The Art of Violence in America
In the wake of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, American leaders from different fields, politics, journalism, law, psychiatry struggled to understand what happened in the notorious prison, and why. In this astonishingly elegant and passionate series of essays, David Griffth contends that our society’s shift from language to image has changed the way we think about violence and cruelty, and that this best explains what happened during the winter of 2003 and spring of 2004 at Abu Ghraib prison.
In effect, Griffith argues, our much-touted visual “savvy” has lead to a true science fictional moment: a disconnect between the image and the consequences of the actions depicted—-a problem Anthony Burgess meditates on via Alex’s experimental “rehabilitation” in A Clockwork Orange.
In the spirit of Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, Griffith meditates on images and literature, from the Abu Ghraib photos themselves, to Andy Warhol and even Star Trek; but Griffith in particular suggest that Flannery O’Connor—whose writings explored the gulfs between faith claimed and lived and the meaning of human evil—might offer the most potent insights into the failures at the prison facility.
Unlike Sontag, however, the narrative focuses inward, on the story of Griffith’s own visual education, in order to expose the roots of a new violence, the violence of disbelief. Ultimately therefore, this book is more in the tradition of Joan Didion’s Salvador and Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” —a dramatic, experiential first-person story from inside the mess and noise of the culture, inflected by a radical Catholic philosophy. The essays will be accompanied by illustrated facts about torture. Along the bottom of each page, the reader will find a continuous timeline of the development of torture practices and pertinent historical events. Throughout, the book includes lists of torture methods and their long-term effects, as well as graphics such as the schematics of the “pain pathways” in the human body. The images and essays will work together to give the human being back the complexity denied it through images.
David Griffith has an MFA in creative writing from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in English from the University of Notre Dame. He is the chair of creative writing at the Pennsylvania Governor’s School for the Arts, a frequent contributor to Godspy, a quarterly magazine about faith and culture, and is affiliated with the Catholic Worker houses in South Bend, Indiana, where he presently lives.