Monday, January 24, 2011

Post about “Footnote to the Amnesty Report on Torture,” by Margaret Atwood.

This poem can be read as a general commentary on modern society and, perhaps, on capitalism. The main character of the poem, referred to simply as “the man who works here,” is tragically depicted as a human being who is participating in a system which is slowly robbing him of his humanity.

The first stanza of the poem sets up a relationship between expectations and reality. Our expectations about what sensational things like torture chambers look like are portrayed as being different from the grim, unromantic, and coldly utilitarian reality of the torture chamber in this poem. The image that is presented as the expected one is a creation of pornographic media. The line about “sexy chains and leather-goods from a glossy porno” creates a dynamic for the human body as a product for consumption. It indicates a way in which torture is cleaned up and sexualized. Torture, in this poem, is not romanticized, but it still treats the process of dismembering the human body like a business transaction. Like any business, the torture chamber has employees. This disparity between expectations and reality could perhaps be equated to Marx’s false consciousness whereby the masses, oppressed by an in-advantageous system, adopt beliefs about their situation which, in turn, shackle them to it.

The man who cleans the floors is “glad to have this job, because there are few others.” I think this is an example of how people are forced to participate in a system that they might find morally reprehensible. Perhaps he feels disconnected from the malfeasance which occurs there because “[h]e isn’t a torturer, he only cleans the floors.” In the end, however, this man holds few illusions about his moral superiority. It seems as though he does this job for the sake of supporting his children, yet he fears that he would betray them too should the system require it. “He is afraid of what he might do if her were told to.” The process of the man losing his humanity can be seen in his reaction to the horrible things he has to witness/participate-in. “He tries to make himself into a wall” as if he were some type of inanimate object. “He thinks of nothing but the walk back to his hot shed of a house” a fantasy which is losing its healing effects. The “hot shed” represents a place of warmth and life, but also presents a somewhat ramshackle image, as though the price for which he is squandering his humanity is hardly sufficient. In the daydreams when he thinks about his children, “sometimes, no matter how hard he tries, his children are not there.”

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