Marvellous Dispossession:
: Abu Ghraib and Shakespeare's The Tempest

  • Sally Manikian

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Economic and Social Studies


Why was 'Abu Ghraib' a scandal? Approaching that question involves not only asking what was contained within those images, but also examining the visual field those images disturbed, a question of context, of the discursive parameters of the United States's war on terrorism. The discourse of the war on terrorism constitutes the United States as 'civilized', an identity that is constantly in a process of becoming as it locates and differentiates danger in the 'barbarian' terrorist. The recourse to the wild barbarian as a mythic category of interpretation has a long history, present most recently in colonialism and the Cold War. It is an unsettling of the certainty and bright lines offered by an essentialized category that is achieved by 'Abu Ghraib'. To understand this process of de-essentialization, I turn to the presence of wildness in Montaigne's essay 'On the Cannibals' and Shakespeare's play The Tempest. Through these two works, the presence of wildness becomes a tool for rendering mythical certainty into total uncertainty, through juxtaposing forms of violence but also in the struggle for meaning in maintaining discursive wholeness. These works display a form of self-criticism that utilize the wildness that both confirms the self but is also involved in a schematic of global political-economic dominance. In the war on terrorism, attempts to maintain discursive consistency rely upon the insistence of 'certainty' in evidence, fact, and recourse to the mythic wild man. However, these practices reach critical mass in the extralegal position of the enemy combatant detainee, and the limiting 'visual field' of mediascape and information technology indicates the manner in which the individual 'I' can be unsettled. The images of Abu Ghraib disturbed a visual field that had rigorously excluded the wild man, a rigorous exclusion that also enabled the marvelous dispossession whereby we become strange to ourselves
Date of Award2006
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Aberystwyth University
SupervisorAyla Gol (Supervisor)

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