Talk:2011 AM Literary Representations of Torture

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General Discussion


Additional representations of torture in: Literature / Drama / Film / Music

Please leave your name and a short explanatory note for each work you found:

  • Mark Ravenhill. Shoot/ Get Treasure/ Repeat Methuen, 2008.

Drama performed in 2010 by the Berliner Ensemble with the altered titel "Freedom and Democracy I hate you" (Sip)

Expert Groups

  Coetzee, J.M.: "Into the Dark Chamber: The Novelist and South Africa."

Authority/Society/Context (Niewint/Senkbeil)

What dependence between literature and the state does Coetzee sketch in regard of torture representations?

Writers are part of the society they live in. In South Africa it is not allowed to photograph or to sketch the prisons or the buildings of the security police, because the government wants to conceal their existence or at least deny, what happens inside. So the writer is maybe able to see the building, he can know that there is something going on inside it, he can maybe even know, that the police uses torture, but he stands right in front of the "dark chamber" and can not look into it (just as anyone else in that society). But in contrast to other people, the writer is able to visualize his imaginations – it is the writers "womb of art", as Coetzee calls it. The lack of information about governmental torture and the sketches provided by literature about it come along with the human fascination of authoritarianism. So the state provides the preconditions (secret usage of barely legal, institutional torture), the human race curiosity, fear and fascination, using literature to investigate. (KS)

According to Coetzee the state wants unplesant places, like prisons or buidlings in which torture is applied, "out of sight". Thus the torture room, John T. Irwin calls it "the dark room", is inaccessible for the novelist. At the same time this inaccessbility "is the source of [...] imaginings - the womb of art." Against this backdrop, the state provides the preconditions for torture novels. Furthermore the relations between torturer and victim serve as a metaphor of authoritarianism. Eventhough torture is illegal, the executive forces (the police in this case) are well protected of being sued. The victim, as an "inhibitant of authoritarianism", is unable to defend himself against the force of the torturer, the legislator.

This derives the problem that the writer either ignores or represents the cruelties of the state. However, representation has to happen "on one's own terms" and thus "establish one's own authority".

Sören Niewint

Torture Methods (Dragomir, Zielonki, Bagus)

What should a writer avoid when representing torturers and why should he do this?

The paradox of the "stupefying disproportion of the pygmy men on trial and the enormitiy of the crimes they have commited", that came out during the Nüremberger trials depicts the problems the novelist encounters while trying to depict torturers. The question Coetzee raises deals with the how in sketching these people, without succumbing to cliches in order to establish one's own authority without falling into "dark lyricism". (RD)

A writer has to be extra careful with the character-development of torturers and writing of torture scenes. One can easily drift into cliches or in some cases fetish-like imageries. Despite the cruelness of the torture-act, one hast to keep in mind that the torturer is still a human being and therefore should not be described as some sort of evil, "demonic" creature. Coetzee gives the example of a former SS-Officer, who was a mass-murderer despite his "pygmy" physique. (CZ)

Truth/Confession (Sieling, Barkemeyer)

What are the 3 problems that writers encounters when writing about torture? (Coetzee formulates them as 3 questions!)

The first question which is formulated by Coetzee in the text is, why torture has exerted a dark fascination on many South African writers. Here is the first problem. Something like fascination, which is actually something positive, can have a bad influence on the story which deals with torture. It could happen, that torture is represented as something which is exciting and thrilling. So a wrong reflection about the reality of torture could develop for the reader. The next question deals with the problem, if the novelist is not guilty of seeking out his squalid subject matter for perversely literary reasons. Perhaps that means, that the novelist doesn’t care about torture and all the horrible circumstances which are connected to it. He is just interested in the literary stuff. In my point of view, here is also the question if it is related to voyeurism. The novelist doesn’t care, if his novel could be rude. It only matters that he can write something down and the people have something exciting to read. The third question and problem is, how the writer is to represent the torturer. The writer has to avoid cliches of spy fiction. Otherwise it looks ridiculous and it seems like the writer doesn’t take the subject torture as seriously as it is necessary. (VS)

  Rejali, Darius: "Whom Do You Trust? What Do You Count On?"

How does Winston resist the coercion that is put on him through torture? What techniques/ways does he have to endure pain and torture? (Physical/Psychological)

If you think he is not fully broken in the end explain what scene/insight into him represents this final resistance. If you think he is fully broken explain why he is eventually unable to resist?

