Scrambles Sentences -- Deconstructed
The Law Teacher, Volume 3, number 1 (Fall 1995), p. 4.
About the Author
Arthur Austin is Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Jurisprudence at Case Western Reserve University Law School. Contact him at 11075 East Boulevard, Cleveland, OH 44106-7148, (216) 368-3289, FAX (216) 368-2086.
I was intrigued by Professor Brannon Heath's "scrambled sentence" exercise for her overwhelmed students. See Scrambled Sentences: A Puzzle Worth Solving, The Law Teacher, Fall 1994, at 12.
Professor Heath scrambled twelve sentences that she cut from a memo on a Legal Method problem and challenged her students to reassemble them in the proper order. Professor Heath followed this with a new challenge: She numbered the cut-up sentences in the correct order and again asked the students to reassemble them. Only one group realized the sentences were already in the proper order.
The exercise reminds me of a deconstructionist technique known as "double session." The best-known practitioner is the movement's leader, Jacques Derrida, whose best-known double session posed a face-off between the prose of Hegel the philosopher (on the left side of the pages) and the words of the thief-turned-writer Genet (on the right side). According to Christopher Norris, it is Derrida's "most graphic demonstration of how texts can invade each other's space." It is what deconstructionists call intertextuality and shows that meaning cannot be contained within the limits of a text but instead is vulnerable to attack by other texts. Text is therefore borderless.
The double session is by no means original with Derrida. According to Ted Morgan, William S. Burroughs' biographer, Burroughs discovered a similar technique by accident; a friend sliced through a pile of newspapers, then made a mosaic out of the strips. Calling this the cut-up method, Burroughs cut out strips -- sentences, words, paragraphs -- and mixed them to create a new form of literature. Burroughs even thought "that by mixing up medical articles they would locate a cure for cancer."
The ultimate challenge for Professor Heath and her students is to compose a double session of differing views from case opinions, commentators, and whatever other literature is relevant. The winner would be the person who can create the most explosive conflict, something on the level of a double session of reciprocal invasions by Camille Paglia and Katherine MacKinnon. Or how about Larry Tribe "encountering" with Robert Bork on the same page, or some vigorous intertextual exchanges between Stanley Fish and Nadine Strossen? In my judgment, the most provocative double session would be an intertextual challenge between Professor Morris Zapp and Henri Mensonge.