The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Sick Souls

October 2, 2015 | by

On the long line of conversion literature from imprisoned writers.

Eldridge Cleaver in the pants he developed.

Max Nelson is writing a series on prison literature. Read the first entry, on Dostoyevsky’s Notes from a Dead House, here.

In one of his later theological tracts, the sixteenth-century Nonconformist preacher John Bunyan interpreted a few lines from 2 Timothy—“I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand”—as a kind of challenge. “Here we see,” he wrote, “that a Christian’s heart should be unclenched from this world; for he that is ready to be made a sacrifice for Christ and his blessed Word, he must be one that is not entangled with the affairs of this life: how else can he please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier?”

Modern Biblical scholars suspect that Paul didn’t write most of 2 Timothy at all (it was likely composed by the apostle’s acolytes some time after his execution), but Bunyan could just as easily have extracted the same lesson from any number of lines in the letter Paul wrote to the young church in Philippi during one of his several imprisonments by the Roman government. “My desire,” Paul confesses frankly early in the epistle, “is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account.” Some verses later, he heaps scorn on the respected Pharisee he’d been earlier in life. On the road to Damascus decades earlier, he’d survived a violent conversion experience: Read More »

Practice Safe Selfies, and Other News

July 9, 2015 | by


John William Waterhouse, Echo and Narcissus, 1903.

  • Admire the tenacity of lit mags yet question their utility? The poet Stephen Burt argues that a new journal simply needs a raison d’être: it should seek to fill a “gap that earlier journals failed to fill, a new form of pleasure, a new kind of writing, an alliance with a new or under-chronicled social movement, a constellation of authors for whom the future demand for work exceeds present supply, a program that will actually change some small part of some literary readers’ tastes.”
  • What can the Greek tragedies tell us about the current Mediterranean refugee crises? Aeschylus’s 470 B.C. play, The Suppliants, concerns the fifty daughters of the Egyptian king Danaus, who flee Africa and seek asylum in Greece. Fitting then that a new production of the play is being reimagined in modern-day Sicily, where “African refugees beg at traffic lights,” and is being staged in the ancient Greek theater of Syracuse, in Sicily.
  • What can the inmates at a Missouri prison tell us about the evolution of language? In compiling a lexicon of facility-specific slang, they found that a viking is a “prisoner with poor hygiene,” a kite is “an informal message sent by a prisoner,” and a pumpkin is, you guessed it, “a term used for new arrivals” (but not for the reason you might expect). After all, “a dictionary is not a book of rules but a description of language as it is used in real life at a particular moment in time,” says English professor Paul Lynch, who volunteers at the prison.
  • Jerry Seinfeld thinks that political correctness is killing comedy; he doesn’t perform at college campuses because “they’re so PC.” it wasn’t always that way: American college humor is historically steeped in offensiveness. Take National Lampoon, an offshoot of the The Harvard Lampoon and precursor to Saturday Night Live, for example, where “getting a rise out of people was precisely the goal, and the magazine was steadfast in its dedication to what it saw as a decidedly non-partisan approach to humor.” 
  • This week in the perils of the modern age: the Russian government released a public-awareness campaign highlighting the dangers of taking a selfie. With a little help from Google Translate, we learn that “when a person is trying to take a picture of himself—he scattered attention, he lost his balance, he does not look around and did not feel in danger.” Have fun this summer. Practice safe selfies.


Skyscrapers and Everything

June 5, 2015 | by

The trouble with gazing upward in New York.

Don’t look up, Stevie!

About four minutes into Stevie Wonder’s 1973 classic “Living for the City”—a surging, seven-plus minute thumper track about racial injustice, migration, and the failure of the latter to cure the former—the song emerges from its second chorus and breaks down to its sparest parts. We hear the quizzical staccato of the synthesizer flit in and out like lingering sunlight; the dry drums, which just seconds ago were rolling out an elaborate fill, tap quarter-note rimshots on the snare; all the other instruments stop playing. Welcome to New York.

This interlude, barely a minute long but seemingly much longer, is a marvel within an already marvelous song. It’s an early example in popular music of that moment when a song recognizes its limits and turns, momentarily, into something larger and stranger. After all, Stevie could’ve just tagged on another verse about New York, keeping the song’s structure intact, but wouldn’t there be something thin and dreamy about that? New York collects anthems like medals: “New York, New York,” “On Broadway,” and “Empire State of Mind” are all, in essence, odes to skylines, with outsized grandeur to match. Their scale grows out of proportion; aphorism replaces emotion; the music hits its mark and no one gets hurt. The lesson for songwriters tackling New York has always been this: if you’re going to sing to the city, sing big. The skyline, as more than few writers have reminded us, can even look like musical notation if you squint hard enough. Read More »

They’re Fucking Skulls

June 3, 2015 | by

Leon Golub’s haunting “Riot” and the aloof politics of the art world.

