57. The Fettered Lettered

Edition of 19 copies
7”  x  7” x .75″  book closed

This piece represents writers who authored works in jail, or other places of confinement such as mental institutions or in exile. Initially, I wasn’t going to include exile, until I learned that in the ancient world, exile might be considered worse than death, the other penal option in Ancient Rome. Rights were read to the prisoner, and then taken away, after which the former citizen was banished forever. Ovid suffered this fate. Actually, it does not appear he was ever charged with a crime. Apart from exile, on the far left, and mental institution, on the far right, I grouped the writers into four categories as to why they encountered problems with the authorities.

The three front white panels represent authors who suffered with governments for political reasons. The paperclip, which relates to writers, symbolizes government bureaucracy. The two rear white panels represent writers in jail for economic reasons, as thieves on the left and as debtors on the right. Debtors’ prison was outlawed in the 19th century in England, but until then, men, and occasionally women, often together with their families, had to stay in prison until their debts were absolved. The Italian Euro pennies represent the debtors and thieves. Ironically, the castle-like building on the penny, Castel del Monte,  in Puglia, was never inhabited, except as a jail for the grandchildren of the ousted emperor Federico II, who commissioned the building.

Of the remaining blue panels, at the far right, across from the insane asylum, there is a group interned for sexual reasons, but the Marquis de Sade is not among them. He is in the mental health facility opposite, because Napoleon considered him mentally deranged as opposed to a writer merely guilty of sexual crimes. The other three blue panels are individuals that attracted   the attention of   religious authorities, or got into trouble for their religious views and activities. In many cases, religious and political and even sexual issues were difficult to distinguish into tidy categories.

By chance, among the discarded Phillips Academy catalog cards by my computer, was the entry from Galileo’s work written in prison, Two New Sciences. Sir Thomas More and John Bunyan both wrote several works in prison, and a number of the prison folks are in my piece called “A Novel History”, such as Sir Thomas Malory, Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan. Sir John Denham should probably be in the prison as well, as he continued to revise his masterpiece Cooper’s Hill while under a sort of house arrest in the custody of his noble patron and protector Lord Pembroke. Denham was thrown in prison several times as an enemy soldier, spy and debtor during Cromwell’s reign, but he always slickly talked himself into immediate release. His Royalist Cavalier ally Richard Lovelace, who is represented with the poem “To Althea, from Prison”, was also released after a very brief time. Prison for the opposition to Cromwell’s regime was a relaxed form of exile or house arrest, in that the Royalists were supposed to stay 15 miles from London. In Bunyan’s case as well, he was fairly free to wander about, do his writing, preach in jail and earn a living putting metal tips on laces. And if he promised not to preach his version of the Protestant faith, he could have left prison at any time.

The paperclip and the pennies are attached by magnets, as all of the authors in this work attracted attention of the authorities for one thing or another. The book is sewn together with dental floss, a material that could get a person in or out of prison. Some prisoners in the U.S. wove an 8-ply of floss and used it to escape. Distressingly, it has been used to steal precious maps and manuscripts by thieves, wetting it in their mouths so they can silently tear valuable images out of books. The brand of floss “Tom’s” could represent Thomas Paine, Thomas More  and Tommaso Campanella.

The chains from which the book is suspended when it is folded up are rings for binding notebooks. As  in the Pilgrim’s Progress project, and More’s S’mores, an attempt was made to include materials relating to writers. The letters of the names of the writers and  their works written in confinement, photocopied onto acetate, give the appearance of prison bars when the book is folded. Striped, ph neutral, cardstock produced by Cartiere Fedrigoni. The edition size of 17 refers to the 1953  Billy Wilder movie Stalag 17, based on a play written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski,  who were POW’s in Stalag 17B in Austria.

This piece was exhibited in rough-draft at the Addison Gallery of American Art in Andover,MA from Sept-Dec 2007 with the intent that the public could contribute suggestions for names of authors and works written in prison, writing on the back of old library catalog cards and slotting ideas in a box.

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