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Figuring torture: the representation of torture in a selection of novels Pashka, Linda


This dissertation examines the presentation of torture in a group of twentieth century novels--George Orwell’s "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (1949), Manlio Argueta’s "One Day of Life" (1983), Wessel Ebersohn’s "Store Up the Anger" (1981), J.M. Coetzee’s "Waiting for the Barbarians" (1981) and Lawrence Thornton’s "Imagining Argentina" (1987). The novels share scenes of physical torture performed by an agent of the state and aimed ostensibly at information-gathering, intimidation and/or ideological conversion. The structures of the representation of torture in these novels--tropes, narrative structure, narrative voice and focalisation—set out to arouse sympathy or empathy in the reader, thus writing against the notion of a polity that allows torture. Yet the same methods the novels employ to construct this sympathy often serve to reinforce the hierarchical binary model, patriarchal domination, which is seen in the novels to drive torture. Rather than subverting torture, then, the novels risk reinscribing it. They also share something of a project of resistance to the notion that torture constructs truth, although the structures they construct participate in the binary relations they critique. Vegetarian ecofeminists have evolved theories which are useful in the analysis of the structures at work in the novels to demonstrate the binary nature of torture in the novels. Torturers are presented as tropologically male figures dominating and metaphorically consuming their victims who are troped as female and animal, dominated and consumed. The reader of these texts is constructed in either of two positions which further reinforce the binary model; the text might build a reader who adopts a symbolically male voyeuristic gaze at the suffering victim or who identifies with the symbolically female tortured character. At the same time that it allows a critique of the hierarchised structure of torture as it is presented in the novels, vegetarian feminist theory also offers the possibility of methods of representing torture that break the cycle of torture.

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