Sunday, October 15, 2006

Torture Precipice

I've been going on and on here about torture. As mentioned earlier, I'm on a strict deadline right now to finish up a manuscript on the subject and am spinning wheels furiously like Wile E. Coyote over the precipice. On a crisp Sunday morning in Washington, DC, the air clean and blue, the trees beginning to change colors, light sweaters, and an urge to do a long city walk, it's not easy ensconcing oneself in the house in front of this screen, dredging through tales of terror and specious moral arguments. I go outside, rest against my car with a book, listen to the birds, observe the brilliant engineering of a mockingbird's feather, and pet other people's dogs as they pass.

You know DC has quite a bit of wildlife? It's the unsung network of relatively wild park that goes by the name of Rock Creek Park. Look at a map of DC - you'll see the park's green fingers extending throughout the city. The park is home to deer, foxes, raccoons and possums, and plenty of different kinds of birds. All of them make their little encroachments on the city - I've seen them all in my neighborhood....

The military jets were flying over the city the other day. I'm sure they'll be in taxpayer-funded action again in a couple of week's time....

Torture. It's a legal, moral, and political issue. A State of Exception. But did you know, as I now believe, that it's an issue about reality itself? From the early Middle Ages to the 18th Century, those who were accused of being witches were tortured and thrown on the stake. Not, however, before being forced to give up another name of another witch, and not before having been tortured into explaining reality from the metaphysics of witchdom.

See, one of the accusations made against witches was that they determined the weather - more precisely, bad weather. Lightning, thunderstorms, high winds, were all the doing of witches. For a seafaring age, this influence had economic and political importance as well. When witches were tortured, they were forced to confess their dark manipulations of the weather.

Under torture, of course, one will say anything. This requires that the institution and "triangulation" of torture (and political torture is always institutionalized) engage in the practice broadly so that someone, sometime will surrender useful information out of all the desperate misinformation. In saying anything - perhaps, in the delirium of torture, even believing it - the accused witches would provide the most fantastic stories about their devilish manipulation of the weather. These were stories constructed not only from mere fantasy, but from dreamlike contradictions and paradoxes. So, one tortured story went, the nefarious coven rowed out to sea in a sieve to conjure storms against the king's ships bringing them near the dangerous, wave-strewn rocks.

Various scholars during the period attempted to explain that witches were unlikely to be the source of foul weather. But these scholars risked their own fate on the stake, and, in fact, many were doomed as heretics over the centuries. Notice that, then, the reality of weather was explained through a fantastical delirium that confirmed the mythical suspicions of church and political rulers. Fantasy confirmed fantasy through the abused and uncontrolled imagination of torture and, hence, became reality. Apart from the political uses of torture and the stake, the delirium of the witch became, in effect, the science of weather, something which, to this day, lies beyond fully accurate scientific prediction and technological control.

This is what is at stake in the current institutionalization, the precipice, of torture: the very nature of reality.

Have a nice Sunday.

1 comment:

C.M. Mayo said...

Looking forward to your book, Helmut.