Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy in English
All philosophy, according to Nietzsche, amounts essentially to “the confession of its originator, and a species of involuntary and unconscious autobiography.” Wayne Booth, author of The Rhetoric of Fiction, maintains that the creative writer is never ideologically disinterested, that “there is always some deeper value” at the core of the text. The current project explores the intersection of these two assertions; the degree to which the theoretician betrays his ideology is in dialectical tension with the idea that the life-writer is a latent ideologue. This project employs an auto-theoretical approach: an integration of theory and philosophy with autobiography. A series of autobiographical sketches are interpolated with critical analysis of some canonical prison texts, all of which are analyzed using a variety of critical approaches, including deconstruction, poststructuralism, narratology, and critical theory.
I argue that the body of work we call “prison literature” can be taxonomized, somewhat serviceably, into three broad categories: 1) individualist or “antiheroic” texts; 2) revolutionary or “rebellious” texts; and 3) compassionate or “empathic” texts. The critical portion of this project explicates and defends these categories while the creative portion both exemplifies and interrogates them. The narrative arc follows the (anti)hero as he sheds his pitiful (individualistic) philosophy for one that’s more compassionate, the implicit question being what is the correlation, if any, between the author’s reading of the canonical prison texts and his own personal experience? Might his ideological transformation (individualist to empath) have something to do with his incarceration or his writing or both?
Thus, the project itself—the conditions necessary for its own emergence—unpacks progressively. The questions undergirding the project are as follows. How salient are both Nietzsche and Booth’s assertions? How are we to effectively analyze prison literature which we relegate to categories while arguing that these same categories are contingent and unfixed? The (overt) critical thesis argues for categorical distinction. The (covert) creative thesis argues for contingency and change. It's the tension between these two theses that drives the project, but the overarching theme is that the “prison(er)” is not a monolith, that the experience is different across personalities and cultures, and that differing value systems have a way to manifesting on the page. We argue, ultimately, for evolution over stasis, becoming over being, humanity over “criminality” – or, as Ioan Davies puts it, “the articulation of hope against the imposed textuality of representation.”
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Ferry, James A., "RESISTING ARREST: AN (AUTO-THEORETICAL) ESSAY ON PRISON LITERATURE" (2023). Open Access Dissertations. Paper 1497.