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Torturing Aristotle
by Thanos Kalamidas
2008-06-26 10:02:36
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Is there any way to identify the meaning of the word ‘torture’? I grew up through a dictatorship and I heard unbelievable stories about torturing and methods of torturing, then after the dictatorship and all the cases came to the courts we saw pictures of the victims and their bodies, we heard detailed descriptions and we saw it in their eyes. I even have a friend who went through that during those dark days.

torture01_400But then I have another friend whose father used to beat his mother and lock him sometimes for a whole a day inside a dark closet. My friend in his early fifties and he still has nightmares of that time and when he left home at sixteen he never returned, he never spoke to his father again and, according to him, the best day of his life was when his mother left his father. Isn’t this torture? What’s the difference or what’s the distance between the two cases? I know I have too many questions but honestly I don’t know the answers. For me is just inhumane!

I have seen with my own eyes what torture means in Sudan and Sierra Leone, I saw torturing in South Africa and I saw victims of torturing in Chile. One night a very good friend of mine, a lecturer in the University of Buenos Aires, who was a political prisoner during the dictatorship, opened her heart after a few drinks and started telling me what she had gone through. In the beginning there were tears but after a bit the tears became sobs and then when she started telling me about the rapes the sobs became silence. Then I was in tears. Her words were torture for me who was just listening, who never went through the same things.

When I was fourteen the dictatorship’s police arrested me as a suspect – you see on top of everything I had long hair something that didn’t go down too well with the ethics of a dictatorship – for two hours I lost every sense of where I was and what was happening to me and the only sensation I had left was the taste of blood in my mouth. My crime? I was walking in a street at the wrong time! I’m serious, that was my crime and straight away I became a suspect, that’s how dictators think and until my family found out and until they come to save me I had two broken bones and a face you could hardly recognize that it was mine. And I was just …fourteen! That’s how dictatorships think!

torture02_400For years a family friend lived in real hell with a husband who never touched her in the sense beating her but living in constant sentimental blackmails that reached her life and the life of her own kids. The worst part was that she could never talk about them, just having to live her hell, full of threats and mental violence. Is that torturing? I don’t know and the longer I’m thinking more and more cases coming to my mind. I can only sense that torturing is not only the visual but there are many kinds even the sentimental or the blackmail, it’s all torture and it’s all inhumane and painful.

Oddly 2,500 years ago Aristotle pointed that any confession coming through torturing should not stand in any court, 2,500 years ago and in 1987 the United Nations signed a treaty against torturing to get a confession. In the year 2008 we have Guantanamo!!! We obviously learned nothing! And did they use torture all through history? The states did, the kings and the lords did, the bandits did and criminals did, dictators and warlords, even the churches did. The Inquisition, they made torturing science. In a museum in Spain I saw for the first time an iron maiden, not the rock group, and only the sight of it was enough to scare you so much to confess just anything not going through that.

And there are states that still practice torturing, George W. Bush's administration has even legalized them in Guantanamo, I’m not joking, the water torture is consider a normal practice to make terrorism suspects to confess. Aristotle didn’t know anything about George W. Bush back then, he only knew about democracy, poor chap! What remains? For me to apologize to my ancient compatriot, if he was still alive most likely he would be victim of torturing as well!

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Emanuel Paparella2008-06-26 13:40:56
To pick up on the last thought on Aristotle and work our way up, actually he did run away from Athens toward the end of his life, not because he was afraid of torture but because, as he put it, he did not wish the Athenians “to sin twice against philosophy.” And of course he was no Greek, he was Macedonian and put into that other Macedonian’s mind, Alexander, the notion of conquering the world someday and spread Greek culture far and wide…

Moreover, the illustration of the Inquisition where monks are shown enjoying a spectacle of torture which accompanies this article is probably meant to be satirical but in fact it is not historically correct. There surely was a Church-sponsored Inquisition in Medieval times, all the way to Galileo, but its function was not that of torturing heretics but that of examining and judging what they wrote and then determine their orthodoxy. That was its sole function. Was there also torture? Yes, but that was left to the civil authorities to execute, which usually were quite happy to cooperate. So, the illustration is not correct.

I am wondering now if it would be a blasphemy to remember the Inquisition, as indeed we should, but then, having learned nothing from it, proceed to “misremember it” by proceeding our marry way and forgetting what the Nazis planned in two short hours and then executed in two short years: the murdering and liquidation of eleven million people, not to speak of Stalin’s tortures. That makes the medieval Inquisition look like a picnic in comparison. (continued below)

Emanuel Paparella2008-06-26 13:41:40
Returning to Aristotle, as you know, Thanos, Aristotle wrote a whole book on Greek Tragedy called “The Poetics” where he makes the insightful point of catharsis of the emotions which consists in the viewer identifying and experiencing emotions portrayed on the stage, (torture being one of them, or the killing of one’s children as in Medea and the suffering of the hero usually ending in death), which he would never wish to experience and contemplate in real life. Art has that kind of power, to transform even the sordid and the ugly and that’s why Aristotle calls drama more philosophical than history. What’s the point of it all, you may ask. This: Aristotle, like Tony Judt of whom I wrote a few days ago (and that some hacker decided to inquisitorially deface the next day…) is making the point that we ought not to forget what is ugly and perhaps, if we have that ability, we ought to transform it into art. To be fair to the Church, while remembering the Inquisition and learning its lessons (surely not learned by the Nazis in question and neither by the Stalinist Communists) we should remember that she was, throughout its history, a patron of the arts. Let’s look at everything and not only at the axes we wish to grind. Just musings on the topic of torture.

AP2008-06-30 02:24:33
Psychological torture (emotional blackmails and threats, using other's feelings of guilt and shame, etc) is certainly torture.
Physical one too.
Sadly I lived both and yes, who tortures attacks not only the people who are tortured, but all the people who like and care for them too, and democratic societies as we commonly understand they should be as well.

AP2008-06-30 02:33:48
Art has not only the power to transform the ugly into something beautiful, but also to change things socially. That's its greatest thing. Art is incredibly political and anti-political by essence at the same time. The form is a completely different form, the means too, and the personal statements are there as well.

AP2008-06-30 02:36:23
Everything that fosters the utmost free expression of a human being and its best qualities and talents is socially very developed and anti-political.

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