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Schwartz, M.M. (2005). Preface. Am. Imago, 62(3):263-268.

(2005). American Imago, 62(3):263-268


Murray M. Schwartz

Presented with this issue of American Imago on the theme of “Experiences of Imprisonment,” contemporary readers are not likely to escape thoughts of Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay, or TV images of terrorist hostages. Broader reflections might include the ever-expanding apparatus of surveillance and policing in our cities; or we could turn to the burgeoning population of the mentally ill in American prisons, or the steady rise in the prison inmate population (2.1 million and counting). Clearly, imprisonment in its concrete forms has become a pervasive dimension of our social reality, try as we may to keep its most grotesque and brutal features from sight.

These concrete reminders and manifestations of imprisonment are, however, only one facet of its reality. Experiences of imprisonment are not confined to prisons. “Far more people lead lives of prisoners than are to be found in all the world's prisons. For anything may serve as a prison,” observes Roy Schafer (1983, 257). From a psychoanalytic perspective, an interplay of psychic and environmental or institutional structures defines the experience of imprisonment. The attacks of September 11, 2001, have led us to foreground two extremes: the psychic imprisonment perfected by some types of religious fundamentalism, which promises a blissful apotheosis of violence (Stein 2002; 2005), and the retaliatory, state-sanctioned tortures that strive to restore the absolute sovereignty of the powerful (Danner 2004). Terrorism and torture lie at the poles of the spectrum, perfections, so to speak, of imprisonment's possibilities. There are many additional instances to be understood.

The essays presented here explore some of these instances. The authors were invited to address the theme from any perspective consistent with the focus of American Imago on psychoanalysis and culture.

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