Travels with a paper friend

SLSA 2014 at Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, provided the next leg in the development and the travels of my paper, “Feel your dark way as I lead you, Father”: (re)imagining equity with law using Sophocles’ Theban Plays.  In short: it has come a long way.  The following section lifted from the paper’s abstract tells the story so far:

Using as illustrative Sophocles’ Theban Plays, primarily Oedipus at Colonus, and a psychoanalytic methodology, the following paper will aim to examine aspects of the familial dynamic between equity and law, with the aim of rendering problematic the maxim and embedded perception that “Equity follows the Law”.  Foundational to understanding this dynamic is how the two tenets traverse and negotiate both with one another, with third parties, as well as with the topography in which they operate and perform.

By a long way I’m not merely referring to the refinement of the paper’s core ideas and the structure of its arguments that have been meticulously developed over various iterations, although of course I hope this is the case.  Rather, a long way refers literally and somewhat apologetically to distance.  A short explanation is required…

Having started life on the outskirts of Milton Keynes in the autumn of 2013 the paper’s next stop took it (along with me) to Melbourne, Australia, for a doctoral forum hosted by the generous folk of Melbourne law school.  To be honest the attendees at Melbourne experienced the paper in a very raw state and it became abundantly clear to me following the forum that significant work was required to tighten-up the theory and its application to questions of the law of equity’s relationship to the common law, which I set against the background of (in the main) Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus.

Next stop, March 2014 and the neo-classical surroundings of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where my dulcet tones echoed through the corridors of power that line that institutions magnificent law school, as I delivered to the keen ears of the audience the paper’s conflation of law, classical drama and psychoanalysis.  After a few months in which I was able to address the concerns Australia had raised, the presentation in Virginia felt on track and the audience response was both encouraging and engaged – equity it seems, at least for some legal scholars, holds a significant place in their psyche, although not always for positive reasons!

And most recently to Aberdeen…for the day.

I thus attach a degree of personal guilt to a paper which I have otherwise enjoyed watching evolve during the last six months, because it has accrued such a substantial carbon footprint.  By my calculation at least 14,726 miles.  It has become imperative therefore to make this paper count, and reactions, albeit to a limited audience in Aberdeen, would suggest it may be reaching a conclusion.

The aim of the paper was neither to invent a new course of dealings between equity and the common law, nor to rewrite history as such – there is no academic validity in either of those.  Rather, by mobilizing the legal imagination via, in this instance literary drama, I want this paper to provide an alternative, critical avenue for those interested in the continuing development of equity, and legal scholars more broadly, to explore.  One which does not accept with any degree of complacency even the most seemingly settled concepts in law such as the equitable maxims.  To that end I am confident this paper has achieved a semblance of this modest task.

The possibility of publication may now be on the horizon.  But I’m not convinced this will signal the end of the line entirely for a paper which has equally become a favoured travel companion.  There are always more devils in the detail to be teased out.  Avanti!

Robert Herian

Lecturer in Law

School of Law, Open University

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