Jail Sentences: Representing Prison in Twentieth-Century by Andrew Sobanet

By Andrew Sobanet

A long checklist of canonical writers in Western literature have skilled incarceration and feature accordingly written celebrated works in regards to the imprisoned and the condemned. The French culture is not any exception: writers who produced noteworthy texts whereas incarcerated or who later wrote approximately their reviews in criminal are discovered at the literary-historical panorama from the medieval period throughout the 20th century. legal writing through inmates, former guards, chaplains, academics, and medical professionals is firmly demonstrated as a part of the material of pop culture and has lengthy attracted the eye of tradition critics and students. however, scant research exists of the felony novel—a literary style that, as Andrew Sobanet argues in Jail Sentences, makes use of fiction as a documentary device. Its narrative peculiarities, that are the most topics of Sobanet’s examine, contain using autobiographical and testimonial strategies to critique the penal complex process.
Jail Sentences is the definitive learn of the legacy of the Western culture of legal writing in twentieth-century French literature. even though Sobanet focuses totally on French writers—Victor Serge, Jean Genet, Albertine Sarrazin, and François Bon—his willing experience of literary discussion pulls into the orbit of his research a world corpus of labor, from Dostoyevsky to Malcolm X. Jail Sentences arrives at a coherent definition of the style, whose special conventions stem from the innermost areas of our figuring out of reports, fact, fiction, and trust.

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However, the existence of important differences among spaces of confinement and testimonial discourses and forms does not mean that comparisons among various types of literature of witnessing are not fruitful. Indeed, such comparisons — which will be evoked when applicable in the following chapters — sharpen the specificity of the prison novel as a literary modality with its own traditions and conventions. Comparisons also contribute to the description and analysis of narrative strategies used in many types of documentary and testimonial texts.

E ve ry ma n i n p r i s o n resembles the novel’s depiction of the repercussions of the conflict. Like the narrator of the novel, Serge the memoirist expresses disbelief and disappointment at the knee-jerk nationalism displayed by many of his fellow prisoners at the outset of the war: blind patriotism diminishes solidarity among the men in prison, who are of diverse national origins. While information in the memoirs reveals that the novel is partly based on Serge’s experience, it also shows that the fictional narrative aims to promote the author’s ideological message forcefully and convincingly.

Bon conducted twenty-one separate writing sessions with a total of sixty-two inmates, many of whom were homeless or resided in low-income housing before being arrested. A number of them were also either immigrants or from the first generation of their families to be born in France. As workshop director, Bon proposed a number of themes and introduced the prisoners to well-known literary texts from which they were expected to find the beginnings of a narrative thread. The themes and literary texts imply engagement with a set of marginalizing socioeconomic factors, as the author sought to elicit testimonies from the inmates about delinquency, racism, and the vicissitudes of urban and suburban life.

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