- Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernity and Postmodernism by Jon Thompson, and: Apprehending the Criminal: The Production of Deviance in Nineteenth-Century Discourse by Marie-Christine Leps (review)
- Victorian Review
- Johns Hopkins University Press
- Volume 20, Number 1, Summer 1994
- pp. 86-89
- View Citation
- Additional Information
86Victorian Review Pocock seems too indulgent of Haggard's imperialist views; it is not that Pocock hides these views but that, for this reader at least, his tolerance is occasionally puzzling. Grumblings aside, however, Pocock's enthusiasm goes a long way to compensate for these shortcomings. The larger-than-life subject of his autobiography fairly bursts from the page and this imperial warhorse and adventure story writer continues to demand our attention. WENDY R. KATZ Saint Mary's University Jon Thompson. Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernity and Postmodernism. Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1993. 200. $32.50 US (cloth); $14.95 US (paper). Marie-Christine Leps. Apprehending the Criminal: The Production of Deviance in Nineteenth-Century Discourse. Durham: Duke UP, 1992. 262. $45.00 US (cloth); $15.95 US (paper). These two volumes on crime, the criminal, and the discourse of criminality couldn't be more timely. Images of crime and hysterical fears of violence dominate the American, if not the international, imagination. Among the proposed solutions circulating in the U.S. media and in U.S. politics, beyond quick-fix exchanges of toys for guns, is some kind of censorship: of violent television, of violent movies, of violent video games, even of violence in news broadcasts. It is these cultural forms that compose/comprise the discourse of crime today. Of course, the relationship between culture and politics, as between discourse and praxis, is complicated. In different ways, Jon Thompson's Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernity and Postmodernism and Marie-Christine Leps's Apprehending the Criminal: The Production of Deviance in Nineteenth-Century Discourse afford us the opportunity to complicate our understanding of the current historical predicament about crime through the study of what are arguably the roots of today's crisis: the development and political implications of the discourse of crime in and around the nineteenth century. For, as Leps's title reminds us, to apprehend (arrest, seize) the criminal, we must first apprehend (understand, perceive) the criminal. Thus, as both these studies underline, the apprehension of the criminal is as much about power, class and imperialism/colonialism as it is about "crime." Reviews87 Leps situates her study ambitiously; she begins where Foucault's Discipline and Punish ends in order "to investigate the discursive practices which transformed the phenomenon of crime and the existence of criminals into 'simple facts of life' near the end of the nineteenth century" (2). Asks Leps, "How was this new knowledge produced?" (2). To answer this question, she focuses on three "contributory factors" (2): first, the emergence of criminology as a scientific and institutional field which in turn established "the criminal" as an object of investigation; second, the rise of mass journalism which facilitated the transformation of news about criminal activities into the sensational commodity of the "crime story"; and third, the domestication and acculturation of crime through both popular and high-brow literature. Leps is less interested in detailing the precise articulation of "the criminal" or of "criminality" in this emerging discourse than in exploring the process by which that discourse established itself as hegemonic. In other words, Leps is less concerned with detailing the particular ideological work that the discourse of the criminal performed than in the fact that the discourse wielded considerable ideological power. Leps is engaged by "the web of concepts entangling several discursive practices in the establishment and maintenance of knowledge and power relations" (221). She concludes, in particular, that the production of criminality as knowledge by two institutional communities, the scientific community and the press, sustains the relations of economic and political power which underlie and are in turn bolstered by the discourse of criminality. Like Foucault, Leps turns to "literature" for resistance to what might seem a totalizing performance of this powerful discourse: "while literature is inextricably linked to both negative and positive processes of power-knowledge production, it also can allow for resistance and, at times, open the space where otherness can be glimpsed in transgression" (134). Why does literature possess this special difference? Here Leps is at her least convincing. She hedges that literary discourse is one with "no specific claim in the effective organization of people and products" (220). At...