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Donatella Di Cesare

ISBN: 978-1-509-52440-2

Jun 2018, Polity

180 pages


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Torture is not as universally condemned as it once was. After 9/11, its apologists could use the ‘war on terror’ to justify a practice that has in fact never fallen completely out of use, in democracies no less than under dictatorships. From Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib prisons to the death of Giulio Regeni, countless recent cases have shocked public opinion. But if we want to defend the human dignity that torture violates, simple indignation is not enough.

In this penetrating text, Donatella Di Cesare seeks insight from philosophers, playwrights, directors and poets to provide a critical perspective on torture in all its dimensions, culminating in a wholly original ‘phenomenology of torture’. She seeks to capture the peculiarity of an extreme, systematic, methodical violence. This is a violence where the tormentor calculates and measures out pain so that he can hold off the victim’s death, allowing him to continue to exercise his sovereign power. For the victim, being tortured is like experiencing his own death even while he is still alive. It is also a violence inextricably linked with power. Torture is a threat wherever the defenceless find themselves in the hands of the strong: in prisons, on psychiatric wards, in migrant camps, in nursing homes, in centres for the disabled, and in institutions for minors.

This impassioned book equips us to address critically the many forms of torture which continue to occur across our societies today. It will appeal to students and scholars of philosophy and political theory, as well as to anyone committed to defending human rights as universal and inviolable.

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  • Prologue
  • Chapter One. The politics of torture
  • 1. Without end? Torture in the twenty-first century
  • 2. Torture and Power
  • 3. The dark backdrop of sacrifice. Torture in the mechanisms of terror
  • 4. Torture after the abolition of torture
  • 5. The Black Phoenix
  • 6. Torture and democracy
  • 7. After 9/11. State of exception, pre-emptive torture
  • 8. The debate over torture
  • 9. The dilemma of ‘getting our hands dirty’. Thomas Nagel and Michael Walzer
  • 10. Alan Dershowitz and the ‘torture warrant’
  • 11. The lesser evil is still an evil
  • 12. 24. The gentleman torturer
  • 13. A political theology of torture
  • 14. Why not torture the terrorist? The ticking time bomb
  • 15. Dangerous, pseudo-philosophical tales
  • 16. Illegitimacy. The torturer-state
  • 17. A shipwreck of human rights?
  • 18. Human dignity in torture
  • Chapter Two. Phenomenology of Torture
  • 1. Defining torture. Etymological notes
  • 2. ‘Whoever has succumbed to torture can no longer feel at home in the world’ - Améry
  • 3. Torture, genocide, Holocaust
  • 4. Killing and torturing
  • 5. Between biopower and sovereign power
  • 6. Anatomy of the butcher
  • 7. Sade, the negation of the other, and the language of violence
  • 8. From Torquemada to Scilingo. Four portraits
  • 9. Born torturers?
  • 10. Pedro and the Captain
  • 11. The victim’s secret
  • 12. Saying the word ‘torture’
  • 13. On pain and suffering
  • 14. Surviving one’s own death
  • Chapter Three. The Administration of Torture
  • 1. Giulio Regeni. The body of the tortured
  • 2. Benjamin; or, on an ignominious institution
  • 3. The G8 in Genoa
  • 4. ‘No touch’ torture. On Stammheim prison
  • 5. Desaparecidos, disappeared. When death is denied
  • 6. The CIA’s global gulag
  • 7. Guantánamo. A camp for the new millennium
  • 8. Abu Ghraib. The photographs of shame
  • 9. Women and sexual violence
  • 10. In the hands of the stronger
  • 11. Torments and torture marked ‘made in Italy’
  • Epilogue
  • References