On the long line of conversion literature from imprisoned writers

Eldridge-cleaverMax Nelson at The Paris Review:

Ruthless self-excoriation, dramatic acts of abandonment, intractable confidence mixed with frightening displays of vulnerability: there’s something unhinged about the line of conversion literature that began with Paul and came to include figures as diverse as Bunyan, the nineteenth-century transcendentalist Orestes Brownson, and the twentieth-century militant activist Eldridge Cleaver. That three of those four figures did much of their most influential writing from prison goes some way toward proving a fact Bunyan identified in his treatise The Acceptable Sacrifice. Converts, Bunyan argued, are threats to the state precisely because of their melancholy, their extreme dissatisfaction, and their reckless lack of care for their earthly lot:

A man, a woman, that is blessed with a broken heart, is so far from getting by that esteem with the world, that they are but burdens … such people carry with them molestation and disquietment; they are in carnal families, as David was to the king of Garth, “troublers of the house.”

As the snippets above suggest, Bunyan’s prose is too ruminative and too dense with scripture to relate events reliably. Reading Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, the feverish spiritual autobiography he wrote during his twelve years in jail for preaching to “unlawful assemblies,” you get only the dimmest sense of the man’s unfortunate, eventful life. A prolific, well-known contemporary of Milton, Hobbes, and Thomas Browne, he was born to a struggling brass worker near the end of 1628.

more here.