Complete Story

TELL, Dave

Spring 2009, 39:2, pages 124 - 146

Dangerous Deliberation: Subjective Probability and Rhetorical Democracy in the Jury Room


Following the exposure of televangelist Jimmy Swaggart's illicit rendezvous with a New Orleans prostitute, the Assemblies of God simultaneously orchestrated a massive attempt to silence those who would discuss the tryst and arranged the most widely publicized confession in American history theretofore. The coincidence of a "silence campaign" with the vast distribution of a public confession invites us to reconsider the nature of the public confession. For what place has a public confession, the discourse of disclosure par excellence, in a silence campaign? This question is best answered, I argue, if we understand public confession not as a stable a-historical form, but as a practice that is informed by multiple, competing traditions. I argue that by situating Swaggart's performance in a philosophically modern and secular tradition of public confession we can understand both its complicity in a silence campaign and, more generally, the political logic of the modern public confession.

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