Washington Law Review


Traditional legal analysis comprehends change in the common law over time as a shifting legal response to different facts and circumstances. This approach does not examine the internal mechanisms by which the meaning of a judicial opinion changes when cited in later legal writing. Mikhail Bakhtin, a literary and cultural theorist, argued that any statement can be understood only through the context in which it is uttered and that every change in context causes a shift in the statement's meaning. This Comment analyzes the internal mechanisms of judicial opinions in light of Bakhtin's theories. First, this Comment describes one example of the general use of literary theory in legal analysis and through that example places Bakhtin's work within the context of law and literature. Then, this Comment examines the effect of citation throughout a line of product liability cases to illustrate the semantic shift described in Bakhtin's theories and concludes by arguing that Bakhtin's theories offer a useful extension of the application of literary theory to legal analysis.

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