Sunday, June 3, 2007

"The Soul Is the Prison of the Body"

So, says Foucault, is the guiding principle of the modern criminal system.* Its goal is to create docile bodies that conform to established social norms and work within established social institutions. But--and this the modern system considers a sign of its moral superiority to earlier ways of dealing with outlaws--the pathway to docility is through the soul. Indoctrination, re-education, rehabilitation: these are the officially preferred methods of the modern penal system. Take the soul where you want it to go, and the body necessarily follows.

Foucault argues that torture is incompatible with this goal of soul imprisonment, but I'm not so sure. Torture imprisons the body in a broken, memory-haunted soul. Physical agony, dread, somatic and psychological trauma, shame, remorse, guilt, fear, humiliation, exhaustion, sexual abuse: the tactics of torture aim at a brutal destruction--what I called "malfiguration" in an earlier post--of the psyche which paralyzes the will and hamstrings the body. The torture chamber is a citizen-factory. Raw, rebellious flesh--the raw material--goes in, and docile, broken-spirited citizens--the finished product--emerge. They not only are no longer threats to the state themselves; their wraith-like presence in our midst either intimidates other would-be rebels (the "admonitory" function) or reassures "good" citizens that the state apparatus is vigilant and indominable. In earlier times, public physical torture provided the "spectacle," to use Foucault's term, that admonished and reassured. Today, the souls of torture survivors are the spectacle.
Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, see especially pp. 24-31.