Authority/Society/Context (Niewint/Senkbeil)

According to Rejali "In Oceania's prison, modes of alertness, governance, laughter and compassion are not available." The state prevents some modes of being right from the start, shaping persons which are less likely to resist torture. Only the mode of forgetfulness is available to Winston, but fails since O'Brien seems almighty and to read his mind. Winston's attempt's to simply answer O'Brien's questions correctly fail.

Sören Niewint

According to the text by Rejali there are five modes of being in prison, which go hand in hand with the act of torture. Since the psychological torture of "Big Brother" is omnipresent in Oceania, Winston is always aware that he accidentaly could commit thoughtcrime, which would lead to imprisonment, torture or eventually death. In order to avoid that, Winston is in the mode of alertness when he follows the rules of the system, although he is against it. He is also in the mode of governance when he seeks contact to the resistance and in the mode of compassion when he remembers his memory of O`Brian before the torture. Unfortunately, in Oceania`s prisons all theses modes are ineffective, so they don`t help him much when he actually gets imprisoned. The only effective mode that Winston uses is the mode of forgetfulness, when he finally looses his need for resistance and accepts the concept of doublethink, which also brings an end to the torture. (CZ)

Rejali states that the modes of alertness, governance, laughter and compassion are not available in Oceania`s prisons. Indeed Smith does practice modes of alertness, governance and compassion but the Party can prevent these efforts. The only mode Winston can make use of is the mode of forgetfulness. I think Winston is fully broken in the end due to the fact that he cannot react rationally while facing the rats in front of his face. The Party`s ability to control the bodies of the prisoners finally makes it impossible to Winston to resist the coercion. (MM)

How does Winston resist the coercion that is put on him through torture? What techniques/ways does he have to endure pain and torture? Winston has to endure both physical and psychological torture. He has to suffer from electro-shocks and is faced by his greatest fears: rats. In all cases he is reliant on the will of his torturers. There is no way to escape from that arbitrary game that is just played to make him obedient to the rules of the society. In the end his body is marked from the reeducation as well as his soul and mind. Even his love to Julia that kept his thoughts unbroken is exploited and betrayed in the end. He lost all his individuality by being tortured to become a plain and aligned part of society.

If you think he is not fully broken in the end explain what scene/insight into him represents this final resistance. If you think he is fully broken explain why he is eventually unable to resist? I don't think he is broken completely in the end, however, there is no way for him to escape from the restrains of the society. He knows that he will live a life under the control of big brother and his helpers and will never have a minute or a place to be alone again. If he decided to resist he will disappear and be killed. That is why he has no other choice but to obey and live on his life in the purpose of society. Another reason why Winston is broken and accepts his reeducation is because O'Brien explains him the three steps of it: learning, understanding and accepting. He is reeducated in a very „gentle“ way which makes it easier for him to accept it. (SB)

Torture Methods (Dragomir, Zielonki, Bagus)

Truth/Confession (Sieling, Barkemeyer)

  Elain Scarry: The Structure of Torture

Authority/Society/Context (Niewint/Senkbeil)

Explain what happens to the victim's world in the confrontation with the torturer and explain briefly how the torturer can achieve such an effect. (see p. 35-36)

  • The intense physical pain during the process of torture defies a reduction of language and destroys the victim`s voice. Have been robbed by his voice and thus his power of articulation, destroys the victim`s sense of self and his world. The torturer, entirely without any affliciton , has the power to inflict and sustain the pain to the victim. That means he can bring it into present and in this way he can control the destruction of the victim`s world. (MM)
  • Although the torturer can stand right next to the person being tortured, the distance between the two persons is immense. On the one hand there is the prisoner, who is confronted with the worst fear of most human beings (physical and psychological pain) and on the other hand the torturer, who is able to control the method, the intensity and the time frame of torture. So the prisoner is totally committed to the torturer, while the torturer appears to be entirely free. To sum up, one can say the torturer is in the position in which the prisoner wants to be. The ambition to avoid pain and to regain the status of being free as the torturer leads to first confessions (true or untrue) and provides the justification for further tortures to the torturer. Another effect is, that a prisoner will be more amenable for interrogations (which are usually the central aspect of torture), because he wants to avoid pain and to escape from the situation.


