Memory problems when the incarcerated subaltern speaks
(or why we keep forgetting that prisoners experience)
‘the subaltern cannot speak’GayatriChakravortySpivak, ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ (1988)
Lorraine CodeWhat Can She Know? Feminist Theory and the Construction of Knowledge.Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991.
‘knowledgesthat have been disqualified as inadequate to their task or insufficiently elaborated: naïveknowledges, located low down on the hierarchy, beneath the required level of cognition orscientificity’MichelFoucault, ‘Two Lectures’, inPower/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, ed. Colin Gordon, Essex 1980, pp. 78–108 (83).
AnnetteKolodny‘Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism’Feminist Studies6/1 (1980), 1-25.
‘in acontestatoryrelationship to dominant publics […] elaborating alternative styles of politicalbehaviorand alternative norms of public speech’Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’.Social Text25/26 (1990), pp. 56-80 (61, 67).
‘writers and readers of Holocaust narrative have long insisted that it literally deliver documentary evidence of specific events, that it […] be received as testimonial proof of the events it embodies’James E. Young, “Interpreting Literary Testimony: A Preface to Rereading Holocaust Diaries and Memoirs”.New Literary History18 (1987), pp. 403-423 (403).
‘incarceration with its textures of violence, pain and suffering seems universally to demand ‘factually insistent’ narratives’PaulGready, “Autobiography and the ‘power of writing’: political prison writing in the apartheid era”.Journal of Southern African Studies19 (1993), 489-523 (490)
‘although they understand what is wrong with the system better than any criminologist, judge, cop, or outsider, [prisoners] have the credibility of elves’Paul St. John, “Behind the Mirror’s Face” inDoing Time: 25 Years of Prison Writinged. Bell GaleChevigny, 119-25
‘The people out there, on the other side of the wall, never believe a word we say’Peterin KlausAntes,ChristianeEhrhardt(eds), and Heinrich Hannover,Lebenslänglich:Protokolleausder Haft. Munich: Piper 1972, 76
SallyMcConnell-Ginet‘The sexual (re)productionofmeaning’in Deborah Cameron (ed),TheFeminist Critique of Language(2nded.)London 1998, 207
‘Should I go on writing? […] Why? Who wants to read anything I write? […] does anyone want to read about outcasts or about life in prison?’Anonin Ingeborg-Drewitz-Literaturpreisfür Gefangene (ed.),Geräusche der Nacht: Literatur aus dem deutschen Strafvollzug(Münster: agenda 2008), 69.
Problem #1: Moral authority
HaydenWhite‘TheValue ofNarrativityin the Representation ofReality’.Critical Inquiry(1980), 1-27.
‘Our recollections must be intelligible within our cultural environment’LoisPresser,Been a Heavy Life: Stories of Violent Men(Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2008),12
An account is deemed unreasonable when the stated grounds for action cannot be “normalized” in terms of the background expectancies of what “everybody knows.”Hencewhen a secretary explained that she placed her arm in a lighted oven because voices had commanded her to do so in punishment for her evil nature, the account was held to be grounds for commitment to anasylumMarvin B. Scott, and Stanford M. Lyman, “Accounts” inAmerican Sociological Review33 (1968), 46-62 (54).
he wakes upblood testifiesto their treatmentthe taut swelling bruisesfrom the humane system[…]the prisonercaused injuries to himselfPeter Dittrich, “Alibi”inKarlheinz A. Barwasser (ed.),Schrei Deine Worte nicht in den Wind: Verständigungstexte von Inhaftierten.Tübingen 1982, 132
‘the social system is the source of any morality we can imagine’Hayden White,The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical RepresentationBaltimore1987, 14.
‘excoriated these alternatives and deliberately sought to block broader participation’the ‘darker view of the bourgeois public sphere’Nancy Fraser, ‘Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy’.Social Text25/26 (1990), pp. 56-80 (61-7).
‘The rule is that the social milieu in which communication takes place modifies not only what a person dares to say but even what he thinks he chooses to say’Ithielde Sola Pool, “A Critique of the Twentieth Anniversary Issue” inPublic Opinion Quarterly21/1 (1957), 190-98 (192).‘The writer in prison is never simply free to write’DylanRodriguez,Forced Passages: Imprisoned Radical Intellectuals and the US Prison Regime. Minneapolis,2006.85; emphasis in original
Problem #2. Legitimacy
Problem #3: Credibility
‘You’rewelcome to make a complaint […] we have the influence and it will all just rebound on to you, and you won’t bebelieved’F.B.letter toBirgittaWolf, inWolf (ed.),Aussagen. Ebenhausen 1968,, 150-53
Problem #4. Incommensurability
‘evenif someone were to survive, the world would not believe him. […] people will say that the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed; they will say that they are the exaggerations of Alliedpropaganda’Primo Levi,The Drowned and the Saved. London: Abacus, 1989, 2.
theyhad returned home and with passion and relief were describing their past sufferings, addressing themselves to a loved person, and were not believed, indeed werenot even listened to.Inthe most typical (and most cruel) form, the interlocutorturned and leftin silence.(The Drowned and the Saved, 2; my emphasis)
‘No-onein the family ever asked what it was like. My mother just said:“Leaveme alone, I’ve sufferedenough”’Lucie Fischer“Wirwurden alle immer nur erniedrigt, belogen und beleidigt”, inD.von Nayhaus andM.Riepl (eds),Der dunkle Ort: 25 Schicksale aus dem DDR-Frauengefängnis Hoheneck. Berlin-Brandenburg:2012,36-37 (37).
a long process of pulverizing, dissolving and rotting awaits any physical things that have been recognized as dirt. In the end, all identity is gone. The origin of the various bits and pieces is lost and they have entered into the mass of common rubbish. […]So long as identity is absent, rubbish is not dangerous.(Purity and Danger, 160, my emphasis)