In December 1999, Jena Osman wrote:
I've been fascinated by the concept of the supreme court and the language of law for a long time. I think this fascination began when I took some time off from my graduate studies to be a union organizer, and began to get involved in a lot of community activism in Buffalo. I was trying to figure out the balance between aesthetic politics and "pragmatic" politics in my life.
We assume that the language of law will be "objective," but upon examination, we see that typically subjective language (humor, figures of speech, weird analogies, etc.) is everywhere. Maybe some of you have been to Washington D.C. when the Supreme Court was in session--the public is allowed to get in line and witness 5 minutes of the Court in action. It's perhaps one of the most amazing theatrical spectacles I've ever seen; I highly recommend it. The judges can be very entertaining.
But my interest in judicial language is also very connected to my interest in Brecht. Brecht felt that the ideal spectator-to-spectacle relationship would be similar to that found at sporting events. When a player messes up, the spectator thinks "why did he make that decision? Why didn't he go the other way? Why was he being such a show-off? etc." In other words, the spectator is an expert, able to judge and critique. Brecht wanted viewers of his plays to be in a similar position--involved, yet critically detached and evaluative at the same time--with the hopes that such an attitude would continue once the spectator left the theatre. Only with such an attitude can we be fully aware of the cultural forces at play on us and be able to change them. Without critical awareness, everything seems fated by the gods and we have no agency. I hope it's clear why this theory would be of interest to me as a poet. The leap from Brechtian theory to the drama of the courtroom--where the judge/jury must make choices (often based on a heightened analysis of language)--is a fairly literal one.