Text Transcript for Session 5: Data About Data Suppression
Evaluating the censorship practices of governments and other powerful organizations often faces the challenge that the censoring bodies themselves control the production and circulation of documents. This week we examine the documentary practices of censoring powers, by putting an expert on the institutional and administrative history of the Inquisition in dialogue with a specialist in contemporary government redaction, to compare the kinds of evidence interrogations generate, and how we can attempt to access the real activities of those censors who are protected by state backing. WARNING: discussions of torture and interrogation may be upsetting to some viewers.
- Nicholas Davidson (Inquisition trials)
- Joshua Craze (contemporary state document redaction, Guantanamo Bay & other cases)
- Plus series hosts Ada Palmer and Adrian Johns
[Ada Palmer] Welcome all to this session of Censorship and Information Control During Information Revolutions. We’re here this week to talk about the preparation and censorship and destruction and manipulation of documents and records, especially by governments and other authorities. So redaction, trial documents, interrogations, that kind of question and I will ask our guests to introduce themselves starting with you, Nick, if you could introduce yourself quickly and what you work on in one sentence.
[Nicholas Davidson] I’m Nick Davidson from University of Oxford and I work on Italian history in the 16th, 17th century, especially the history of inquisitions and things like that.
[Joshua Craze] I’m Joshua Craze. I work on censorship redaction in the American War on Terror.
[Adrian Jones] I’m Adrian Jones, like Ada, one of the two people who you can’t avoid because I’m here every week. I do history of science and the history of books and publishing and intellectual property systems and the people who don’t like them. That’s it.
[Ada Palmer] And once again, I’m Ada Palmer. I work on the Italian Renaissance and on the French enlightenment and forbidden ideas and how they circulate and navigate in hostile intellectual environments. So my idea of pairing you guys up today Josh and Nick, is that both of you work on trials and interrogations and the materials that are produced by the authority that is undergoing and having such an event occur which is a fascinating form of document production. Very different from what we think of in the production of literature or the production of news or some of the other media that we’ve looked at and I’ve seen in both of your works, very interesting, different and yet parallel engagement with the way power, silence, change and intentional and unintentional transparency affect the material records of what is left for us when we try to look at a trial and interrogation, what happened, why did the people who did this want us to know the material that they have set down? And so I wanted to bring the two of you into dialogue to look at what’s the same over time and what’s different over time. And I wonder whether Josh, you could start us off by just plunging in with a couple samples of the kinds of things that you look at, particular things that were very juicy, etc to kick off the discussion.
[Joshua Craze] Sure, so I started off working for the Nation Institute for Investigative Reporting and looking at some of the cases and situations around Guantanamo and read about, I worked about 8,000 pages of redacted documents, thrilling literature and what you’re doing when you’re a generalist looking at them and you’re looking for information and all these black spaces are just annoying, right? You just want to get away from the black spaces. they’re all absences and you want to get to the presence of the facts there are. And I thought there were two problems with this and the work that I do now begins with these problems. One of the problems is that when you think about these documents, they’re being produced by the government in their redacted form in response to requests by journalists or by the American Civil Liberties Union or by Human Rights Watch, under the Freedom of Information Act request. And in theory, there’s a series of legal frameworks that dictate how and why things should be redacted. In reality, these legal frameworks are pretty loose and they include things like national security, which has a massive rebate for them to redact what they want. So one of the things the government, is doing is creating what you could call a narrative vocalization. So for instance, when the government was initially the 2003, 2004 redact, looking at extraordinary interrogation techniques they were using on prisoners like Abu Zubaydah, there are 12 techniques and they redact all of them except one which is waterboarding. And as journalists we can’t talk about all the silences and the absences. All we can talk about is waterboarding. Just suddenly Christopher Hitchens is undergoing waterboarding to decide whether it was painful and Donald Rumsfeld is talking about waterboarding is fine, and it’s not really torture. And as journalists, we’re in several instances complicit. So I began to think, okay, so what are the ways in which redacted documents don’t produce absences, the absence of information? We produce a type of presence, produce a type of form. So what are the ways that they hone a narrative which then the journalists remediate because the public never reads these documents. No one is stupid enough unless they’re me to sit down and read 8,000 pages. Instead, we wait for the New York times report, which is 300 words. And what the New York times report does is merely reproduce the government’s narrative. So here we have two forms of knowledge production sort of work in tandem together to replicate a government narrative. So that’s one of the things I was interested in in these narratives you see just to give some juicy examples. What was the logic behind the torture memos? If you read the redacted report from the office of government oversight, there are two main figures, John