Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

The Theology of the Body in Pain

Today at Inside Catholic, blogger extraodinaire Eve Tushnet has an interesting review of Elaine Scarry’s The Body in Pain, which deals with in part with the use and effects of torture. Some excerpts:

In torture, every action is used against you: standing, sitting, even swallowing. (Scarry notes that forced, repeated swallowing was used as torture in Greece, where it was called “making knots”: “Only when a person throws his head back and swallows three times does he begin to apprehend what is involved in one hundred and three or three hundred and three swallows, what atrocities one’s own body, muscle, and bone structure can inflict on oneself.”) Every bodily function is used to hurt and humiliate.

Torture warps language. Torturers, and their apologists, retreat into newspeak terms like “enhanced interrogation”: jargon to hide the reality of muscles in agony after hours of “stress positions,” or the hallucinations of sleep deprivation. Scarry notes, “Standing rigidly for eleven hours can produce as violent muscle and spine pain as can injury from elaborate equipment and apparatus, though any of us outside this situation, used to adjusting our body positions every few moments before even mild discomfort is felt, may not immediately recognize this.”

To describe practices like forced nudity and hooding (obscuring the most obviously human and individual characteristic, the face, and exposing the genitals in defiance of modesty) as “only” humiliation is to misunderstand the entire logic of torture: Dehumanization is thedefinition of torture, and humiliation is the primary means of dehumanization. Recall that two of the most searing photographs from Abu Ghraib — an American woman with a naked Iraqi man on a leash, and a hooded, shrouded man on a box — depict “only” humiliation and “stress positions.”



February 14, 2008 - Posted by | Torture

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