Erotic souls kicked toward saintliness chained in a mad dead house
March 8, 2016 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature for The Paris Review. The first entry from 15 September 2015 concerns Dostoevsky's "Notes From a Dead House", the latest so far, from 25 February 2016, deals with Austin Reed's "The Life and Adventures of a Haunted Convict".

No writer intends to produce prison literature. Just as incarceration involves its own awful set of debasements, drudgeries, and abuses, so it marks any writing done under its restrictions as part of a genre, one of the oldest to which new work is still added daily. The loose canon of prison literature includes novels (Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers, Toer’s Buru Quartet), autobiographies (Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, Cleaver’s Soul on Ice, Madame Roland’s memoirs), poems (Pound’s Pisan Cantos), erotic fictions (de Sade’s Justine, Cleland’s Fanny Hill), poetic dialogues (Boethius’s The Consolation of Philosophy), economic tracts (Gramsci’s prison notebooks), histories (Nehru’s Glimpses of World History) and works of philosophy (portions of Wittgenstein’s Tractatus)—but with the stipulation that whoever enters it must have suffered to an extent, and in a way, for which practically no one would volunteer. No prison writing is professional, but nor is any of it exactly recreational; it comes, by definition, from environments where “any self-willed display of personality … is considered a crime.”

Rest of the articles:
- Sick Souls: On Writers who Found God Behind Bars.
- Suffering Is One Very Long Moment, on Oscar Wilde's "De Profundis".
- Great Waves of Vigilance, on Abdellatif Laâbi’s poetry.
- Unseen, Even of Herself, on Madame Roland's memoirs.
- Extreme Remedies, on George Jackson's Soledad Brother.
- In the Madhouse, on John Clare, Christopher Smart, and the poetry of the asylum.
- Kicked Toward Saintliness, on the dark erotics of Jean Genet’s Our Lady of the Flowers.
posted by sapagan (3 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

No writer intends to produce prison literature.

Nellie Bly?
posted by Jahaza at 1:07 PM on March 8, 2016

Yes, the opening has to sound more dramatic than it would otherwise ... I don't know, however, is Bly's writing classifiable as prison literature? The presupposition of 'against the will' seems to play a big part in the definition.
posted by sapagan at 10:47 PM on March 8, 2016

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