Tom McCarthy: Take Abu Ghraib, for example. Those amazing images that emerged a few years ago. When I saw those, I was reminded of this novel by Bernard Noël called Le Château de Cène, The Castle of Communion, that came out in 1969. And it’s a kind of—you know…almost obs—well, obscene, pornographic allegory of what was going on in Algeria at the time, what his own government was doing in Algeria. So in the Château de Cène there’s all these kind of scenes of domination, sadomasochism, rape, etc.
With the Abu Ghraib photos, you don’t need a Bernard Noël to do it. The soldiers themselves are kind of enacting those scenes. And you know, on the one hand there’s something absolutely repulsive and disgusting about it. And on the other hand, I find it almost kind of subversive that… Not that they do it, but that these pictures kind of emerge into the public realm. The kind of poetic…truth of the overall you know…project. The kind of poetic…truth of the overall you know…project…[chuckles]…the overall neoliberal military project that was going on at that time just suddenly erupts for all to see.
I’ve been rereading Sade recently, The 120 Days of Sodom, which I haven’t read since I was like 22 or something. And what really struck me…it was just a couple of weeks ago. What really struck me about it now is…well firstly the first sentence could have been written by Agamben, or in fact Naomi Klein, like yesterday. I mean, it says something like “It is in the state’s interest to maintain a condition of terror, so that it can suspend all democratic laws and get away with what it wants.” And then the second sentence says “And individuals and businesses that have a foot in the president’s office can do very well in times like this.” I’m mean…they could’ve just written “Cheney,” you know. It’s incredibly contemporary.
But what is amazing is that— There’s loads of amazing things about Sade. For example all of the events that take place in it are reenactments. That these perverts have set up this whole scene, this kind of prison situation, have people tell them stories that they then reenact and embellish sexually onto their prisoners. It’s very kind of Abu Ghraib.
But, what really struck me as I read it was that Sade’s heroes-slash-antiheroes, his libertine perverts, are very clear that what they’re doing is criminal. They go away. To Switzerland. [chuckles] They sequester themselves in an inaccessible castle. And they’re proud of the fact that what they’re doing is against the state, it’s against the law, it’s against order. Whereas now, almost identical scenes are being enacted, not against order but in the very name of order, of justice, of liberty, of freedom, by the state itself. It seems we’ve come that far that that total gap has been completely closed.