Torture Methods (Dragomir, Zielonki, Bagus)

Explain what torture turns into its weapons and briefly explain how it achieves this goal. (41-42)

  • Pretty much anything can be turned into a weapon of torture. It can be physical objects, which are meant to cause pain such as stun guns, special developed torture instruments etc., objects that can cause pain but are originally not meant to do so such as tools, medical supply, baseball bats etc. and objects that are harmless: water, buckets, cloths etc. What makes it a weapon is simply the creativity (and/or cruelty) of the torturer and the tortured person as well. The torture weapon is not connected to it`s original purpose but rather the pain it caused and by this evokes same fear in the victim, which one would feel of a "real" weapon . (CZ)
  • Torture turns all types of objects into weapons, even rooms can be weapons. By this conversion of these objects into weapons, they are undone, unmade, annihilated and with them the fact of civilization. Thus there is a duality in the way pain is inflicted, meaning that if the unmaking of the objects is inherent to the process in wich pain is inflicted on the person to make his world fall apart, then the very falling apart of the object, during it's conversion to a weapon, is a cause of pain. Though the person is enclosed in a certain room away from civilization, two institutions, though not physically present are a shadow surrounding and enclosing the room of torture, that like the objects are aswell unmade. These are medicine and law, and while law seeks to search evidence to justify punishment that entails a conviction, here punishment is used to search for evidence. And while medicine seeks to be a warant for health, the doctor (willingly or unwillingly) becomes the torturer's right hand. (RD)

Truth/Confession (Sieling, Barkemeyer)

Explain what happens to the voice and confession of a person under torture. (48-49)

  • The self of a person is connected to the world by the voice and the language. When a person is tortured, the voice becomes absent. (This is what the torturer wants to reach by torture). The tortured says something but the words don’t have a meaning. The voice isn’t used anymore as a way of communication but only as a kind of instrument. The torturerer makes every word and every sound his own. This sound is used as a confession . (VS)

 Coetzee: Waiting for the Barbarians

Authority/Society/Context (Niewint/Senkbeil)

What status does torture have in the magistrate's society?

  • The torture in the magistrate`s society seems to be state-aproved since it starts with the arrival of Colonell Joll of the Empire who uses the rules of the government for torturing the natives. The villagers do not take any measures against these grievances. They think that they are free from guilt since they are not participating in the torture of the natives. This shows that, in this case, authority and power seems to legitimate to dismiss human dignity and the human rights. (MM)
  • Until the arrival of Colonel Joll, there seemed to be no torture in the magsitrate's society (p. 9). It also seems to be vaguely institutionalized, because the magistrate tells the reader abot the officials of the Third Bureau of the Civil Guard. These members are described as "[...]guardians of the State, specialists in the obscurer motions of sedition, devotees of truth, doctors of interrogation." (p. 9). Having a whole organization dealing with torture, it seems to be legitimate. The magistrate, however, depicts their work as dirty (p. 13). Contrary to 1984, torture is not as highly standardized (with signing papers etc), but rather dirty. It happens behind locked doors and no one is allowed to witness it except torturer and victim. The magistrate also wonders whether torture being dirty is only his, or rather, the province's perception (p. 13). This indicates that within his society there may be a different thinking about torture and torturers. Sören Niewint
  • Torture in 'Waiting for the Barbarians' is in some way similar to the usage in Orwell´s '1984'. It is used by a political institution to suppress or punish people who are against it in actions or thoughts. On the other hand there is the difference, that in 'Waiting for the Barbarians' the procedure of torture is not that established and standardized as it in the society and the reign of 'Ingsoc' in Orwell´s '1984'. It is a dirty job that has to be done and the methods are quite variable. For example, the narrator of 'W.f.t.B.' has to put on a woman´s smock before he is tortured in front of a crowd of people of all ages (p.128f). So in contrast to torture in '1984', the act of torture can be a public event in the magistrate´s society.(KS)

Torture Methods (Dragomir, Zielonki, Bagus)

Name two torture methods (give page numbers) and briefly compare them to torture in 1984.

