Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



FOREWORD: Interpreting the meaning of words, whether those words compose a precedent-setting case or a newly enacted statute, is an integral part of the law. Furthermore, the impact of legal texts clearly extends beyond the legal discipline and permeates all layers of society. But from where do we derive the meaning of words and texts? Is the text itself the source of meaning, or is the text an embodiment of a meaning, the source of which is society? What determines textual interpretations-the historical roots of the text itself, the historical gloss of prior interpretations, the private experiences that each new reader or writer brings to the text, or some combination of all these factors? Do words have the capacity to change society or does society shape the language used? On March 16 and 17, 1990, Vanderbilt University School of Law and the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities at Vanderbilt University sponsored a Symposium entitled "Law, Literature, and Social Change." The Symposium brought together leading theorists from law and the humanities to debate the role that the interpretation of texts plays in shaping our society. The presentations and responding commentary of the Symposium participants are set forth in this issue