Why has shame recently displaced guilt as a dominant emotional reference in the West? After the Holocaust, survivors often reported feeling guilty for living when so many others had died, and in the 1960s psychoanalysts and psychiatrists in the United States helped make survivor guilt a defining feature of the "survivor syndrome." Yet the idea of survivor guilt has always caused trouble, largely because it appears to imply that, by unconsciously identifying with the perpetrator, victims psychically collude with power. In From Guilt to Shame, Ruth Leys has written the first genealogical-critical study of the vicissitudes of the concept of survivor guilt and the momentous but largely unrecognized significance of guilt's replacement by shame. Ultimately, Leys challenges the theoretical and empirical validity of the shame theory proposed by figures such as Silvan Tomkins, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and Giorgio Agamben, demonstrating that while the notion of survivor guilt has depended on an intentionalist framework, shame theorists share a problematic commitment to interpreting the emotions, including shame, in antiintentionalist and materialist terms.
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Princeton University Press
June 17, 2007
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Excerpt from From Guilt to Shame by Ruth Leys
From Guilt to Shame
WHAT is the logic of torture? In an article on prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Mark Danner has shown that the methods used to soften up and interrogate detainees by American military personnel can be traced back to techniques developed by the CIA in the 1960s. The best known manual of such procedures, the CIA's Counterintelligence Interrogation of Resistance Sources, produced in 1963 at the height of the Cold War, states that the purpose of all coercive techniques of interrogation is "to induce regression." The result of external pressures of sufficient intensity is the loss of those defenses "most recently acquired by civilized man . . . Relatively small degrees of homeostatic derangement, fatigue, pain, sleep loss, or anxiety may impair these functions."1 The programmatic manipulation and control of the environment, including the use of blindfolds or hooding, sleep and food deprivation, exposure to intense heat and cold, sensory deprivation, and similar methods, are meant to disorient the prisoner and break down resistance. "Once this disruption is achieved," a later version of the manual observes, the subject's resistance is "seriously impaired." He experiences a "kind of psychological shock" as a result of which he is far more open to suggestion and far likelier to comply with what is asked of him than before. Frequently the subject will experience a "feeling of guilt." If the interrogator can intensify those guilt feelings, it will "increase the subject's anxiety and his urge to cooperate as a means of escape."2 Viewed in this light, Danner remarks, the garish scenes of humiliation documented in the photographs and depositions from Abu Ghraib "begin to be comprehensible; they are in fact staged operas of fabricated shame, intended to 'intensify' the prisoner's 'guilt feelings, increase his anxiety, and his urge to cooperate'" ("LT," 72).
The terms of Danner's analysis imply that there has existed a single logic of torture extending uninterruptedly from the 1960s to the occupation of Iraq, according to which there is no important distinction to be drawn between the emotions of guilt and shame. Yet if we focus on the details of the manuals, reports, and protocols to which he has so usefully drawn our attention, differences become apparent. The CIA's approach to interrogation in 1963 was largely based on a watered-down Freudianism that emphasized the psychic relationship between prisoner and interrogator, especially the tendency of the latter to assume the role of a parental figure with whom the prisoner might unconsciously identify in an ambivalent and guilty manner. The 1963 manual says that its procedures aim not only to "exploit the resistant source's internal conflicts and induce him to wrestle with himself" but also to bring a superior outside force to bear upon his resistance. In other words, by virtue of his role as the sole supplier of satisfaction and punishment the interrogator seeks to assume the stature and importance of a paternal figure in the prisoner's feelings and thoughts. Although there may be "intense hatred" for the interrogator, it is not unusual for the subject also to develop "warm feelings" toward him. Such ambivalence is the basis for the suspect's guilt reactions, and if the interrogator nourishes those feelings of guilt, they may prove strong enough to influence the prisoner's behavior. "Guilt makes compliance more likely."3 The ultimate goal of the physical abuse and other manipulative techniques described in the manual is thus the production of a docile, compliant, and guilt-wracked prisoner so regressively bonded with his interrogator as to be willing to confess. We might define this 1963 logic of torture as an identificatory logic of guilt. According to the manual, hypnosis, suggestion, and narcosis may serve the same purpose, since they too are capable of inducing a regressive identification with the interrogator. Even the efficacity of pain is understood to depend on the prisoner's guilty attitudes. One telling detail in the manual is the advice that if audio and video recording devices are to be used, the subject should not be conscious that he is being recorded--as if the psychological dynamic between prisoner and interrogator conducive to successful interrogation can only develop when the captive is unaware of being seen or overheard by someone other than the interrogator.
Contrast this with the implicit logic of torture at Abu Ghraib forty years later. All the methods that have been described in the current scandal are designed to publicly humiliate and shame the prisoner. An American military pamphlet instructing troops on Iraqi sensitivities warns against shaming or humiliating a man in public, since shaming will cause him and his family to be anti-Coalition.