compliance with the specific requirements, spelling, writing), they ponder about contents, questions and comments, in order to deepen the entry.

Sometimes, the comments are rich enough to write short essays which are subsequently presented at Congresses or Conferences, and later published in legal magazines or journals.  Then, these essays are also uploaded to the IDL.

We know readers include people interested in our Project, Law Professors searching for inspiration for their own practices, University students aiming at enriching their training, and people interested in reflecting on the interrelations we, law professionals, find in literary works. Besides, we think of the possibility to develop IDL into a tool available to high school teachers of various subjects and students and professors of Literary Criticism, among others.

VII Final Comments

It should be noted that the connection between Literature and Law that we embraced in this Project arises from the current status of Law teaching in the Argentine Republic.  Though it takes into account some traditional criteria from the European and American Law and Literature movements, it fosters a significant interaction between reading and the reviewing of the specific knowledge and skills taught at the University with special consideration to social aspects.

In fact, this initiative is intended to promote the strengthening of communication, to renew the University, so that it may encourage the consolidation of classic knowledge and at the same time develop the necessary advancements to improve the life of the community to which it belongs.


[1] Sworn Translator, Foreign Language Reading Comprehension Professor (UBA). Member of the UBA Research Project “Lectores para la Justicia” (Readers for Justice). 

[2] Lawyer, University of Buenos Aires.  Director of the Board at the Bar Association of the city of Buenos Aires. Professor.  Member of the UBA Research Project “Lectores para la Justicia” (Readers for Justice). 

[3] Sworn Translator, Director of the Language Department, School of Law, UBA. Foreign Language Reading Comprehension Professor (UBA). Member of the UBA Research Project “Lectores para la Justicia” (Readers for Justice). 

[4] Lawyer, University of Buenos Aires. Civil Court Judge for 22 years. Member of the UBA Research Project “Lectores para la Justicia” (Readers for Justice). 

[5] Lawyer, Law Doctor, University of Buenos Aires, Chair Professor of Civil and Commercial Obligations at the University of Buenos Aires (UBA) ,Graduate Studies Professor at UBA, UCA, UMSA; Director of the UBA Accredited Research Project “Lectores para la Justicia” (Readers for Justice). 

[7] Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales.

[8] Anuario de Estadísticas Universitarias –last published 1-15-13-, in  2011, 211,933 students and 13548 graduates in the whole system, see .http://informacionpresupuestaria.siu.edu.ar/DocumentosSPU/Anuario%20de%20Estad%C3%ADsticas%20Universitarias%20-%20Argentina%202011.pdf

[9]  Felipe Fucito, “La enseñanza del Derecho y las profesiones jurídicas”, La Ley 1993-B, p. 833.The author quotes the conclusions of a research about choices and orientations of  young university students, conducted in Buenos Aires for eleven years, covering  3600 cases, as it appears in “Research of the “Instituto de Orientación vocacional, Universidad del Museo Social Argentino”, “Los jóvenes y sus preferencias”, Revista Conceptos, año 67, Nº 4, p. 26.

[10]  According to information provided to this Project Team by the Buenos Aires Law Bar (Colegio Público de Abogados de la Capital Federal, CPACF), as of 5/7/11 and update as of  9/8/11. This figure does not include Judiciary Officers, Civil Law Notaries Public, etc.

[11] Andrea Brito, “Leer y escribir en la Universidad”, Especialización en Lectura, Escritura y Educación, Flacso, 2013, Class 9.

[12] Jorge Larrosa, “Aprender de oído”, available at 1/15/14 at http://www.lacentral.com/pdf?op=articulo&id=34&idm=1 

 The relevant paragraph reads as follows: “A neutral and neutralized language, that feels nothing and makes you feel nothing, indifferent, with no inspiration, a language lacking tone or with a single tone, that is, atonic or monotonous, a deserted language, with nobody inside, a language that belongs to no one and is aimed at no one, a silent language, literally voiceless, an empty language that can only belong to those who have no tongue. We are witnessing, my dear friends, the triumph of the tongue less, who were always present and will remain being among us, but who now exert the power to decide which language we have to use and how.” 

[13] Carlos Lista y Silvana Begala, “La presencia del mensaje educativo en la conciencia de los estudiantes: resultados de la socialización en un modelo jurídico dominante”, Academia, Revista sobre enseñanza del Derecho en Buenos Aires, Bs. As., Facultad de Derecho, UBA, Departamento de Publicaciones, 2004, vol. II, p. 147/169.

[14] In Spanish the concept of “letrado” refers both to “lawyers” and to someone who is an expert in language skills.

