Published: Oct. 5, 2016

At first glance, readers might be quick to characterize Professor Pierre Schlag’s most recent writings as exceedingly technical, and he would likely agree. Schlag points to his latest articles, “How to Do Things with Hohfeld” (Law and Contemporary Problems, 2015) and “The Knowledge Bubble” (forthcoming 2016), as “virtually metallic in their prose.” He goes so far as to refer to his 2013 article, “Coase Minus the Coase Theorem—Some Problems with Chicago Transaction Costs Analysis” (Iowa Law Review) as “almost Mondrian-like in the intransigence of its lines.” All that aside, Schlag has broken out into fiction in his spare time, publishing the novel American Absurd in spring 2016 by Bowen Press.

What was the impetus behind your novel, American Absurd?

I finally broke past the law review/university press monograph genre. I’d been testing the limits for some time—a few years back I hosted a Victorian transtemporal dinner party with Christopher Columbus Langdell, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Richard Posner. The proceedings were published in the Buffalo Law Review. Then not too long ago, I had a gay footnote come out in a Georgetown Law Journal article. I believe that is a first. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.

Why satire?

It’s like class. Humor helps. It stretches the limits of the possible. Unleavened by humor, some of what I say could easily seem grim. Besides, humor is a great way of disrupting established frames. Humor doesn’t have much of an appropriate role in litigation (the pain and gravity of the proceedings). But it does have a role to play in scholarship—particularly in satirical takes, since so much scholarship takes on airs that it really cannot sustain. Satire is a great deflationist vehicle.

Why write a novel—and why this novel?

I couldn’t help it. I was right on Wilshire Boulevard close to UCLA at about 2:30 one afternoon, and there were all these people driving by in these immaculate upscale cars—BMWs, Mercedes Benzes, and so on. Clear-coat black, emerald green, oyster white. 2:30 in the afternoon. On a week day. And I wondered, who ARE all these people? And WHERE are they going? Then it hit me—they aren’t going anywhere. They’re faking it. They’re just going from A to B, pretending to have a life when in fact. . . . So I started writing up a mock magazine article about these people in L.A. driving from place to place as if that were the meaning of life. And then my novel was up and running, almost writing itself.

And why absurd?

Absurdity is a great premise. It really opens things up a lot. Plus, there’s just so much of it around.

Are there any law professors or lawyers in the story?

No law professors. There are a few transactional lawyers working on a deal that doesn’t exist. (Of course, they pretend the deal does exist because . . . well . . . because everybody else does.) There are no law professors, but there is an academic conference. And the professions are generally well-represented in the novel: the journalists, the therapists, the police, the writers, and the agents.

Pierre Schlag is distinguished professor at the University of Colorado Law School and Byron R. White Professor of Law. He teaches Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, Torts, and a variety of seminars on ethics, critical law and economics, and legal reasoning. 

This article originally appeared in the fall 2016 issue of Amicus, Colorado Law's semi-annual alumni magazine. Read the issue here.