Synopses & Reviews
The constant call to admit guilt amounts almost to a tyranny of confession today. We demand tell-all tales in the public dramas of the courtroom, the talk shows, and in print, as well as in the more private spaces of the confessional and the psychoanalyst's office. Yet we are also deeply uneasy with the concept: how can we tell whether a confession is true? What if it has been coerced?
In Troubling Confessions, Peter Brooks juxtaposes cases from law and literature to explore the kinds of truth we associate with confessions, and why we both rely on them and regard them with suspicion. For centuries the law has considered confession to be "the queen of proofs," yet it has also seen a need to regulate confessions and the circumstances under which they are made, as evidenced in the continuing debate over the Miranda decision. Western culture has made confessional speech a prime measure of authenticity, seeing it as an expression of selfhood that bears witness to personal truth. Yet the urge to confess may be motivated by inextricable layers of shame, guilt, self-loathing, the desire to propitiate figures of authority. Literature has often understood the problematic nature of confession better than the law, as Brooks demonstrates in perceptive readings of legal cases set against works by Rousseau, Dostoevsky, Joyce, and Camus, among others.
Mitya in The Brothers Karamazov captures the trouble with confessional speech eloquently when he offers his confession with the anguished plea: this is a confession; handle with care. By questioning the truths of confession, Peter Brooks challenges us to reconsider how we demand confessions and what we do with them.
"What a very interesting idea for a book this is. Brooks, the director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, essentially argues that the Boman Catholic model of confession emerges under scrutiny as fundamental to modern-day efforts to 'police' citizens. Intelligent readings of French and Russian literary texts highlight this study, which extends the wisdom of earlier analyses of guilt and atonement to secular society. Brooks here rises to the level of the eminent philosopher Alasdair Maclntyre, several of whose books have elucidated the debt secular society owes to much earlier, explicitly religious intuitions and practices." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In Troubling Confessions, Peter Brooks juxtaposes cases from law and literature to explore the kinds of truth we associate with confessions, and why we both rely on them and regard them with suspicion.
Includes bibliographical references (p. 173-193) and index.
"A book so rich in fresh ideas that I found myself underlining as madly as an undergraduate."-Richard Lourie, New York Times Book Review
Confession, Peter Brooks writes, is "one of the most complex and obscure forms of human speech and behavior," inextricably entwined with our ideas of punishment and absolution, relied upon as ultimate truth and yet treated with profound suspicion. In this book, Brooks juxtaposes cases from law, literature, and elsewhere-from the Miranda decision to Camus to the Catholic confessional-to explore the kinds of truth we demand from confessions and the ways in which we use them.
About the Author
Peter Brooks is Chester D. Tripp Professor of Humanities and Director of the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University. He is author of, most recently, Psychoanalysis and Storytelling and the novel World Elsewhere, and is co-editor of Law's Stories: Narrative and Rhetoric in the Law.
Table of Contents
1. Storytelling without Fear? The Confession Problem
2. Confessor and Confessant
3. The Overborne Will—A Case Study
4. Confession, Selfhood, and the Religious Tradition
5. The Culture of Confession, Therapy, and the Law
6. The Confessional Imagination