New, Laura Berkeley and Jay Baeby. Whenever these lawyers in these reports go into the White House, the text is mysteriously redacted. It’s a bit like a sort of horror film in which when the evil creature goes back into the dark room, we don’t know what happens. And this is part of the creation of suspense. So what this does of course, legally and politically is means that we never actually talk about Cheney’s role. Instead, these scenes are physically redacted in the documents but they’re also redacted in terms of our understanding of the narrative. So that’s one class to go. Another example is of course, but the two figures focused on are Abu Zubaydah and Alnashidi to the early people arrested during the so-called War on Terror. We don’t hear about the extent to the operations. So what the redactions do is produce a certain narrative and a certain kind of spy story. The other reason that I was really dissatisfied with working as a journalist is that I would be reading hundreds and hundreds of pages and all I would get is one fact that I would then use in a story and then not only is there a narrative created by selective presence of information and redacted documents. But I started to think that it’s actually a logic of these redacted documents themselves. Not thinking about redaction as a series of absences is taking things away, but thinking about them as a series of presences. So an example of that being, and this was the moment that sort of began this research, is that I was reading a document about Abu Zubaydah. Abu Zubaydah was a Saudi man captured in Pakistan, one of the high value detainees who subsequently proved to not be a member of Al Qaeda and the document in black means redaction just reads black, black, black. Abu Zubaydah. Black, black, black. Was, black, black, black, waterboarded. And in case you didn’t get it, black, black, black, waterboarded. Now this sentence, of course it’s not a real sentence. It’s a compound sentence, made up of a variety of other sentences in which the government is very explicitly telling you that Abu Zubayda was indeed waterboarded. I took this to friends who are lawyers and I said, can you please tell me how the legal frameworks governing redaction explain this page? And he said, there is no legal framework that can explain why was is all found in a load in the middle of this black block of text. So I started to create the work that I’ve been working on, which is called the grammar of redaction, which looks at the forms that are created by the logic of these redactions themselves. So what happens when you take out all the subjects from work or all the verbs from a document which indeed happens in some of these documents. So you get Abu Zubaydah, black, Abu Zubaydah, black, Abu Zubaydah black, Abu Zubaydah confesses and there’s something going on there, which I was talking to Ada about earlier today, which is that there are forms of public secrecy that circulate through these documents. You don’t know what was done to Abu Zubaydah but the government wants to tell you that something was done and that something is in the black and they have the capacity not just to do that unmentionable thing to Abu Zubaydah but to not tell you about it. And to tell you that they’re not telling you about it. To make clear the possibility of a form of state violence that isn’t going to be explained and analyzed by the newspapers and this is a form of public secrecy. A form of a way of educating you in the power of the state by very seriously not saying that you’re not saying something. So these are the two different areas that I’m focusing on in my work.
[Ada Palmer] Because a lot of what’s fascinating there is the very active choice of releasing that in that form because you don’t have to release in that form. You can release that as a blank white page. You can release that as, sorry, no page in this document is available. You just can’t have this document. So a conscious choice has been made to release this version in order to construct something and the theoretical justification is that there are particular rules about what is supposed to be removed and I remember you including a page where every individual block of black has been circled and connected to a number in the margins and those numbers in the margin are supposed to code for different reasons things can be removed. This was removed to protect the identity of an agent in the field. This was removed because it’s considered to be a national security issue. This was removed because it’s conforming to local law or something, so you have this dalmatian page covered with black spots, each of which has a number going to it. But you could just produce a big black block and every time those choices are made, there’s a human being on the other side doing that and in part, we’d like to think of it as there’s a formula. The person follows that formula. It’s a strict, rational post-enlightenment, the government will follow reason formula. And yet a lot of the time, it’s certainly constructing that something that’s a lot more humanities than it is following a strict recipe. People are creating art with it even in our own history of censorship exhibit and we have this desk, the censors desk which invites you to sit down and cross text out of documents out of sample documents that we have there. One of them is a renaissance document where in this collection of theological theses of the scholar, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandala, a bunch of them have been condemned and you have the instruction to cross out numbers eight, nine, 10, 12, 24, etc. Another one is one of Joshua’s documents. And the people who have sat down at this desk to cross things out, keep making art. Keep instead of blocking out the sentence, blocking out part of the sentence to make the sentence say something different. Trying to create meaning, trying to transform meaning as if it’s an overriding human impulse when destroying texts to also do something creative in the process of it, which is something that you get at.
