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Figurative Inquisitions

Conversion, Torture, and Truth in the Luso-Hispanic Atlantic

Erin Graff Zivin

Publication Year: 2014

The practices of interrogation, torture, and confession have resurfaced in public debates since the early 2000s following human rights abuses around the globe. Yet discussion of torture has remained restricted to three principal fields: the legal, the pragmatic, and the moral, eclipsing the less immediate but vital question of what torture does.Figurative Inquisitions seeks to correct this lacuna by approaching the question of torture from a literary vantage point.

This book investigates the uncanny presence of the Inquisition and marranismo (crypto-Judaism) in modern literature, theater, and film from Mexico, Brazil, and Portugal. Through a critique of fictional scenes of interrogation, it underscores the vital role of the literary in deconstructing the relation between torture and truth. Figurative Inquisitions traces the contours of a relationship among aesthetics, ethics, and politics in an account of the "Inquisitional logic" that continues to haunt contemporary political forms. In so doing, the book offers a unique humanistic perspective on current torture debates.

Published by: Northwestern University Press


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Title Page, About the Series, Other Works in the Series, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. ix-x

The experience of writing a second book is markedly different from that of writing a first book. If the first book has its roots in the dissertation, and therefore always feels as if it were being written “for” something or someone else, the second book emerges out of a strange freedom: one is writing, simply, because one must write. At the same time, this project is...

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Preface: Inquisitional Logic

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pp. xi-2

The interrelated practices of interrogation, torture, and confession are global phenomena that, while they have existed for several millennia, have resurfaced in public debates since the early 2000s after accounts of human rights abuses in U.S. prisons and “black sites” abroad began to circulate and, in early 2009, after a newly elected President Obama...

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Introduction: Conversion, Torture, and Truth

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pp. 3-16

The main rationale offered by those who defend the practice of torture is that the use of physical and psychological abuse as part of the interrogation of prisoners guarantees the extraction of the truth—generally understood to be the acquisition of information that promises to save hundreds, thousands, or millions of innocent lives—and that violent...

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1. Aporias of Marranismo

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pp. 17-56

Just months before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon set off a series of reactionary foreign policy decisions—including the establishment of black sites in undisclosed foreign locations and prisons in Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, resurrecting the practice of violent interrogation as a primary means by which military and private...

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2. Allegory and Hauntology

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pp. 57-86

In the spring of 2002—mere months after watching the Twin Towers fall and dust-covered, distressed financial district workers hastily migrate uptown past the Greenwich Village campus buildings of New York University, where I was a graduate student at the time—I attended a Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Starring Liam Neeson...

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3. Interrogative Signs

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pp. 87-122

The previous two chapters have detailed the way in which constructions of marranismo revolve around that which is fundamentally unknowable in the other, and how Inquisition allegories guard within them the spectral ruins of a traumatic history. Both the New Christian and allegory, I suggest, retain an untranslatable kernel of otherness: the Jewish...

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4. Other Inquisitions

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pp. 123-144

In the introduction to this book, I refer to the way in which Gilles Pontecorvo’s provocative film The Battle of Algiers, which documents through fiction the French torture of Algerians, poses a particularly difficult challenge for thinking the ethicity of the aesthetic representation of torture. Despite the oppositional stance The Battle of Algiers takes...


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pp. 145-154


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pp. 155-162


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pp. 163-167

E-ISBN-13: 9780810167438
E-ISBN-10: 0810167433
Print-ISBN-13: 9780810129450
Print-ISBN-10: 0810129450

Page Count: 181
Publication Year: 2014

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 879284656
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Figurative Inquisitions

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Subject Headings

  • Latin American literature -- History and criticism.
  • Portuguese literature -- History and criticism.
  • Torture in literature.
  • Inquisition in literature.
  • Torture in motion pictures.
  • Inquisition in motion pictures.
  • Torture -- Social aspects.
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