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The Terrible Intimacy of Torture

How can I present the terrible immediacy of torture? How make you understand the stress of even simple things they say have no effect? How give you a flavor for the intense and bizarre connection between captor and victim? I’m going to fail at all of it.

I’m going to ease us into this with 3 little vignettes:

The analyst gave a paper that was so troubling to him he first published it only in Italian. Here are some phrases I felt compelled to write down on the only thing I had – two stubs of train tickets:

To care is to be vulnerable.

Fear is not a theoretical concept.

We cringe from fear.

We react to reject fear.

Impact of the witnessing other.

Uncertainty: the hallmark of true inquiry

I was trying to face writing this post on torture.

After the lecture, I was discussing this with a colleague who used to be an experimental psychologist. He wondered if those who designed torture had worked with Seligman. He told me he used to do that kind of work. But he gave it up, because:

He was doing an experiment. There were two groups. Some were fed much less than usual – on a strict schedule. Others were fed much less than usual – with no rhyme or reason. Random meals. Those in the second group died. All of them.

They were only rats.

But he decided to retrain. Become a therapist.

True story: I was the witnessing other:

One time only – I saw sheer terror in her eyes. Just for a second or two. After that her eyes went dead.

The terror entered into me. The deadness did too.

I cannot forget the NOW of her terror, the NOW of her deadness.

Later I saw visceral terror. Standing, she pressed herself into the corner. Wrung her hands. Desperately slid down to the floor.

Her fear – based on a telephone threat. This time she feared the NOW of being captured again, putting me in danger – she believed.

Does torture hasten death? Friendship lengthens life.

Flashbacks mean torture never ends. They come without warning: The NOW of torture. No escape from the torturer – ever. Flashbacks make sure of that.

Who can produce such horror? Such deadness? How can I describe that terrible intimacy of torture?

Sometimes I think of how – RIGHT NOW – people I don’t know are in secret rooms. Feeling totally abandoned by all human kindness. Helpless. Terrified. Nightmares. Reality – one long nightmare. Which is which? Exhausted, but afraid to sleep. Numb. But struggling to feel – to stay alive. Memories obliterated. Relief at being fed – but hatred for feeling grateful. Relief when pain stops – but hatred for feeling grateful.

So tired. So very tired. Pain. Hunger. Confusion. When? Where? Who?

To dream is to scream. Who screams? A bug? Sludge? Can’t remember.

Is this dying? Is this living? Can’t think.

Climbers lie down in snow. And go to sleep. Must stay awake! Not that!

I’m sure I’ve failed. How can I get you to see and feel what deadness is? How show you loss of self? The only NOW as existence-for-torture. The torturer is the mirror. Please the torturer. Or die. The torturer needs you for the torture. Needs you to tell. But you’ve forgotten. Nothing’s there. Words fail. They don’t come. You’re only as good as the next thing you can tell. Tell something. Anything. Find the words. You can see they expect something. What is it they expect? They never tell you. They ask. You don’t remember anymore – if you ever did. Did you ever have a life outside this room?

How can I describe the loss of life – of past or future? The "ONE" who asks, hurts, needs something for the reports. Flies into a rage that you don’t know!

How can I imagine who could do that? Who created that non-world of Now-Nothing? How can I think torturer? How can I convey the perverted intimacy of creating an "object of disdain"? How paint the "The One" who controls all pain? All hunger? All sleeplessness? All relief! "The One" who needs facts, names, all to feed the reports.

I squeeze. I squeeze this stone – this stone of my creation, this graven image.

Where are the letters on the stone tablet?

"You are a stone! Tell me what’s written there!"

"Names! Places!"

How can I imagine the torturer faced with these dead eyes I once saw? Faced with the blank mind, created by torturing? Despising the very creature of torture.

What panic if the torturer has nothing to write? Now what – if there is nothing told?

The torturer too – trapped in the cell. Trying to force action out of inaction, out of deadness. Trying to squeeze life out of a stone. Despising the stony dead eyes.

Captivity creates a relationship of terrible intensity. I’m sure I’ve failed. How can I describe the immediacy, the intensity, the fear, the horror, the need for each other of captor and victim? The victim needs to live. The torturer needs to keep a victim barely alive but totally uneasy.

Rats will die if you just deprive them of food – in totally unpredictable ways.

Uncertainty – the hallmark of true inquiry.

Control – the hallmark of torture.

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