[Joshua Craze] I think then you develop you start to be interested in styles of redaction and after a while of reading these documents, I would kid myself, but I know this redacted. I know that style and in the page that you were just referring to where every single redacted name or redacted element is reference to the law. One of the things I think is important there is that they want you to believe that they are law. This is an absolute enlightenment framework it’s just like search, find and replace according to the law. And so we’re going to give you the reasons that each of these things were redacted but this style was only in Afghanistan, not in Iraq. There’s no reason you need to give these citations within the document, but there they are because and so that page is from an interrogation report of an Afghan detainee, which was like as—that page has later been unredacted. And what happened was that the guy it pins, the alleged member of the Taliban had a drill to his head and the drill was one of the things justified as a redaction for instance, under national security. So like underneath the text, you have this according to at least most legal interpretations of what’s torture, deeply illegal set of actions but that attained by the redactions. Via the redaction in the sense you get is okay, these are dutiful, they all makes sense. You’re sort of creating a map of control over this data if you’re doing it.
[Ada Palmer] And national security is so vague as well that you can put all sorts of things under that umbrella.
[Adrian Johns] That actually gets to something I was going to ask you which is that, since you’ve experienced probably documents I would imagine not only from different units within the US military government complex, but maybe from places like the UK. Is there a geography to it? So if people are redacting things in GCHQ, is there a style which is different from the redaction that happens in say, I’m not sure where physically it’s done actually in America.
[Joshua Craze] There’s also different legal frameworks
[Adrian Johns] What I’m getting at as is not quite the legal framework. It’s something more like your style. Were there, as it were, kinds of truth that you can impute to documents and say, a heavily redacted thing that comes out of Afghanistan. You might be imputing different kinds of truths to documents that might come out of MI6 or wherever it might be in the UK or the French counterpart or the Germans or something like that.
[Joshua Craze] I mean you definitely get different styles. The American documents are such an extreme case because in part the stakes are so big and they’re so enthusiastic about redacting documents whereas the British are less enthusiastic and one of the problems we face anyway, especially since Obama came to power is something called a Glomar response, which is when you make a Freedom of Information Act request, do you know what this is? It’s amazing. There was a famous Feedom of Information Act request about a US ship maybe that existed off the coast of Russia maybe which may or may not have been called a Glomar. And their response to a FOIA about the ship was the US government saying to even reply to this Freedom of Information Act request would reveal something about the existence or nonexistence of the ship and this became known as the Glomar response we just say we can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the records, nor the potential existence of the thing being asked about. And this becomes the easiest possible response. Just to go back to Ada’s point, it’s just given the prevalence of Glomars, I’ve got more Glomars than anything else in response to hundreds of foyers. Why are they even sending out anything?
[Ada Palmer] They could just do that every single time. Nothing requires them to put anything out except conscience or the desire to construct narrative or senses of duty. Now the question becomes, why put out anything when it’s very easy to put out nothing.
[Joshua Craze] I mean the one GCHQ example I can give, because I worked a lot less with British documents, but it was an interesting example was a document somewhat related to one of the guys who worked in the War on Terror for the British and they didn’t redact his name and they should’ve redacted his name.
[Adrian Johns] That sounds very British.
[Joshua Craze] No, no, but they were not fools. They deliberately, we can say his name Richard Rans who was a British marine who tortured a lot of people. They didn’t redact his name because they wanted him to go down.
[Adrian Johns] Oh, that is interesting.
