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Lytton, S.M. (1998). Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment. By Martha Grace Duncan. New York: New York University Press, 1996, 283 pp., $29.95. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 46(4):1316-1318.
(1998). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 46(4):1316-1318
Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisons: The Unconscious Meanings of Crime and Punishment. By Martha Grace Duncan. New York: New York University Press, 1996, 283 pp., $29.95
Review by: Sidney M. Lytton
The author of this book, Martha Grace Duncan, is a professor of law at Emory University. She earned a Ph.D. in political science at Columbia, studied at the NYU Psychoanalytic Institute, and obtained her law degree at Yale. Though not primarily a psychoanalyst, she has a deep knowledge of our field and is broadly read in the literature on criminality.
Romantic Outlaws, Beloved Prisoners, because of its subject matter, requires the attitude of a sociologist and interpretations based on applied psychoanalysis. This is probably the only way this material can be approached, since prisoners have not been analyzed, nor can we get a broad-based understanding of people's attitudes toward crime from psychoanalysis. The primary audience for this book, then, is not the psychoanalyst, who may find the author stressing points that seem obvious. Making these points to lawyers, judges, and the general public, however, is an enormous contribution.
The book is divided into three main sections. Part 1, “Cradle on the Sea: Positive Images of Prisons and Theories of Punishment,” shows that alongside the very negative image of prison, “many prisoners and non-prisoners exhibit powerful positive associations to incarceration.” Part 2, “A Strange Liking: Our Admiration for Criminals,” examines “the paradox of our worshipful esteem for those who break the law.” Part 3, “In Shame and Darkness: The Metaphor of Filth in Criminal Justice,” studies attitudes of loathing, disgust, and repudiation directed toward criminals as vicissitudes of our admiration.
In Part 1, Duncan explores the idea of prison as a refuge from a prosaic or meaninglessly tumultuous life led on the outside. She stresses that for some prisoners imprisonment leads to personality growth, greater sublimation, and the development of more meaningful relationships. She demonstrates this with quotes from Jean Genet, Paul Verlaine, Solzhenitsyn, Malcolm X, and more ordinary prisoners who have written of their experience. She also discusses the fact that some impulse neurotics, particularly drug addicts and alcoholics, are gratified at being controlled. For me, however, given that substances are not truly controlled in prison, it is not at all clear why some prisoners remain drug and alcohol free while others continue their addictive behavior.
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