COMPLIT 495 - Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature
Section: 001 Torture
Term: FA 2009
Subject: Comparative Literature (COMPLIT)
Department: LSA Comparative Literature
Waitlist Capacity:
Advisory Prerequisites:
Senior standing and concentration in Comparative Literature.
Other Course Info:
May not be repeated for credit.
Primary Instructor:

Early in 2005, to help in the planned revision of Norway’s animal protection law, a scientific study funded by the Norwegian government found that worms squirming on a fishhook feel no pain, nor do lobsters and crabs cooked in boiling water. Norway might have considered banning the use of live worms as fish bait if the study had found they felt pain. We don’t know what the inarticulate worms and lobsters thought about the whole matter, but we do know that Vice-President Dick Cheney, speaking with a talk show host in October 2006, appeared to embrace the suggestion that a “dunk in water” might be useful to get terrorism suspects to talk. “Water-boarding,” the “professional” term for dunking, is a torture technique banned under international law. Earlier in October 2006, President Bush had signed a bill outlawing the torture of detainees, but “quietly reserved the right to bypass the law under his powers as a commander in chief,” as The Boston Globe put it at the time.

This seminar is meant to encourage students, as good, engaged citizens, to think and care and write about the pain and the torture of others, despite the inadequacies of language. Elaine Scarry writes that “physical pain does not simply resist language but actively destroys it, bringing about an immediate reversion to a state anterior to language, to the sounds and cries a human being makes before language is learned.” Through theory, fiction, films, plays, memoirs, testimonies and legal documents, we will examine the ways in which language can(not) articulate the unmaking of the body of worms, lobsters and, especially, of human beings, through torture and pain — conceptualized, inflicted and narrated.

Students will be asked to write a 5-page essay, drawing on the weekly readings, and to present and discuss it in class; and to submit a substantial term paper.

COMPLIT 495 - Senior Seminar in Comparative Literature
Schedule Listing
001 (SEM)
Tu 6:00PM - 9:00PM
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