[Joshua Craze] You work for the state, but the state is not a unitary entity. The state has a variety of feuding parties and so one of the things, if you go to the exhibit, you’ll see this document which has been redacted twice in a 10-year difference between the two redactions and what’s at stake in the censorship is different in both cases. As the American government’s concern about what’s worrying in Iraq, there are really weapons of mass destruction changes. The most interesting documents are documents that I’ve requested from different agencies of the US government and of course if one assumes like a perfectly bureaucratic barbarian state, then they know that I requested them from another part of the government. No, no one has a clue. They have the same document and they’ve made entirely different redactions. So you’ll see in one there’s a whole series of practices that the other one entirely denies and that’s about the different aspects of the US government worried about their own internal policies and also sometimes quite happily, shitting, pardon my French, on other parts of the government in order to claim the resources. Like each of the US intelligence agencies is also at war with each other. There has not been the grand reunion that they claimed after 9/11 of DHS and CIA and FBI, etc.
[Ada Palmer] I’m reminded there of two things. One, of our discussions of the University of Chicago’s own activities during the 1950s where on the one hand it’s protecting its communist faculty and at the same time it’s censoring its communist students because different branches of even so unwieldy a thing as the University of Chicago can’t consistently apply one metric, let alone something as unwieldy as the US government agencies. But I’m even more acutely reminded of the Inquisition and its desperate attempts to advance its claim of centralized universal pursuit of one truth and homogeneity of belief for Christendom and the absolute impossibility of this. Not only now, but especially with premodern transportation and tech. So under Nick, if you’d like to jump in with some Inquisition parallels and some discussions of the inconsistencies and plural nature of the Inquisition.
[Nicholas Davidson] Stolen my thunder. Yes, I should say that I began my research interested not so much in the authorities, censorship, inquisitors, torturers, and things like that. But the victims of censorship, torture, inquisition and so on. But after a while, I’m not sure what this tells you about me. It didn’t take very long. I found my interest increasingly drawn towards the persecutors. What they were doing, why they were doing it and how they were doing it and how they would justify it. And it’s been really interesting for me over the past few months since you’ve been in this great project to read a lot more than I otherwise would ever have done about the sort of thing that Josh was talking about. Contemporary censorship, contemporary persecution, contemporary prison camps, concentration camps and so on. And there are both a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. And you might think we’re dealing with a completely different world when you go back to the 15th, 16th, 17th even into the 18th century, which is where I focus. Obviously the religious, intellectual, political, legal framework is completely different as Ada has already indicated. You’re not dealing with just one government, but many governments even in Italy. There, what was it? 46 tribunals of the Inquisition in Italy by the mid 17th century. You’ve got all the Spanish tribunals, the Portuguese tribunals, a few surviving tribunals in France and in Germany all run by very different governments. As far as a Catholic, I suppose distantly run by the pope, but he is very distant and popes themselves, keep changing their minds. And of course you’re also dealing with a much longer period of say three, five years, not just a very narrow period that you’ve been looking at very recently. So there are all those differences. I suppose another very enormous difference is the volume of the evidence. It’s interesting and Ada was suggesting before, one of the things is trying to find out why the government doesn’t want you to know about these things. Well, I suppose the Catholic Church always assumed nobody else would ever look at their documents. Just for Italy alone in my period, you’ve probably got something like 75,000 trials surviving, some of which can be a thousand pages long. Many of the trials, hundreds of pages long, shelves and shelves and shelves full of documents which you can read, every single word. The Catholic Church assumed nobody would ever see the documents outside its own secret circle. If you work for the Inquisition, you had to swear an oath of secrecy. If you let anything out, you will be pulled in and tortured and dealt with and it’s astonishing. They kept these things and it didn’t leak out terribly well at all, except of course the stories by people who’ve been tried and released and maybe wrote about it. But it remained very, very secretive until really, I suppose, Napoleon, who destroyed quite a lot of the archives and moved them around, made them available. Some were sold and so on. There’s a whole series of Dublin fantastic trials in Dublin which was sold by the church because they couldn’t afford to take them back to Rome. And so gradually they started to come out, and they’ve never been redacted. And so in one sense you might say, we’re here dealing with very much to us anyway, more open process. And so you can get at some of the questions perhaps more easily than you can in your case. And there are certainly lots of nice juicy stories, but just thinking, picking up one or two of the things you’ve said already, one is certainly about the style of inquisitors and that resonated very much with me when I was reading your work. Of course the difference is, you know who the inquisitors are. You can often trace their careers. They may start off as Dominicans, they might become university professors, they then