Robert Penn Warren Professor in the Humanities
My areas of study include American literature, English and French Caribbean Literatures, Haitian historiography, and American legal scholarship. In A Rainbow for the Christian West: The Poetry of René Depestre (1977), I introduced to an English-speaking audience Depestre’s early epic poem about the vodou gods and their journey to the American South. With Fables of Mind: An Inquiry into Poe’s Fiction (1987), I turned to Poe’s fictions as complicated critiques of the traditions of romance and the gothic. Emphasizing a Calvinist Poe rather than a transcendental one, I argued that his studies of mind (reinvigorating Locke, Newton, Edwards, and Swift) are not anachronistically modern but have simply been misread outside their natural context of early American writing. Haiti, History and the Gods (1998) tells the story of colonial Haiti from the composite perspectives of legal and religious texts, letters, fiction, and my own knowledge of the country.
My recent books are The Story of Cruel and Unusual (2007), which exposes the paradox of the eighth amendment to the Constitution, showing that in the United States, cycles of jurisprudence safeguard rights and then justify their revocation; and The Law is a White Dog: How Legal Rituals Make and Unmake Persons (2011), which examines how the fictions and language of law turn persons (and other legal non-entities like dogs, ghosts, slaves, felons, and terror suspects) into “rightless objects.” The Law is a White Dog was selected by Choice as one of top-25 "Outstanding Academic Books" for 2011. With dogs at the edge of life will be published in December 2015.
Over the past ten years, I have written widely on prison rights, the legalities of torture, canine profiling, animal law, and the racial contours of US practices of punishment for The Boston Review, The New York Times, The London Review of Books, and Al Jazeera America, where I am a contributing editor.
Honors include election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; and fellowships from the Danforth Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, the Davis Center for Historical Studies and the Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton.
With dogs at the edge of life (Columbia UP): http://cup.columbia.edu/book/with-dogs-at-the-edge-of-life/9780231167123The Law is a White Dog (Princeton): http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9450.htmlThe Story of Cruel and Unusual (MIT Press)
Haiti, History, and the Gods (University of California Press, 1995; paperback, 1998).
Fables of Mind (Oxford University Press, 1987).
A Rainbow for the Christian West (University of Massachusetts Press, 1977).
“With Law at the Edge of Life,” South Atlantic Quarterly (Summer 2014)
"And then came culture," Special issue in honor of Michel Rolph Trouillot, Cultural Dynamics (Summer 2014)
"Dread and Dispossession: An Interview with Colin Dayan," The Public Archive: http://thepublicarchive.com/?p=3988
"Dead Dogs," Boston Review, http://bostonreview.net/BR35.2/dayan.php"Between the Devil and the Deep Sea," Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum July/August 2009
"Words Behind Bars," Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum (November/December 2007, at http://www.bostonreview.net/BR32.6/dayan.php)
"The Least Worst Place," London Review of Books (2 August 2007, at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n15/daya01_.html).
"Legal Terrors," Representations (2006)
"About Faith," Raritan (2006)
"Cruel and Unusual: The End of the Eighth Amendment," Boston Review: A Political and Literary Forum (October/November 2005, at http://www.bostonreview.net/BR29.5/dayan.html).
"A Few Stories About Haiti, or Stigma Revisited," Research in African Literatures, special issue on Anniversary of Haitian independence, ed. Abiola Irele (2004).
"Legal Slaves and Civil Bodies," Materializing Democracy, eds. Dana Nelson and Russ Castronovo (Duke University Press, 2002).
"Ruses of Beneficence and Rituals of Exclusion," Workplace: A Journal of Academic labor (December 2000, at: www.louisville.edu/journal/workplace/issue 4/contents22.html)
"Held in the Body of the State: Prisons and the Law," History, Memory, and the Law, eds. Austin Sarat and Thomas Kearns (University of Michigan Press, 1999).
"Poe, Persons, and Property," American Literary History (1999).
"Paul Gilroy's Slaves, Ships, and Routes: The Middle Passage as Metaphor," Research in African Literatures (1996).
"Codes of Law and Bodies of Color," New Literary History (1995).
"Amorous Bondage: Poe, Ladies, and Slaves," American Literature (1994).
"Erzulie: A Woman's History of Haiti?," Research in African Literatures (1994).
"The Dogs," Southwest Review (2003); "The Photo," The Yale Review (2000); "The Blue Room in Florence," The Yale Review (1997); "Looking for Ghosts,"The Yale Review (1996); "The Crisis of the Gods: Haiti After Duvalier," Yale Review (1988).