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Title: The Boilerplate of Everything and the Ideal of Agreement in American Law and Literature
Authors: Kastner, Tal
Advisors: Gleason, William
Hartog, Hendrik
Contributors: English Department
Keywords: agreement
American literature
The Crying of Lot 49
Subjects: American literature
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Borrowing the notion of standardized terms from the language of law, <italic> The Boilerplate of Everything and the Ideal of Agreement in American Law and Literature</italic> interrogates boilerplate &mdash; a presumptively obscure form &mdash; as a paradigm of expression. Using contract as a conceptual entry-point, I reveal the significance of the ideal of agreement in American literature and legal discourse from the nineteenth century to the current era. The first part of <italic>The Boilerplate of Everything</italic> focuses on legal texts read in light of literary theory. In Chapter One, I analyze common standardized terms in contracts and argue that this type of boilerplate points to a limiting principle, creating a source of interpretive authority within a document. The contract document thereby reflects and/or manifests an ideal of agreement involving the will and intention of the parties. Chapter Two examines the use of the term &ldquo;boilerplate&rdquo; in judicial opinions and legal writing, presenting boilerplate as an exemplar of contractual expression that instantiates the deconstructive notion of iterability. The special conceptual status of boilerplate indicates the persistence of the ideal of genuine agreement as a legitimating origin. I thereby reveal the ongoing role of agreement as a touchstone of contract and communication in American legal discourse. The second half of the project confronts American literature corresponding with the development of contract. In Chapter Three, I identify the nineteenth-century notion and practice of contract as a significant, and previously overlooked, element of Herman Melville's &ldquo;Bartleby, the Scrivener.&rdquo; I demonstrate how &ldquo;Bartleby&rdquo; anticipates the significance and limits of contract as an instrument of freedom in the American cultural consciousness during emancipation. Chapter Four reads Thomas Pynchon's <italic>The Crying of Lot 49</italic>, published contemporaneously with the first invocation of &ldquo; boilerplate &rdquo; by the Supreme Court in connection with contract. I argue that Pynchon's quintessentially postmodern work emphasizes the enduring seductiveness of the possibility of a &ldquo; meeting of minds, &rdquo; reinscribing it in a qualified and dynamic form. Demonstrating the expressive potential of boilerplate as well as its generative capacity to shape identity and agency, <italic>The Boilerplate of Everything</italic> illuminates the American imagination and the possibilities for individual expression, interpersonal connection and freedom.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:English

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