might go and work in the Vatican for a time then they get a small inquisition and they get a big inquisition, then they go off and become a bishop. You’ve really got a very remarkable career path and you can start see certain tactics that they use as they move around from one inquisition to the other. Various tricks they might use. Some of them are very good, for example. It’s saying they know things to suspects which they don’t in order to scare the suspects into confessing what the inquisand doesn’t actually know, and you can trace that sort of behavior. Others play all sorts of other tricks. Bringing in witnesses to have a great fight in front of the suspect to really scare the suspect. There’s some quite interesting inquisitives who have long periods of silence in the interrogation, where you can really ratchet up the psychological and emotional tension. So there are styles I think and styles of torturer too. We don’t often know the names of the torturers. They are still secret. But one thing is they do all sorts of tactics you can see to make the torture more effective. So there are things like that they’re very similar. But then I suppose it was really on the plane as I was coming over, I was beginning think, how do I deal with this problem of non-redaction? Are there any absences in these hundreds of thousands of pages of trial document and actually there are. Which in a way do relate back to what you were saying, I think. It’s very hard very often from these thousands of pages to be sure exactly why an inquisitor makes a decision to release or not release punished lightly, punished severely a suspect. It’s very hard to work out why sometimes they prolong trials for years at a time and in other occasions they just say that’s it, go and it’s not always obvious why they do that because there’s very little explanation in the documents which explain why we make the decisions we do. They’re bound by the law. There are precedents. In the end, they’d have to explain themselves to Rome, but that doesn’t happen very often. They’re really acting on their own and it’s very hard to work out why. So questions of motivation are very hard, I think, to work out. In a way exactly as you find the motivation for redactions of one kind rather than another. And if you knew more, maybe you’d have similar sorts of questions that I do. Why torture this way? Why interrogate that way? Other similarities which struck me on the plane included the whole emotional and psychological impact of all this on the people being interrogated or indeed just witnesses coming in. Occasionally you get little, the notaries supposed to write down everything that happens. And so sometimes you say the road, you see the rotary writing and the final sentence of the suspect says and then it goes into Latin from the Italian and then, the suspect stuttered and blushed and seemed very confused, and started to say something which I didn’t catch and then she started saying something else. And so you do get there a sense of the psychological impact of this, but that’s in a way I loved your phrase nonfiction. I don’t know what the opposite of that is. Maybe non nonfiction, but in a way, as you were saying, partly when you’re reading these trials, you are just digging out information but also having to use your non nonfiction sense to work out what is going on in terms of motivation, impact the psychological games, the dynamics that are being played here. So there was still lots of gaps even though you’ve got these vast records. So I think there are more similarities maybe than I originally thought there would be, thanks to your outputs made me think in a different way about it.
[Joshua Craze] How did they develop their styles of torture or the inquitorial styles? Were there handbooks? Did you do a training course like a core curriculum?
[Nicholas Davidson] There is a career path, yes and there are handbooks on how to be an inquisitor so some which we published, some of which remained in manuscript that are now in the archives. You can get them and they have sort of, it’s really nice. They have sort of made up trial situations, which is I suppose the equivalent of role-play. What would you do if you were in this position? How would you react? And you are also taken up the scale. You would start perhaps just helping us an inquisitor in the village outside the main town then you moved into the main town and you’d observe rather like teaching observation when you start in an academic job. You have to go watch people lecturing, watch people teaching and see how they mark submitted work and so on. And so you watch people at it and you’ll be in the torture chamber and just see how people reacted. And so you go up the scale, eventually you end up as an inquisitor maybe, or maybe a pope. A lot of inquisitors become popes.
[Adrian Johns] This is a bit of a different thing but there’s a few decades ago people spotted that in England Francis Bacon, the inventor of method, earlier on in his career when he was solicitor general, I think it is, was in charge of drawing up what were called schedules of interrogatories which were the questions that are put to priests, captured priests, Jesuits, when they’re being tortured. And there’s a protocol to it. You come up with these schedules of interrogatories. you put them to—you ask your captured priest and then you subject the priest to instruments and see what answers you get and you compare the answers from day to day and then you refine your schedules of interrogatories. And the reason why people got interested in this is the phrase schedule of interrogatories then reappears 15, 20 years later in Francis Bacon’s accounts of how to do experiments in the sciences. So the idea is if you want to find out some fact about nature, you draw up a schedule of interrogatories. You then subject nature to instruments and you go back and you refine your schedule of interrogatories about that which it looks like what’s going on there is something like practical epistemology. It’s a knowledge science.
