- Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights
Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg's Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights is a unique work that provides an "ethic of fictionalizing historical experiences" (193). The author focuses her attention on the inhuman and criminal acts of torture, rape, and genocide depicted in a series of selected [End Page 117] films, novels, and other media (193). The author's basic argument is that the process of "fictionalizing historical atrocities necessitates attention to the ethical claims originating from the experiences of victims and survivors of historical atrocities" (16). Goldberg asserts that the ethical issues that have emerged from these forms of narrative are essentially "unsettled" (17) in an era in which postmodernism continues to sway scholars and to imbue the "ethical turn in literary studies" with a sense of uncertainty (17). Beyond Terror is divided into five core chapters plus an epilogue. The first three chapters all address the depiction of torture in selected films and novels; however, in order to provide a more nuanced examination of the complex concept of torture, Goldberg breaks the chapters up thematically: chapter one explores safety, chapter two citizenship, and chapter three desire. The fourth chapter discusses rape, while the fifth chapter concerns itself with genocide.
The first chapter begins with a brief exposé of one of the most talked-about films of the last decade of the twentieth century: Schindler's List (1993). Goldberg's decision to begin the chapter with a discussion of this film is smart, considering that most readers will have an intimate familiarity with it. This blockbuster is an exemplar of a type of film that Goldberg calls the "counterhistorical drama" (28). Goldberg defines the counterhistorical drama as form that not only traverses the "generic boundaries" of film but also presents a "counternarrative" to the accepted and "official version" of the historical event (29). In addition, counterhistorical dramatic films tend to make use of a contemporary version of the bildungsroman archetype, whereby a Western protagonist is forced to contend with the "undemocratic practices" of a non-Western and/or subaltern nation (29). Goldberg analyzes three films in this new genre: John Boorman's Beyond Rangoon (1995), Richard Attenborough's Cry Freedom (1985), and David O. Russell's Three Kings (1999). She looks at how these three films have constructed a notion of safety in the face of torture that has occurred in non-Western states, arguing that the tortured body of the non-Westerner unintentionally "becomes [the] signifier of the relative safety and security of the western body from such acts" (33). In other words, the idea that "it can't happen to me" is emphasized throughout these films to different degrees (17).
In the second chapter, Goldberg further explores the origins of the "myth of western bodily safety" (59) that is depicted in counternarrative dramatic films. Often, one hears people saying "You can't do that! I'm an American citizen." The assumption is that one's diplomatic status acts as a sort of "geopolitical shield" (58) protecting the Westerner from the forms of torture that non-Westerners habitually experience. Goldberg looks at how such a "cultural/national/ideological distinction" (58) manifests itself in Oliver Stone's Salvador (1987) and Jon Avent's Red Corner (1995). [End Page 118] The claim that the "privileged national" (59) is infallible tends to be made only by white, heterosexual, Christian males.
The third chapter begins with a discussion of Alan Dershowitz's speech on the proliferation of torture practices in the post-9/11 environment. In an address given at the City University of New York, Dershowitz argued that governmental intelligence agencies have the right to obtain internationally recognized "torture warrants" that would permit them to torture a suspect who they think is involved in terrorist activity in order to extract information from him or her (88). What Dershowitz did not realize was that his speech was to be preceded by an address by Sister Dianna Ortiz, director and founder of the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition...