CAROLYN NORDSTROM

For Scarry, the obscene and pathetic drama of torture and power is relegated to the prisoner’s cell. For Mozambicans, by virtue of its public enactment, this drama comes to define the world at large. Scarry worked with political prisoners and Amnesty International Reports — all of whom are cast in state-sponsored institutional settings. Isolation from family and society defines their plight. Had Scarry worked in places where torture is conducted as public ritual, had she followed torture victims back into the community and seen their impact on all those who have knowledge of them, she might not have concluded so readily that pain is incommunicable. I do agree with her that pain can destroy formal language, but there are many “truths” and many ways of communicating them. […] Pain both undermines communication and communicates through a society at large. Because the infliction of pain creates an enemy, one rooted in a fraudulent claim to power, torture creates resistance to the regime by its very enactment.

Carolyn Nordstrom, A Different Kind of War Story (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997), pp. 170-71.

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ACHILLE MBEMBE

In the case of massacres in particular, lifeless bodies are quickly reduced to the status of simple skeletons. Their morphology henceforth inscribes them in the register of undifferentiated generality: simple relics of an unburied pain, empty, meaningless corporealities, strange deposits plunged into cruel stupor. In the case of the Rwandan genocide—in which a number of skeletons were at least preserved in a visible state, if not exhumed—what is striking is the tension between the petrification of the bones and their strange coolness on one hand, and on the other, their stubborn will to mean, to signify something.

In these impassive bits of bone, there seems to be no ataraxia: nothing but the illusory rejection of a death that has already occurred. In other cases, in which physical amputation replaces immediate death, cutting off limbs opens the way to the deployment of techniques of incision, ablation, and excision that also have bones as their target. The traces of this demiurgic surgery persist for a long time, in the form of human shapes that are alive, to be sure, but whose bodily integrity has been replaced by pieces, fragments, folds, even immense wounds that are difficult to close. Their function is to keep before the eyes of the victim—and of the people around him or her—the morbid spectacle of severing.

Achille Mbembe, ‘Necropolitics’, trans. by Libby Meintjes, Public Culture, 15:1 (2003), 11-40, p. 35.