[Joshua Craze] You absolutely find this in the American accounts of how they came up with interrogation. So one of the first things that the CIA remarks upon is it is very difficult to know another mind where it’s the basic philosophical problems of skepticism. How do we know what’s in there? How we know how to trust it? And so they come up and they spent a long time perfecting these epistemologies around an idealized subject of how can it be that they will reveal the truth of what they know? So they come up with techniques of, well, how long do we need to subject someone to standing up? Or what would it be to do an interrogation that didn’t rise to the level of torture, and torture is pain akin to organ failure. So how do we have, for instance, various forms of pain, the right type of bouncy walls that we can smash people’s head off, but it doesn’t cause physical, actual physical pain such that they would confess if they were a reasonable person? And because they can’t test these things out, they have to construct these idealized models. And then when you read Abu Zubaydahs’s interrogation reports, he is the idealized subject going into these tests designed in large part by psychologists. And it’s interesting that you said that this begins with forms of observation and training because all of these techniques emerge from, in America, the SEP program, and the SEP program is a series of tests that marines get, like Navy SEALS, to resist torture. And the American torture program is an inversion of a program to allow them to resist torture that they then apply elsewhere. But then the problem and why the epistemology of course absolutely falls down, is that they get someone like Abu Zubaydah and they’ve been told that Abu Zubayda is a member, high ranking member of Al-Qaeda. In fact, he’s an owner of a hostel with brain damage and they subject him to these tests and he of course confesses. He confesses everything, more than everything. He confesses things that they can’t even believe, and torture becomes this deeply unsteady epistemology for getting what’s in there, because he just wants to give them what they assume is already in his head. So he is sort of created as a subject by the process of torture. So the truth vanishes from a procedure designed explicitly to produce the truth.
[Nicholas Davidson] They might learn something because they read these manuals from the inquisitors.
[Joshua Craze] There’s more to that.
[Nicholas Davidson] I think in some ways, I suppose this is a continuing process, isn’t it? It’s interesting you say, first of all, you torture the seals and then that tells you how you can torture other people and how to avoid problems, but presumably before then, someone worked out how to train Navy SEALS and so way back maybe even to agents in my period. There were certainly schedules of interrogation techniques in my period. Possibly a little bit more sophisticated than the ones Adrian is indicating. The normal process was, first of all, start talking about torture and then you might have maybe show the suspect the torture chamber and then take him or her out of it again. Then you might have a question session actually inside the torture chamber, maybe even put the suspect against the instrument of torture. Then you might just tie the person to the torture instruments and then take them away again. So as a very careful again ratcheting up the stress because they were very conscious that once they started to apply the pain, people will say anything to stop the pain and mostly that was false. So in a way you didn’t really want to torture them unless you felt in some way they were so committed to what they believed that it was only the real application of pain which would make them confess. And there are awesome, I have to say, very, very moving and touching, rather disturbing scenes, of people who just will not confess despite the most awful things being done to them and they praying to God and praying to the Virgin, whatever it happens to be, “give me strength,” and they are not confessing what we know they do. In the end, torture would fail because either it would give you the wrong information or give you information that will give you no information. It was very unlikely to give you the truth if you actually got to that point. The thing to do, is to lead them up to it slowly and then they might crack early.
[Joshua Craze] You have another career working for CIA.
