In the lucid Afterword to his most important (and too soon forgotten) book A Miracle, A Universe, Lawrence Weschler develops a conception of history as a battle over who gets to say “I”, that is, who gets to embody and enact their subjectivity. In this conception, torture is cast as essentially a form of teaching, with the core curriculum focused on destroying any semblance of existential autonomy; crushing any aspiration or expression that exceeds “abject objecthood”. Going deeper, Weschler writes:
Any moment of rupture inside this enveloping silence becomes a triumph of the subject against the brutal pedagogy of the Torture Room. Consider in this light the extraordinary “tales of disappearance and survival” recounted by Alicia Partnoy in The Little School. In this memoir of her experience as a prisoner during the Argentine Dirty War, Partnoy refuses to grant her torturers primacy within the narrative of her time as a victim of their teaching. Instead, her focus is on her fellow prisoners (their refusal to be stripped down into despondent solitude) and on their persistently expansive sensoria ( their refusal to be defined by or reduced to their pain).
Returning to Weschler in the final page of his last chapter, just prior to the Afterword, he quotes from a poem by Stanislaw Baranczak, “Those Men, So Powerful”:
From our perspective up here in the crow’s nest of Desperado Philosophy, the battle over who gets to say “I” has never been more vivid; and the ones who stand above have never been more afraid.