Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (2007): The Next Great American Novel?

Published by: Hesta

Step down Melville, Nabokov, and Updike—2007 witnessed the publication of the first collective great American novel: the latest installment of The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Its much-anticipated release was preceded by a smattering of “midnight parties” across the country, at which fans dressed as their favorite courtroom personalities—plaintiff, defendant, attorney, judge, or juror—and pretended to serve each other notice, object, motion, and file claims.

The novel has not disappointed. A fast-paced thriller, it masterfully weaves a tale of cause of action, joinder, class actions, and jurisdiction. The extensive annotated version provides the corresponding state rules for each federal rule in size 4 font, single-spaced. One of the The Federal Rules’ many innovations is a recurrent attempt to alienate the reader by excessively using the passive voice, distancing the subject from the verb, and using repetitive sentence structure. Halfway through the novel, a hundred-page long Brechtian digression entitled “Proposed Amendments” challenges the reader’s attention and threatens the progression of the narrative.

Among other tropes, this tour-de-force utilizes the present voice in order to impart a sense of urgency to the narrative. The lack of a narrator or characters is also noteworthy, although Robbe-Grillet pioneered the technique in the 20th century. Without warning, the story will mention a “plaintiff,” “agency,” or “officer,” but these personas vanish as quickly as they appear, leaving the reader with a pervasive feeling of loneliness and abandonment. The work repeatedly refers to “the Court” with no further specification, a portrayal of the legal institution as an omnipotent and unknowable force that is undoubtedly an homage to Kafka. In a sense, The Federal Rules is a commentary on lost human connection and the callous nature of everyday interaction in American society.

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