THE POLITICS OF CRUELTY: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisionment by Kate Millett

THE POLITICS OF CRUELTY: An Essay on the Literature of Political Imprisionment

Email this review


The legal and routine torture of criminals was abolished in the 19th century, Millett (The Loony-Bin Trip, 1990, etc.) maintains; but torture made a comeback in the 20th century against political enemies of the state, and now half the world's countries use torture to control and intimidate their own citizens. Here, Millett aims to rouse the reader from apathy and despair to efficacious anger. To combat the notion that torture is a barbaric practice found only in the Third World, she starts her survey with Europe: Soviet terror first, followed by Hitler and the Holocaust; then she looks at French and British torture of colonials in Algeria and Northern Ireland, respectively. The US, in Vietnam and Latin America, picked up where these left off, and Millett accordingly describes the creation -- with US money, training, and technology -- of ""national security states"" in Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and El Salvador. A grim saga, and all true enough, yet much of what Millett has to say will be known to anyone who's read the papers or watched PBS in recent years. It doesn't hurt to have it all in one place, however, and the sheer accumulation of lengthy quotes from torture-survivors, remarkable for their courage and intelligence, gives the book its moral force. The very existence of survivors' testimony as a 20th-century literary genre she sees as a cause for hope. But the almost total absence of research or firsthand interviews, and the heavy-handed use of ""patriarchy"" as a generic explanation for the world's ills are disappointing. Millett's final analysis, too, doesn't rise far over the level of op-ed exhortation: We must combat the state's power to lock us up and throw away the key. Not greatly argued, then, but a high and useful appeal for action.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Norton