Cruel and unusual : punishment and US culture by Brian Jarvis

By Brian Jarvis

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 ugly historical past. within the post-Vietnam period, the legal 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 weird goals to provide the 1st finished exploration of the background 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 more than a few cultural texts, from 17th century execution sermons to twenty-first century felony movies, 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 bills of the Rosenberg execution by means of Coover and Doctorow, slave narratives and legal writings by way of African americans and the seriously missed style of yankee legal movies. within the procedure, merciless and weird unmasks a basic clash among legends of liberty within the Land of the loose and the key, silenced histories of sadomasochistic wish, punishment for revenue and social keep an eye on.

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Critically, it is pain on the scaffold that is the catalyst to her transformation from unrepentant sadist. The imp of polymorphous perversity is exorcised as her father dies in the shadow of the gallows: ‘Pearl kissed his lips. A spell was broken. 196). The only kiss Hawthorne permits in this romance is public, involving family members, and it produces a therapeutic flood of grief rather than desire. The premise behind Puritan penology, that pain is the essential prerequisite for moral growth, is thus dramatically confirmed.

Attitudes towards discipline within the home underwent significant changes in the antebellum North. The 1830s and ’40s saw a proliferation of domestic manuals, child-rearing guidebooks and pedagogical primers where discipline was a central concern. The coalition of Northern women calling for the abolition of violence on the plantation and in the penal system also demanded its abrogation within the home and school. In Lydia Sigourney’s Letters to Mothers (1839), Catherine Beecher’s Treatise on Domestic Economy (1841) and Mary Peabody Mann’s Moral Culture of Infancy (1841), emphasis was placed on affection rather than authority.

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. This landmark document established a blueprint that helped shape prison management for much of the next 100 years. The immediate aftermath of the 1870 conference witnessed a steady increase in the number of ‘reformatory’ prisons, specifically for young adults and women, in which religious and vocational training was prioritised.

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