Sunday, June 26, 2005

Gitmo Sutras [Title edited to correct egregious typo]

Mike Leung has been composing a full Gitmo Sutra at an astonishing rate on a comment thread at Making Light. He has compiled a draft version of the first 50-odd verses on his own site, ChickenSoup4TheDamned.

Some of the verses are extraordinary; some come up a little short of what they promise. Here's one of my favorites, which illustrates both the strengths and the weaknesses of this series:

A prisoner who is detained
is the foundation of dominance.

A detainee is kept in a room;
that is how we know we are free.

His accusers owe him no explanation
and their biases are not subject to scrutiny.
The trick of this conceit--i.e. writing the interrogator's meditations--is to flatten out the charge of such language. The verses will be read ironically, of course, but the shock of understanding will be more profound if the words are plain (except when obfuscatory jargon is part of the torturers' zen), the syntax direct, and the voice not clearly partisan as such.

That's why I think that the last line of the above verse doesn't quite work. "Subject to scrutiny" is a phrase that reflects the current political debate about torture; the interrogators themselves would I think be more distant from the language of us citizens.

Some of the other posters on Making Light have created Gitmo Sutras of dark luminescence, like Avram's initial offering:

The Gulag that can be told
is not the true Gulag.
The Nazi that can be named
is not the true Nazi.

Free from the Gitmo, you see only the manifestations.
Caught in the Gitmo, you realize the mystery.

Yet Gulag and Gitmo arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness,
The gateway to all understanding.

Or there's Jonathan Vos Post's wonderful rewriting of verse 59:

In torturing others and spinning others,
There is nothing like using restraints.
Restraints begin with giving up one's own ideas.
That depends on Intelligence gathered in the past.
If there is a good database of Intelligence, then nothing is impossible.
If nothing is impossible, there are no limits.
If a man knows no limits, then he is fit to be a ruler, or at least Secretary of Defense.
If he codify the lack of limits, then he is fit to be Attorney General.
The mother principle of ruling holds for a long time.
This is called having deep roots, family values, and a firm foundation,
The Tao of long life and eternal re-election.
Here the partisan tag--well, particularly the last word--comes off more as a Baudelairean smack to the face rather than as a break in the voice.

Despite my quibbles with some wording, Mike's Gitmo Sutra is shaping into something very powerful. It's even developing a plot line! With a suprise ending! The most satisfactory end for the interrogator character, as well as for Gitmo itself, would have them blown into very small pieces, but we'll take what we can get.


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