  • Torture methods in Waiting for the barbarians: Two torture methods in "Waiting for the barbarians" are isolation p.87 during imprisonment and the "subjection to themost rudimentary needs of the body..." p.126. There are many further torture metheods like beatings and even the threat of being left to hang to death, but these two particular methods help to compare the torture displayed here to the one in "1984"because both forms, maybe not exactly the same, appear in both novels. Although torture is grusome in both torture in 1984 is very well planed and clinical, whereas "waiting for the barbarians" depicts dirty, filthy and humiliating dimensions of torture p.127. (RD)
  • In „Waiting For The Barbarians“ there is physical and psychological torture, just as in „1984“. In contrast to „1984“ they do not use torture to convince the people of the principles of the party but to get to know the truth (p.5: „Pain is truth“). They'd even kill for it, just as they did with the girls father (p.7) which shows the extend of physical violence again. Most often they use a mixture of physical and psychological violence e.g. torture the girl in front of her fathers eyes (p.39). They break her feet (p.29) and threaten to burn her eyes with hot iron (p. 28, 44) if he does not tell the truth. Another kind of torture is isolation. After the magistrate comes back he is put into isolation without any light or feeling of time. He depends on the mercy of the guards to get something to eat or drink (p.126ff). Later he is forced to run and jump naked, which is psychological torture but also physical regarding to his age and health situation (p.127). There are still other torture scenes (p.130, 132), however I just chose a few ones to demonstrate the different sorts of torture in „Waiting For The Barbarians“. (SB)

Truth/Confession (Sieling, Barkemeyer)

What value does a confession under torture have in Waiting for the Barbarians?

  • In Waiting for the Barbarians the reader finds two opposing societies linked directly to torture. These are the settlement as it exists independent from the Empire and the official entity, the Empire, typified by Colonel Joll and Warrant Officer Mandel. For the settlement torture does not seem to have any value at all and it is even mentioned that there is no such thing as a prison. Crimes are few and there is no need to install such an interrogation method. “We do not have facilities for prisoners […] There is not much crime here and the penalty is usually a fine or compulsory labour.” (cf. Page 2). For Colonel Joll torture seems to be the only measure to get the truth out of a captive and he is under the impression that he is in possession of the gift of knowing when the truth is spoken (cf. Page 5).Officer Mandel seems to enjoy the concept of torture. Under his rule the protagonist is being tortured, a confession, however, is never explicitly made (cf. 126).In addition to these cases several torture scenes are mentioned that cannot lead to a satisfactory outcome of a true confession as torturer and victim do not speak the same language.In my opinion all this gives the confession a role subordinate to the tantalizing aspect of torture.
  • I think a confession under torture in Waiting for the Barbarians doesn't, like any other confession under torture have any value. The colonel wants to get the truth he believes in. So the torture is just a way to force his truth upon the barbarians. The barbarians have no other choice, no matter what they say is useless because only the colone's conviction matters. (VS)

  George Orwell: 1984

Authority/Society/Context (Niewint/Senkbeil)

What status does torture have in Oceania's society? Is it allowed, condemned, etc.? Briefly comment on your opinion and give a page number as proof.

  • In general, I would argue, that torture is an aspect of everyday live, like the permanent monitoring and noise of the telescreen for example, and thus accepted. Besides this "everyday torture", there are also the methods of the Thought Police, as described on page 108: "[...]before death (nobody spoke of such things, yet everybody knew of them) there was the routine of confession that had to be gone through: the grovelling of the floor and screaming for mercy, the crack of broken bones, the smashed teeth and bloody clots of hair." The application of torture is at least known among the society. Julia also states on page 107 that "Everybody always confesses. You can't help it. They torture you." Torturing is thus used by the authorities to sustain the status quo. As Winston read in The Book torture "[...] not only became common again, but [was] tolerated and even defended by people who considers themselves enlightened and progressive." (p. 213). But it is not only tolerated, it is even institutionalized in the Ministry of Love (p. 225). However, there is a different treatment of different social classes. It seems that only Party members have fear torture, while the class of Proles is not affected.Sören Niewint
  • The government of Oceania uses torture with the intention to convert people, who try to liberate themselves of the leading party and "Big Brother". So torture is a legitimate way to fight the opposition. I think, the people of Oceania have an idea of the governmental torture, at least they know of the hard punishment for people, who act against "Big Brother". In Chapter 3, Part 2 (Pages 272 / 273), while Winston is in the third stage of "reintegration", he is allowed to ask O´Brien some questions. One of these is the question "What is in Room 101?". O´Brien states, that Winston actually knows the answer as everybody does, which implicates that the people of Oceania know about the torture chambers of the government or at least heard rumors about them. (KS)

Torture Methods (Dragomir, Zielonki, Bagus)

Name two torture methods (give page numbers) and explain why you consider them torture.

