English 166

Special Topics: The Literature & Art of Incarceration

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
2 Spring 2020 Padilla, Genaro M.
MWF 11-12 140 Barrows


This is a course on the literature of incarceration variously defined and experienced across a range of control systems that attempt to stunt the entire human being. I want to think about the forms of suppression, confinement, and the humiliations of control systems imposed not only on the body but on the mind and heart by the "new" prison system. We will want to concentrate on the ways human beings find the strength to survive conditions of subjection to voice their intellectual, emotional, and spiritual presence.

We will open with theorizations of incarceration: chapters from Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison; perhaps chapters from Reiman and Leighton's The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison; letters from George Jackson's Soledad Brother: The Prison Letters. We will study documentary film on the steep, orchestrated rise in incarceration and the politics of prison as a racial, ethnic, gendered, class control system (13th; Babies Behind Bars; Broken on All Sides). We will read prison narrative/poetry—Jimmy Santiago Baca's memoir/poetry (A Place to Stand), Kenneth Hartman's autobiography (Mother California)—and women's prison poetry and memoir (Wall Tappings), but we will also consider other forms of incarceration: Latinas incarcerated in the "domestic sphere" in Cisneros' House on Mango Street or the tale of an affluent white woman driven to insanity, or perhaps an alternate sanity, in Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. We will consider the forms of incarceration entire communities have been subjected to en masse: Native Americans dispossessed of their tribal homes, imprisoned for resisting or writing about their confinement in U.S. society; tens of thousands of Japanese Americans (loyal Americans) sent to detention centers during WWII (Wakatsuki's Farewell to Manzanar); thousands of Chinese immigrants who, often detained for long periods at Angel Island (in San Francisco Bay), carved poems of rage, loneliness, imagined retribution on the wood barrack walls of their "prison" in the early 20th century. In addition to textual forms of expression, I  hope also to survey some of the films, art, and photography of/on incarceration.

Course assignments: You will write two papers of 6-8 pages, and you will also work in discussion groups offering in-class presentations. There will be brief, unannounced quizzes on the material of the day. These cannot be made up. When class meets, I will provide more specific instructions for course assignments, essay grading rubrics, small group project work, and presentations.

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