Leon Golub, Napalm I, 1969, acrylic on linen, 117 1/4" x 213".

Wounded Warrior, 1968, acrylic on linen, 76 1/4" x 111 1/4".

In a discussion at Hauser & Wirth, Hans-Ulrich Obrist told of the time he and Leon Golub were discussing a book of the artist’s collected writings; they discovered afterward that Clement Greenberg had died during the conversation.

It’s a morbid art-world joke—but so are Golub’s canvases, which hang, as he referred to them, like “flayed skins” around the gallery. They complicate the sweet bedtime story of American postwar art, passed down for generations, in which power is an inner force wielded by artists, and art self-consciously demanded attention for its physical materials: paint and the square of the canvas. Written with Greenberg’s theory, this tale established art as an alternate reality, without mimetic or social context.

Golub, who died in 2004, was a staunch and consistent critic of Abstract Expressionism, calling it “bad for the artist. These painters were essentially turning away from the world in their work,” he said, “giving up on the idea that an artist might have a social role.” As Pollock’s last drips dried on his studio floor, the country was pounding the pavement and bodies were hitting the ground. For the artists of that era, as of this one, the realities beyond canvas were merciless. Friends were being shipped off to shoot guns in Vietnam, police batons and dogs brutalized black protesters in bright, American daylight, and the dark of black-and-white newscasts too often signified blood. Read More »

Odysseus in the Yard

June 16, 2014 | by

Celebrating Bloomsday in prison.


An illustration of Leopold Bloom from Joyce’s notes, ca. 1941.

The man I affectionately termed Odysseus, though never to his face, was sixty-five and ailing. He was Philip Rubinitz, a onetime actor who had served about twenty years by then for the crime of stabbing his best friend through the heart with an antique SS dagger. Nevertheless, he was the facility rabbi’s clerk. His liver was failing and his back hurt, but he took laps with me around the yard of Green Haven Correctional Facility, observing our simulated Dublin through cataracts in his eyes. It must have been hard for him to keep up with my much younger legs, but he tottered around our Nightown seeking out a way home to his long-lost wife with the same fervor that Leopold Bloom had. His parole date was still five years away. I followed around full of the overconfidence and energy of youth and insecurity, much like Stephen Dedalus. It was June 16, several years ago now, and little did Rubinitz know that he was helping me celebrate Bloomsday in the yard.

After I’d been convicted, my father had said, “Good. You’ll finally read Joyce.” But it took a few years inside to finally come to it. Having initially avoided Ulysses, my mind was blown when I finally gathered the fortitude to read it—the scales fell from my eyes, and from then on I decided I had to celebrate Bloomsday with the rest of the converts.

None of whom, it seemed, were anywhere near me. Working as a prison librarian, I had seen a few men attempt A Portrait of the Artist, but our edition of Ulysses always stood on the shelf gathering dust. Grim, thick, and foreboding, it was too imposing in reputation for even the most ambitious of convicts. Finnegans Wake wasn’t available at all. The civilian librarians knew better. Read More »


How to Photograph the Inside of Your Body, and Other News

March 18, 2014 | by

body photo

If this digestive tract thrills you, imagine what a kick you’ll get out of your own! Image via Beautiful Decay

  • The eccentric poet Bill Knott once faked his own death, but last week he really died. (Unless this is one hell of an elaborate ruse.) He wrote of himself: “my poetic career is nugatory … no editor will countenance my work; i’ve been forced to self-publish my poetry in vanity volumes; i am persona non grata and universally despised or ridiculed by everyone in the poetry world.”
  • The truculent, condescending subtext of the word actually.
  • Checking in with Alejandro Jodorowsky, everyone’s favorite cult filmmaker: “‘Maybe I am a prophet,’ he said in 1973. ‘I really hope one day there will come Confucius, Muhammad, Buddha and Christ to see me. And we will sit at a table, taking tea and eating some brownies.’”
  • One way to get a glimpse at the inside of your body: swallow a frame of 35 millimeter film, “folding each piece in a brightly colored capsule that allow[s] for the acids and bodily fluids to process the film with minimal risk of colon damage.”
  • Punishments of the future: “What happens to life sentences if the human lifespan is radically expanded?”