English 100

Junior Seminar: Prison Literature

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
5 Fall 2007 Fielding, John David
Fielding, John
MW 5-6:30 305 Wheeler

Other Readings and Media

Vidocq, F.E.: Memoirs of Vidocq: Master of Crime ; Berkman., A.: Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist ; Black, J.: You Can�t Win ; Himes, C.: Yesterday Will Make You Cry ; Braly, M.: On the Yard ; Bunker, E.: Animal Factory ; Carr, J.: Bad ; Foucault, M.: Discipline and Punish ; Lopez, E.: They Call Me Mad Dog ; Course Reader: consisting of short stories, poetry, critical articles and other, shorter texts


"Because the percentage of the American population that has experienced incarceration is at an historical high and growing, particularly within the African American community, a study of the literature of incarceration has never been more timely. In this course we will lay both a critical and literary framework for what may be considered the long overlooked counterpart to more popular and studied memoirs of crime, novels of detection and police procedurals. While much critical attention has already been paid to these latter genres, we will explore this underside, or locked away consequence of the clash of crime and law through the study of some seminal, some overlooked, and some contemporary representations of life behind bars. Beginning with the trial and execution of Socrates, we will trace our way through two pioneering European and American works, before narrowing our focus to a number of twentieth-century American exemplars.

Complementing our study of these autobiographical novels--interesting, personal responses to brutally conformist institutions--we will use Michel Foucault�s Discipline and Punish , along with a number of articles in a course reader, as a critical foundation for understanding the themes raised by an aesthetics of confinement. Among other questions, we will consider the ways in which confinement might inform the private reading experience, or even the modern, subjugated condition in which everyone might be figured as prisoners in a police state assigning crimes, guilt and cells within a state-wide military industrial facility. Conversely, the escapist power of literature will also be considered insofar as these texts address the liberating potential, and in some cases ultimate failure, of literature as a means of transcending or otherwise transforming the modern police state�s imperative to discipline and punish.

We will also supplement our study through the analysis of some prison poetry and films, through which we will examine Hollywood �s fascination with, even glorification of, prison life. "

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