Human Rights, Suffering, and Aesthetics in Political Prison Literature
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Human Rights, Suffering, and Aesthetics in Political Prison Literature

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This interdisciplinary volume of essays studies human rights in political prison literature, while examining the intersections of suffering, politics, and aesthetics in an interliterary and intercultural context. As the first book to explore the concept of global aesthetics in political prison narratives, it makes a timely contribution to the advocacy and discourse of universal human rights by demonstrating how literary insight enhances the study of this field and encouraging comparative analyses and cross-cultural understanding.show more

Product details

  • Paperback | 224 pages
  • 152.4 x 223.52 x 17.78mm | 385.55g
  • Lexington Books
  • Lanham, MD, United States
  • English
  • Reprint
  • 0739186167
  • 9780739186169

Review quote

Interest in prisons, particularly in the US, has been increasing in the past ten years or so, but for the most part the interest has led to scholarly or popular books detailing the extent of incarceration. Works devoted to prison writing have tended to be anthologies--among the recent ones, Bell Gale's Doing Time (2011). The current volume is surprising in that Wu (comparative and Chinese literature, Univ. of California, Riverside) and Livescu (PhD candidate, UCLA) focus on the aesthetics of past and present political prison literature, from Mao's forced-labor camps to Morocco's gender-biased justice system. The "aesthetics" in general--whether marked by decentered "rhizomatous forces" (to quote Wu) or articulating a quest for freedom--is seen in relation to the central problem of the material: the inexpressibility of the political prisoner's experience. Steering clear of broad sociological theories about repression or authoritarianism, the essays have a laudable sobriety, treating prison writings as imperfect evocations of torture, attempts at resistance, and even expressions of happiness in captivity. The wide geographical scope of the volume adds to the sense of objectivity. A fascinating and welcome book. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; faculty; general readers. CHOICE Presented with a human rights report from one repressive regime or another, most readers will first comment on the horrors encountered without grasping the enormity of resistance calling for such repression. Characterized by a healthy mix of more established and younger scholars, this volume paves the way for such a transformation, for an understanding that prison memoirs are not lamentations but forceful political facts whose deeper effects on a society are pervasive. In opening literary criticism and cultural studies to the urgency of writing by political prisoners across a wide geographical and generic spectrum, these engaged essays delve into essential texts and historical moments in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and the Americas, North and South. Of particular note are the superb contributions on too little known figures from Syria, Morocco, Uruguay, and the United States. One hopes that the kind of work collected in Human Rights, Suffering, and Aesthetics in Political Prison Literature is the harbinger of further nuanced, contextualized, and informed presentations as essential texts excavated from the human depths of our repressive time find a wider and more general readership. -- Ammiel Alcalay, Queens College/CUNY Graduate Center This powerful volume theorizes late twentieth century political detainees' narratives from China, Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Romania, Russia, Uruguay, and the U.S. Authors reveal how these documentary and literary narratives frame a rights discourse and play a critical role in uncovering the mechanisms of silencing and dehumanization practiced across the globe that would otherwise continue sub rosa. Was it not the stories of the Egyptian women and men thrown into jail after the April 2008 uprising that launched the 2011 revolution? A highly engaging collection of essays about testimonials, memoirs and works of fiction, Human Rights, Suffering, and Aesthetics in Political Prison Literature will not allow us to forget the brave women and men around the world who are prepared to pay for their demands that the truth be brought to light and justice be served. -- Miriam Cooke, Duke University This volume brings together a broad collection of scholarly essays that remind us that, while cruelty is a shared human trait, so too is the human capacity for creativity, eloquence, and courage in the face of such cruelty. These studies treat the aesthetics of the prison experience in the most sensitive and erudite terms. Focusing on the Middle East, North Africa, central Europe, Asia, and the Americas, the high level of scholarship of this work provides the historian, the activist, the literary critic, and the humanist with the means for better understanding genres of prison writing from around the world. -- Alexander Elinson, Hunter College of the City University of New York Yenna Wu and six distinguished authors offer analysis and perspectives on what one can learn from the writings of political prisoners. This is rich territory: the beginnings of political wisdom is seldom reached more dramatically than through the experiences of the victims of political persecution. American Journal of Chinese Studiesshow more

About Yenna Wu

Yenna Wu is a distinguished teaching professor at the University of California, Riverside. Simona Livescu is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Los Angeles.show more

Table of contents

Chapter 1. Probing the Intersections of Human Rights, Suffering, and Aesthetics in Political Prison Narratives: An Introduction Chapter 2. Reviving Muted Voices: Rhizomatous Forces in Political Prison Literature Chapter 3. Surviving Traumatic Captivity, Arriving at Wisdom: An Aesthetics of Resistance in Chinese Prison Camp Memoir Chapter 4. The Argument From Silence: Morocco's Truth Commission and Women Political Prisoners Chapter 5. The Persistence of Spectacle in PRC Modes of Punishing Criminality and Deviance Chapter 6. The Cocoons of Language: Torture, Voice, Event Chapter 7. A Primer for the Politics and Literature of Resistance: Apparitional Subjectivity in The Collective Autobiography of the New York 21 Chapter 8. Remembering Pain in Uruguay: What Memories Mean in Carlos Liscano's Truck of Fools Chapter 9. Deviating from the Norm? Two Easts Testify to a Prison Aesthetics of Happinessshow more