Dalhousie Law Journal


academic humour, academic humor, ironic humour, ironic humor, Pierre Schlag


Back in 1987 when Critical Legal Studies was still “hot,” I was shopping a piece that was a long review essay on Laura Kalman’s history, Legal Realism at Yale. An acquaintance who was on that faculty invited me to present the piece—which I am still quite proud of—at the workshop he was running. Owen Fiss was the first person to ask a question. He wanted to know whether the piece was “serious” work or whether it was just an elaborate joke. Surprised and bewildered by the question, I answered, “Both.” In response he asserted that unless it were one or another he could not possibly respond, and for the rest of the workshop he sat squarely in front of me with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. At that point, I knew that there was something troubling about the use of humor in scholarship, something not captured by the phrase “academic humor.”

This odd experience happened about the time that I met Pierre Schlag in the journals. The piece was “Fish v. Zapp: The Case of the Relatively Autonomous Self.” I found it very apt, as well as quite funny in places— and wrote him to say so. I also tried to start up a friendship then, but it didn’t work—both of our lives were too clotted I suspect. Later I read “Normative and Nowhere to Go,” which was even funnier and even more on point, so I wrote again. A year or two later he invited me to a conference at Colorado and since then we have intermittently spent a lot of time talking about law schools, legal education, Critical Legal Studies, and legal scholarship.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.