[Ada Palmer] Also, they’re very conscious of the failures of this already because one of the interesting narratives in histories of judicial torture is when we look back to, for example, Beccaria, who’s often pointed to as the, this transformative moment, this is an 18th century text against judicial torture also against the death penalty. It’s an enlightenment work popularized by Voltaire. In many ways, the first time advances the idea of deterrence-based justice, that the purpose of punishment should be to serve as a deterrent for the crime and that therefore there should be a proportion of crimes to punishments designed to have the minimum possible punishment that will be effective in deterring the crime. And Beccaria makes arguments such as if death isn’t a sufficient deterrent, a painful death won’t be either because death is already sufficiently absolute a threat that the other won’t be. And so this is a very formative work that gets discussed a lot in the formation of modern government systems, which think about deterrence-based justice, but he makes these arguments about torture doesn’t actually work because people just tell you what they know you want to hear. And many people talk about it as if Beccaria in the 18th century is observing this for the first time was the first person to advance this argument whereas you’re seeing it certainly in the knowledge of the inquisitors themselves and certainly there are other elements such as the trials of Savonarola and his treatise, which he wrote after his arms had been ripped mostly out of their sockets during the interrogation, after which he writes a book about how torture isn’t a good interrogation technique because it makes you confess to anything. So that it’s interesting to see us removing those awarenesses of torture’s inefficacy from our narrative of the history of torture that we are comfortable with a narrative that says in the 18th century when they campaigned against torture, that’s also the moment in which they realized torture doesn’t work as an interrogation technique because it’s hard to construct a narrative which makes us understand why would people keep using torture as an interrogation technique from 1400 to 1750 if they already knew that it wasn’t efficacious as a technique? And indeed the question of why are we using it now when we have hundreds of years of literature about its inefficacy as an interrogation technique.
[Nicholas Davidson] Which I suppose is one reason why I was talking about the lack of information about motivation. Because we’re sort of taking as a given that these people have a good reason for wanting to get this information out of someone else, which indeed many of them, I’m sure, do. They really do want to protect the church; they want to stop these dangerous ideas circulating. That’s why they want to take these people out of circulation, that’s why they want to take their books out of circulation, the whole process is a process of censorship and control. But it must cross your mind occasionally that the motivations are other than that and you might want to apply torture not because you think it’s going to work, because you actually like torturing in some way. Or because you might feel that is the only way to defeat the devil who is otherwise controlling this person who is so dangerous. You can see all sorts of alternative motives.
[Ada Palmer] I think you sometimes also see particularly in executions when the executions are very showy, that this showy execution is happening to make a political message because of the political micro climate of the city at this point that there is an instability such that a show of force is valuable to the state at this point and so it’s not about the person who’s the subject of the pain. It’s actually about the audience of that act. But that is a very public form of this as opposed to the very private trials which are happening in a space where nobody sees it except for the people who are participants in it.
[Nicholas Davidson] People know what’s going on.
[Ada Palmer] Yeah.
[Nicholas Davidson] Hidden torture is perhaps more effective than public torture.
[Ada Palmer] Because everyone’s conscious that it’s happening.
[Joshua Craze] It seems dangerous to look for one motivation behind the practice. You know, like Nietzsche’s great account of how punishment emerged, but we don’t even know the number of motivations and justifications used for what a punishment. If you read We Are Not Like This before, or The Consequences, or a number of memoirs by people who tortured people in Guantanamo or in Abu Ghraib, and often people aren’t clear what they’re doing. I’m not clear most mornings what I’m doing, and that persists long into the afternoon. There’s a number of different reasons and motivations. Some of the canonical accounts of torture are it’s about the reconstitution of the subjectivity of the other person. It’s not about getting information, it’s about eliminating them in a certain form and remaking them and as you say, that information becomes publicized. If you’re doing that in Baghdad and Afghanistan, then that knowledge of course gets out and it becomes a reconstitution of a person. Of course then it’s also revenge and one of the interesting logics of reading these redacted documents is on the one hand, there are such statements of excessive illegal power, revenge, anxiety about who the enemy is. These long, really interesting redacted correspondence about what type of warfare is adequate to Al-Qaeda, where the response is “they are demons and monsters, so we must, in order to be adequate to them, we must be demons and monsters ourselves.” And then someone else going, “no, no, no, no, no, no, no, we are the lawful America, we’ve signed up for a variety of treaties, not all of which Trump has pulled us out of, we can’t do any of these things,” and these debates go on. And then there’s another coding of the Enlightenment and control, which is the redactions. That can’t be said, that can’t be said, let’s redact those things. Or the classic defense that you get somewhere like Abu Ghraib which is reinstated through censorship, which is these are a few bad apples. We know their motivation, their motivation was about they’re mean, they’re young, they’re stupid, they’re evil. We can put them in prison. But actually to look at motivations is deeply confusing here. What one has has to look at is the absence of legal frameworks of accountability, the possibility of what interrogation was as a practice that took seat in the American military at a given moment, and intention doesn’t really get you at any of that.
