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By Brian Jarvis

ISBN-10: 1435660803

ISBN-13: 9781435660809

From the excesses of Puritan patriarchs to the barbarism of slavery and on into the prison-industrial advanced, punishment within the US has an extended and grotesque heritage. within the post-Vietnam period, the criminal inhabitants has elevated tenfold and the dying penalty has loved a renaissance. Few matters in modern US society impress as a lot controversy as punishment. during this context, merciless and strange goals to provide the 1st accomplished exploration of the heritage of punishment because it has been mediated in American tradition. Grounding his research in Marxist thought, psychoanalysis and Foucault's influential paintings on self-discipline, Brian Jarvis examines quite a number cultural texts, from 17th century execution sermons to twenty-first century legal motion pictures, to discover the politics, economics and erotics of punishment. This wide-ranging and interdisciplinary survey constructs a family tree of cruelty via shut interpreting of novels by means of Hawthorne and Melville, fictional debts of the Rosenberg execution by means of Coover and Doctorow, slave narratives and legal writings via African americans and the severely missed style of yankee legal motion pictures. within the technique, merciless and weird unmasks a basic clash among legends of liberty within the Land of the unfastened and the key, silenced histories of sadomasochistic wish, punishment for revenue and social keep an eye on.

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Commissioned by the Prison Association of New York and produced by Theodore Dwight and Enoch Wines, this report offered severe criticisms of the malaise affecting the system, and encouraged a return to rehabilitative ideals. The National Congress on Penitentiary and Reformatory Discipline met in 1870 and endorsed a ‘Declaration of Principles’. 62 To this end the ‘Declaration of Principles’ encouraged improvements in sanitation, reforms in prison administration that included the removal of political appointments and increased involvement by women, a new system of prisoner classification based on behaviour rather than criminal record, and a greater emphasis on literacy, learning and work skills.

Transplanted to American soil, this break is far less distinct. The Scarlet Letter has been read as an intervention in the conflicts between emergent and residual modes of punishment in the antebellum North. These conflicts were not resolved in Hawthorne’s time, and continue to characterise the American penal machine. In 1850, Hawthorne’s nostalgia for the ancien régime could easily have been sated by looking beyond his native Boston to those states below the Mason-Dixon line. As we shall see (in Chapter 4), semi-feudal practices thrived in the South both before and after the Civil War.

Foucault characterises the notion of perpetual penality as intrinsically modern, but this was also the grail of Puritan theocracy. The continual self-regulation fostered by the Puritan code pre-empted the disciplinary tactics of the penitentiary. Hester’s fate exemplifies these continuities: she is banished to a ‘lonesome cottage’ to contemplate her crime and perform mundane labours; she is isolated from the community, wears a drab uniform and loses her name to a state-imposed symbol. 58). Hester is alone in this sphere but still feels herself to be under constant surveillance.

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Cruel and unusual : punishment and US culture by Brian Jarvis


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