Robert Cover on Torture

Torture being muchly in the news, I offer this quote from Robert Cover, Violence and the Word, 95 Yale L.J. 1601, 1603 (1986):

The deliberate infliction of pain in order to destroy the victim's normative world and capacity to create shared realities we call torture. The interrogation that is part of torture, Scarry points out, is rarely designed to elicit information. More commonly, the torturer's interrogation is designed to demonstrate the end of the normative world of the victim-the end of what the victim values, the end of the bonds that constitute the community in which the values are grounded. Scarry thus concludes that “in compelling confession, the torturers compel the prisoner to record and objectify the fact that intense pain is world-destroying.”· That is why torturers almost always require betrayal-a demonstration that the victim's intangible normative world has been crushed by the material reality of pain and its extension, fear. IS The torturer and victim do end up creating their own terrible “world,” but this world derives its meaning from being imposed upon the ashes of another.6 The logic of that world is complete domination, though the objective may never be realized.

The citations are to ELAINE SCARRY, THE BODY IN PAIN (1985).

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