[15] In this respect, also see. Carol MacCrehan Parker, “A Liberal Education in Law: Engaging the Legal Imagination Through Research and Writing Beyond the Curriculum”. Journal of the Association of Legal Writing Directors, Vol. 1, 2002; University of Tennessee Legal Studies Research Paper No. 25. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1095529

[16] Felipe Fucito,  ConferenceEnseñar y Aprender Derecho”, en III Jornadas de Enseñanza de Derecho, Facultad de Derecho, UBA, 9/9/13, available at http://www.derecho.uba.ar/academica/carrdocente/terceras-jornadas-innovacion.php  

[17] Jorge Larrosa “El Ensayo y la Escritura Académica”, Revista Propuesta Educativa, año 12, No. 26, Buenos Aires, Flacso, julio 2003, Julio 2003, pages. 34-40 and María Zambrano, “La Guía como Forma del Pensamiento”, in “Hacia un saber sobre el alma”, Alianza. Madrid 1987.

[18]  Julio Florencio Cortázar Descotte (Ixelles, 26 August 1914 – Paris, 12 February 1984) Ixelles is a small suburb in the City of Brussels (Belgium) which at the time was occupied by the Germans. His father was working for the Argentine embassy in Belgium. Towards the end of the First World War, the Cortázar family managed to be transferred to Switzerland, thanks to the fact that Julio’s maternal grandmother was German, and soon thereafter they went to Barcelona, where they lived for a year and a half. Then, they returned to Argentina and Julio spent the rest of his childhood in Banfield, a small town near Buenos Aires. Some of his short stories are based on his childhood memories. In his own words, that was not a completely happy time in his life “Full of servitude, excessive touchiness, frequent sadness” (letter to Graciela M. de Sola, Paris, 4 November 1963).

[19] Claudio Martyniuk, “Jirones de piel, ágape insumiso. Estética, epistemología y normatividad”, Prometeo, Buenos Aires, 2011.

[20] David R. Papke, “Law and Literature: A Comment and Bibliography of Secondary Works”, 73, The Law Library Journal, 421 (1980).

[21] Supreme Court Bench Directive 4/2007 CSJN at  www.infoleg.gov.ar  Available at the Argentine Supreme Court official site at  http://www.csjn.gov.ar/docus/documentos/cons_tipo.jsp?tipo=AC (last accessed on 5-9-14)

[22]  Julio Cortázar,  “Around the day in eighty worlds”, North Point Pr, October 1989.

[23] Carol MacCrehan Parker, “A Liberal Education in Law: Engaging the Legal Imagination Through Research and Writing Beyond the Curriculum”, cit. footnote 19.

[24] Carol M. Parker, “A liberal education in law…”, see note 19.

[25]  Julio Cortázar. In English: “Instructions on how to climb a staircase” it’s a short story included in “Historias de Cronopios y de Famas”, Editorial Punto de Lectura, 6th Ed. p.  105

[26] Julio Cortázar. Clases de Literatura. Berkeley 1980 Alfaguara– 2013.  p. 164

[27] André Karam Trindade and Roberta Magalhães  Gubert, In a similar sense, and to expand on the subject, see “Derecho y Literatura acercamientos y perspectivas para repensar el Derecho” (Law and Literature: approaches and perspectives to for rethinking Law), available at www.derecho.uba.ar/revistagioja/articulos/R0004A003_0010_investigacion.pdf  ( last accessed on 20/8/14)  

[28] Adela M. Seguí, “La prevención de los daños en el Proyecto de Código Civil y Comercial argentino”  SJA 2012/12/26-9; JA 2012-IV.

[29] Information Technology Expert, Professor at the School of Engineering of the University of Buenos Aires and Member of the Readers for Justice Project.

[30] Ramos, Silvia Adriana, y Ramonet, Juan Antonio. Paréntesis Literario. Promoción de la lectura para estudiantes universitarios” – This paper was presented at  “X Congreso Internacional de Promoción de la lectura y el libro”  held in Buenos Aires Argentina in 2007.

[32] M. Edmund Speare, “A Pocket Book of Short Stories. American English and Continental Masterpieces”. Washington Square Press. Pocket Books. New York. 1973 Pages 316-322 [1941]

[33] Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. Bantam Books. 1981 Pages 46-49; 81-82; 105 [1813]

[34] Julio Cortázar “Un Tal Lucas”. Editorial Alfaguara.2010 Pages 32-34.[1979]

[35] María Teresa, Andruetto,  <<Class 5; Access to excess>>  FLACSO Virtual – Diploma Superior en Lectura, Escritura y Educación (2013). Translated by Andrea Fernández. (last accessed on August 19th, 2014)

[36] Michèle Petit,<<Class 6: At first, it was the others´Reading experiences >>- FLACSO Virtual – Diploma Superior en Lectura, Escritura y Educación (2013).  Translated by Andrea Fernández-(accessed on August 19th, 2014).

[37] Lawyer, Member of the Readers For Justice Community Reading Project

[38] Walt Whitman, “Leaves of Grass” (“Hojas de Hierba”), Selection, translation and foreword by Jorge Luis Borges.  Barcelona, España.  Editorial Lumen. 1991  P. 256 – 257.

[39] http://www.lectoresparalajusticia.org_prod/?page_id=1307