Originally given as part of a special session panel, "Torture and Interrogation," at the annual convention of the Modern Language Association in San Francisco, California, on December 27, 2008, this paper connects contemporary critical discussions of interrogation to the representation of lynching and police brutality in the early twentieth-century United States. It places American modernist literature, especially William Faulkner's Light in August, within a broad cultural tradition of thought about extralegal violence, and it argues that the novel's poetic strategies for depicting and analyzing such violence offer a diagnostic alternative to the sentimental discourse that dominates debates about interrogation in the interpretive humanities and critical legal theory. Critics tend to approach interrogation as either a technique of intelligence gathering or a ritual of domination, two apparently irreconcilable views. Faulkner's novel, whose aesthetics depend on a contrast between figures of stasis and figures of motion, suggests that the posing of questions plays a necessary role in the ritual exercise of power. The question transforms a repetitive or regressive act into a forward-looking investigation oriented towards an indefinite future.
Northern Illinois University Law Review
"Torture, Interrogation, and American Modernist Literature,"
Northern Illinois University Law Review: Vol. 29:
2, Article 5.
Caleb Smith, Torture, Interrogation, and American Modernist Literature, 29 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 433 (2009).