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Shame and the Ex-Convict: The New Jim Crow, African American Literature, and Edward P. Jones’s ‘‘Old Boys, Old Girls’’
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Shame and the ExConvict : The New Jim Crow, African American Literature, and Edward P. Jones’s ‘‘Old Boys, Old Girls’’ Simon Rolston Abstract: This article initiates a discussion about the ex-convict in American literature through an analysis of Edward P. Jones’s 2004 short story ‘‘Old Boys, Old Girls.’’ More specifically, it discusses how shame polices African American ex-convicts’ post-prison lives and uses ‘‘Old Boys’’ to consider the limitations of using affect, especially ‘‘shamelessness,’’ as a method of resistance to mass incarceration. Drawing on contemporary theories of race and criminal justice, as well as affect theory, this article rethinks resistance to what Michelle Alexander calls the ‘‘New Jim Crow,’’ suggests new directions for African American literature, and makes an early contribution to the study of Edward P. Jones’s work, which is woefully under-examined in American literary studies. Keywords: prison, African American literature, Edward P. Jones, ‘‘Old Boys, Old Girls,’’ ex-convict, shame, affect, the New Jim Crow Résumé : Cet article ouvre un débat au sujet de la figure de l’ancien détenu dans la littérature étatsunienne, à partir d’une analyse de la nouvelle d’Edward P. Jones intitulée « Old Boys, Old Girls » (2004). On y présente en particulier la façon dont la honte régit la vie des ex-détenus afro-américains après leur sortie de prison, en se servant de la nouvelle pour étudier les limites des affects, spécialement de « l’impudence », employés comme moyen de résister à l’incarcération de masse. En s’appuyant sur des théories contemporaines sur la race et la justice pénale, de même que sur la théorie des affects, l’article repense la résistance à ce que Michelle Alexander appelle le « nouveau Jim Crow », suggère de nouvelles orientations pour la littérature africaine-américaine, et apporte l’une des premières contributions à l’analyse critique de l’œuvre d’Edward P. Jones, malheureusement sous-étudiée dans les programmes littéraires aux États-Unis. 6 Canadian Review of American Studies/Revue canadienne d’études américaines ahead of print article doi: 10.3138/cras.2017.019 This ahead of print version may differ slightly from the final published version. Mots clés : prison, littérature afro-américaine, Edward P. Jones, « Old Boys, Old Girls », ex-détenu, honte, affect, New Jim Crow, incarcération de masse, nouvelle ségrégation The ex-convict is a recurring character in twentieth-century and contemporary American literature. The pantheon of American exconvicts include Steinbeck’s Tom Joad, Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty, O’Connor’s ‘‘The Misfit,’’ Momaday’s Abel, Capote’s Dick and Perry, and Mosley’s Socrates—and this is just a shortlist of ex-convicts in American fiction. (The life writings of ex-convicts are, of course, legion.1) But the ex-convict has yet to be acknowledged as a figure of any real significance in literary criticism. Certainly, there have been and continue to be lively discussions in studies of American literature about the prisoner and the prison system, at least since H. Bruce Franklin wrote The Victim as Criminal and Artist in 1978. Although ‘‘prison writing’’ is perhaps an imperfect shorthand for the poetry, drama, autobiography, non-fiction, fiction, criticism, and journalism written by prisoners—Dylan Rodrı́guez, for example, critiques ‘‘the common aestheticization of [prisoners’] work into a ‘genre’ of literary text’’ (82)—the fact that there is a well-defined nomenclature suggests the degree to which literature that engages with imprisonment continues to be debated. But how has American literature represented the post-prison experiences of those who are—and most are—eventually released back into the community? At no point in American history has the ex-convict been of more pressing political and cultural importance than in the last three decades. Since the 1980s, the criminal justice system has dramatically augmented its role in the lives of those who have been convicted of felonies but who have served their sentences and been released from prison. Ta-Nehisi Coates, the Atlantic Monthly national...


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