Monday, May 24, 2004

moral clarity

When Susan Sontag published her short essay after September eleventh, I was impressed with its clarity, but not so much by the point, which seemed, well, obvious. Only later, after she was reviled for stating the obvious did I realize that maybe it wasn't so obvious after all. I just have this old-fashioned idea that if a statement is self-evidently true, there's not much more to say about it. Since that is apparently no longer the case, we should thank Sontag for once again describing something horrible, the torture at Abu Ghraib:
If there is something comparable to what these pictures show it would be some of the photographs of black victims of lynching taken between the 1880's and 1930's, which show Americans grinning beneath the naked mutilated body of a black man or woman hanging behind them from a tree.
I can hardly wait for the cretins to call her a traitor again. But what we really need to read is what Elaine Scarry has to say:
Torture consists of a primary physical act, the infliction of pain, and a primary verbal act, the interrogation. The verbal act, in turn, consists of two parts, "the question" and "the answer," each with conventional connotations that totally falsify it. "The question" is mistakenly intended to be "the motive"; "the answer" is mistakenly understood to be "the betrayal." The one is an absolution of responsibility, the other a conferring of responsibility; the two together turn the moral responsibility of torture upside down.
I can't believe no one's commissioned anything from her yet.

As long as we're on the topic, which, frankly, I never want to have to think about ever again, let me just mention, in tiny type to indicate my greater than usual disgust, the inanity of the rash of editorials attempting to explain how women could be involved in such horrible acts. What is this, the 'sixties? What kind of moron needs that explained now? What kind of person's first response to these pictures is to panic about the gender of the perpetrators? A particularly disturbing example of the irrelevance of baby-boomer essentialist feminism, I'm afraid.

Update: There is apparently some douchebag named Andrew Sullivan who still hasn't been able to master that little chunk of obviousness. He should sit through the Salon ad and read this interview with Sontag from 10/01. And so should you.


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