In this series of essays, Lawyers Update helps you to get into world's top law schools.
Words and Language
I let the words hang there for just a second, my pencil suspended over the graphite slashes: "Instead, for Ishmael, truth is constituted." The phrase I have just written dares me to leave it there. I deliberate; the pencil taps. Then spurred by some violent synapses in the brain, I smear out the last two words with the nub of my eraser. Something about the phrase nags at me. Is truth constituted? Constructed? Forged or fashioned? I try out the possibilities in a whisper, swishing the syllables slowly, waiting for their connotative finish.
Words have always possess me like this: as a writer I am attuned to the nuances of experience I can set in motion with my language. As a reader, I delight in texts purposely crafted to disclose their complexity in response to my questioning. Given this passion on the one hand and practical necessity on the other, I have always sought out places where language influences our material reality, sites where words matter to truth. That language and reality are somehow connected, I've never doubted. After all, it's not simply that words reflect the world; it's that the world often takes its cues from words.
Built into this constitutive power of language is the assumption that through a text readers are united across time and space. My intuition further tells me that this capacity of a single object to bring together an infinite number of subjects cannot be wholly unrelated to finding collective solutions to common problems. Trying to better understand the abstract relation between text and democracy led to my interdisciplinary English major. The literature, history, and political science courses that I have taken have exposed me to an array of critical frameworks with which to investigate the truth-value of language in the specific context of twentieth-century America. Accordingly, in my honors thesis about high-school American literature textbooks, I try to make connections between multicultural literary-canon expansion-students being reflected in texts- and broader participation in a pluralistic democracy.
In the course of researching my thesis, I came to an unexpected realization: the changes I am documenting were enabled and justified almost entirely by the introduction of the word diversity to legal discourse. The relation between language and reality, then, is more complicated than a simple one-to-one correspondence; law mediates between signifier (word) and signified (reality) in American society. Law is the object that unites an infinite number of American subjects, governing-sometimes subtly and sometimes dramatically-our entries and roles in society. Yet for all its privileged status, law is still a collection of words, replete with benign and malignant ambiguities.
Thinking of the law as text has given me courage to challenge it. I've come to realize that the legal mediation process cannot happen without agents; law exists as a means of power only so long as we discuss and occasionally disagree over the final assignation of its signifiers. Ultimately, the force propelling me toward law as a career is the same force that drew me back to the irksome truth phrase in my paper on Herman Melville. I see my mission as similar to that of Melville's maverick narrator: questioning tradition and its reproduction of inquiry by appropriating its forms for the formerly invisible. It can only allow that for me, as for Ishmael, truth cannot be impersonally constituted; rather, it is dialectically articulated. It is the promise of direct and sustained engagement in this process that is the compelling reason I want to be one of the specialized agents we call attorneys.