October 14 Friday

Incarceration and Imagination

  • Friday, October 14, 2022 at 9:00AM - 6:30PM
  • Whitney Humanities Center
  • Open To The Yale Community
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Over the past decade, many Americans have become acutely aware of the carceral society their country has created. Writers of nonfiction, fiction, and poetry have begun to pay far more attention than in the past to the facts of existence behind bars.  Academics have recently undertaken extensive programs of teaching, including BA credit bearing courses, in a number of state prison systems.  A growing decarceration movement has produced new critiques of punishment and social order.  The voices of the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated can be heard (by those listening) in literature, law, art, and political action.  The Symposium starts from the fact of mass incarceration in the US today and attempts to understand how mind reacts to imprisonment—both the image and the reality.  It focuses on contemporary writings, films, and TV serials about life behind bars, including some by the incarcerated, while also reaching out to writing about the Gulag, and back to classic past accounts of prison as reflected in memoirs and fiction by such as Silvio Pellico, Alexandre Dumas, and Stendhal, Dostoevksy, Gramsci, Genet. 

The Symposium seeks to understand both how a society imagines its prisons, and how the prisons themselves work upon the imaginations of those they incarcerate and those beyond their walls.  For over two centuries, Western societies have built a penal system founded principally on incarceration. The prison has in this way become the punitive shadow to all the major institutions of modernity.  How has this fact shaped inner life, public spectacle, moral possibilities?  To what extent has society repressed its dependence on prisons?  How is it haunted by their existence?  What does imprisonment do to the mind, and what can we learn about inner life and self-understanding from the incarcerated?

Sponsoring Organization(s)

Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University

Arthur Liman Center, Yale Law School

Freedom Reads

Contact Information

Elizabeth Keane