Monday, February 18, 2008

The Octopus

The Octopus

Men — motes in the sunshine — perished, were shot down in the very noon of life, hearts were broken, little children started in life lamentably handicapped; young girls were brought to a life of shame; old women died in the heart of life for lack of food. In that little, isolated group of human insects, misery, death, and anguish spun like a wheel of fire.

But the Wheat Remained. Untouched, unassailable, undefiled, that mighty world-force, that nourisher of nations, wrapped in Nirvanic calm, indifferent to the human swarm, gigantic, resistless, moved onward in its appointed grooves. Through the welter of blood at the irrigation ditch, through the sham charity and shallow philanthropy of famine relief committees, the great harvest of Los Muertos rolled like a flood from the Sierras to the Himalayas to feed thousands of starving scarecrows on the barren plains of India.

Falseness dies; injustice and oppression in the end of everything fade and vanish away. Greed, cruelty, selfishness, and inhumanity are short-lived; the individual suffers, but the race goes on. Annixter dies, but in a far distant corner of the world a thousand lives are saved. The larger view always and through all shams, all wickednesses, discovers the Truth that will, in the end, prevail, and all things, surely, inevitably, resistlessly work together for good.
— Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901)

Even as Jurisdynamics was blogging about the revival of The Great Gatsby, Al Brophy addressed the same issue at the Legal History Blog. Better still, Al asked a fantastic question:
Great GatsbyAll this causes me to wonder what other literature is out there waiting to be discovered, particularly what other literature is out there waiting to tell us something about jurisprudence.
This makes a great meme, one whose social value vastly exceeds that of Jurisdynamics' truly bad movie meme.

OctopusI'll get things rolling by nominating my candidate: Frank Norris, The Octopus (1901). (Bibliographical note: The Octopus is available online through Google Books and the Gutenberg Project.) Norris wrote this "Story of California" as part one of an unfinished "Epic of Wheat." The Octopus was based on the Mussel Slough Tragedy of 1880, a bloody conflict between ranchers and the Southern Pacific Railroad. Farmers in the San Joaquin Valley had leased land from the railroad at $2.50 to $5 per acre, in the hope of eventually purchasing the land outright. When the railroad offered the land for sale at prices adjusted for improvements (made, for the most part, by the farmers themselves), fighting broke out.

I've used The Octopus in agricultural law and in regulated industries. The agricultural application should be self-explanatory. As for regulated industries, The Octopus provides (remarkably enough) what may be American literature's most complete description of classic cost-of-service ratemaking. I always told my students that a page of Norris was worth a volume of Chen: The Death of the Regulatory Compact: Adjusting Prices and Expectations in the Law of Regulated Industries, 67 Ohio State L.J. 1265 (2006).

I now tag anyone blogging within legal education. It would be great to compile a list of lost literary classics that are suitable for use in law school. If we get enough suggestions, I will gladly publish a consolidated reading list here at Jurisdynamics, with links back to all posts proposing additions to this canon.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Strongly recommend "Midwives" by Chris Bohjalian. Don't hold the fact that it was an Oprah's Book Club selection against it! I think its accessibility is a strength.

2/18/2008 8:45 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

The End of This Day's Business
by Katharine Burdekin. Burdekin creates a world in which men are inferior to women and shows us how important equality is.

2/19/2008 6:53 PM  
Blogger emfink said...

Karel Čapek's War With the Newts is among my favorite neglected classics. It could probably fit into a course on immigration, race, or amphibian law.

2/20/2008 8:35 AM  
Blogger Alfred Brophy said...

Thanks for the kind words, Jim. In the theme of early twentieth century literature, I might think about Theodore Dreiser's American Tragedy, though maybe that's not so "lost."

2/20/2008 8:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the Dreiser front, I recommend his The Financier, great look at insider trading and municipal politics. On the more esoteric front, and perhaps too young to be a "classic" I love Pynchon's Mason & Dixon for reasons that would fill several blogs. I also recommend Robinson's Gilead, as another classic to be. For feminist economic classics, try Frances Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper.

3/18/2008 9:47 PM  

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