  • Despite the fact that the whole setting of Oceniana with it`s totalitarian system could be considered as torture there are two literally tortue methods. These methods are used to "re-educate" Winston to stop his rebellion against the Party and Big Brother. 1. The physical torture, which is more like the classic torture (p.251ff). Winston gets physically beaten up by guards before the intellectuals start more subtle ways like electroshocks (p.257). In additon he gets injected a pain-increasing substance. 2. The room 101 is another torture method. Since Winston resists all attempts of "Education" he is brought to room 101 (p.295 ff). There people get confronted with their worst fear, which is of course always individual and the most effective. Winston is tortured with his fear of rats until he finally gives up and confesses. (CZ)
  • Two further methods of literal torture, despite things like constant surveillance and deprivation of personal life, sexuality, opinion, freedom of speech...etc are encountered by Winston in the Miniluv. 1. The distortion of time and space (p.237, p.241, p.243) which is used to confuse the prisoneres and confer a feeling of total and utter isolation. 2. Another technique that is used is starvation(p.237, p.247, p284) which is not only used to merely weaken the body but alo the psyche. (RD)
  • The most obvious torture in „1984“ is the general situation. The actings are controlled as well as the the thoughts [p.4]. Furthermore future and past totally depends on the parties: anything you supposed to be true can in the next second be deleted from history, which has to be terrible, confusing and frightening at the same time [p.40ff]. The same goes with with words and expressions regarding newsspeak [p.53]. There is also the enduring fear of being vaporised because even a single move with your hands can be seen as beeing conspicuous. I would also describe the „Two minutes hate“ as some kind of torture. People are confronted with noises and pictures that make them crazy, aggressive and confused [p.13ff]. (SB)

Can you discover a pattern/development in how the torture methods are arrangeed in the book?

  • I definitely think there's a development of torture methods. Firstly, there is the „basic“ torture. People are watched and controlled all the time but not threatened individually: they have to suffer physically (exercises [p.34-39], no sufficient supply [p.33] or health care [p.3]) and psychologically (no privacy [p.4], not even in thinking). When Winston is arrested the methods get harder and specify more on his individual weak points, physically as well as phsychologically again [p.251 ff]. (SB)

Truth/Confession (Sieling, Barkemeyer)

1. Can or how does the reader know if Winston speaks the truth under torture? (Give a page number to support your argument)

  • On page 259, Winston explains that remeberes a photograph, which actually could have saved three men from death. This photograph is in his memory and so the reader can be sure that Winston speaks the truth. O’ Brien tells him that this is not true and that it’s just Winston’s truth. On page 262, Winston speaks the truth under torture by telling O’ Brien that he’s showing four fingers. O’ Brien doesn’t accept this answer and keeps tortuering Winston. (VS)
  • There are several indicators for the reader to know whether or not Winston speaks the truth. One is, of course, the previous narration the reader followed and therefore knows what Winston was thinking unaware of the surveillance of the party. As Winston is the focalizer and the narration is unreliable as we merely follow the narration from Winston's point of view we can never be sure in how far the events are being altered by the party but for the same reasons the reader can assume that Winston does not lie to himself. Only in the end when Winston is “turned” by the party he is using “doublethink” and the reader cannot be sure which are his thoughts and which are those imparted on him by the party, however, it is still Winston's thoughts the reader gets to know and these are true for Winston and therefore for the reader. “He became simply a mouth that uttered, a hand that signed, whatever was demanded of him” (page 254) In this quote and in the following paragraph it becomes clear that Winston is lying under confession and is merely confessing to make the torture stop. Further examples of confessed crimes include subjects the reader was again confronted with in the course of the story. He confesses e.g. to have murdered his wife which was discussed earlier in the story as being untrue.(WB)

2. When does Winston confess under torture and what does he confess/give away? Please describe how his confessions are located within the structure of the book. (Give a page numbers to support your argument)

  • After the first torture procedures, Winston cofesses that he is a murderer and a spy (p. 254). He confesses all these things because he is scared of the torture. He gives away his freewill. (VS)
  • Winston is subject to a process of confessing. He starts confessing after a long stretch of physical torture. As mentioned above we find this on pages 254 f. Winston confesses whatever the torturers want him to confess. “He confessed to the assassination of eminent party members, the distribution of seditious pamphlets, embezzlement of public funds...” In a later stage, when Winston is interrogated by O'Brien, he confesses to what he really did and, more importantly, thinks. Electric shocks and a certain intimacy as well as O'Brien's knowledge make Winston confess first as a protest to withstand O'Brien's torture and later to save himself.(WB)