[Adrian Johns] I think, is this might not go anywhere, but I think maybe it’s just mistaken but I have the sense that at least on the public face of it, post 9/11 one kind of argument that was made for torture in this country and the UK that I think probably wasn’t made in the 16th, 17th century was the time argument. The standard line is what do you do if you’ve got 12 hours to defuse a bomb and you have your person in front of you and the idea is that torture may tell you all kinds of fake things, but it’s going to get you somewhere fast whereas otherwise if you do the negotiation thing, you might get better knowledge in the end, but it will take you a week to get it or two weeks or something like that. That was a line that was widely distributed around. I think you saw this. This becomes like, was your work or something I was reading said that it takes on a deracinated character almost like —
[Joshua Craze] Undergraduate class.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah. I think that’s different. I don’t remember ever seeing anything like that in the earlier period.
[Nicholas Davidson] No, I suppose the sorts of things which I’m looking at that the time element is not so important. There isn’t actually a bomb probably.
[Adrian Johns] Some of these Inquisition trials, like you said, go on for years and years and there’s nothing, nobody’s agitating for Bruno to be let out of the dungeon.
[Joshua Craze] But there’s also the privacy question that’s fundamental. As you said, the records are kept secret whereas what’s the advantage of talking about ticking time bombs scenario and making sure everyone’s watching 24, is that we can then have an undergraduate seminar about, “well, if the person had information about the end of the world, could we waterboard them in order to get the information,” which if you actually read the story of Abu Zubaydah or Al-Nishri is insane. Like it doesn’t correspond to any world on the ground. It’s an idealized situation that precisely allows it to be deracine, abstracted, such that we can say one of my favorite things that liberals say, which is “Let me just think about it. We like thinking. We allow anyone to think. Get Steve Bannon in here and let’s just think for a moment. Could is this as a situation under which one could think about torture,” and the reason that one has that is because these documents are also a form of publicity. Whereas documents you’re talking about are not intended to create a whole public mood in the way that redacted documents are.
[Ada Palmer] Except in as much as the awareness of their existence sometimes is, because you’ll have everyone knows that looming building is the archive and it contains things that I’m thinking of, the secret archive in Venice which is enormous with the coat of arms all over it and everyone can recognize its very showy coat of arms which is in gold on stuff and everyone knows that there’s a secret archive and they’re watching you and they’re watching everything and it makes you, the potentially perceived subject, feel anxious. What does Venice know? What is all of the secret intelligence in there. And we go in that archive all the time and it’s full of tenure documents from professors at the university of Padua. Really, really, really tedious material. But the fact that it exists and is forbidden is itself publicized.
[Nicholas Davidson] There’s another aspect too here, which I’m–the maths is too complicated for me to do but I did once try to work out what proportion of the population of a city like Venice might have interacted directly with the Inquisition at some point in their life as a witness, as a suspect, maybe as an employee and the math became terribly complicated because the moving demographics and so on. So I sort of gave up. But the other thing to remember of course is that there are lots of people there who are not being tortured. Quite a few being interrogated but not tortured. Quite a few being interrogated and released. The death rate within the Italian Inquisition tribunals is actually very low, much smaller even than the Spanish Inquisition, which is also very low.
[Ada Palmer] I remember you talking about the example of case with the bread. There was a woman who was indicted for witchcraft because her bread was weird and the Inquisition looked into it and determined that she was Hungarian and her bread recipe was different and let her go.
[Nicholas Davidson] There are lots of people out there walking the streets, living in the houses, going to church, saying, oh yeah, I know about the Inquisition. You don’t want to get in there. They’re a bit scary. There’s some archbishops they’ve got to torture around the back. So the reputation gets out among the population without actually having to do the damage in the first place.
[Adrian Johns] In the presentations, the existence of the inquisition in the Catholic nations is pretty much the big thing that demarcates they’re wrong and we’re right. But the thing about that is that, they had all the whole business about showing them the instruments and that maybe not quite as fine grained as the Inquisition. Torture in the English system happened, but it’s extremely rare. Maybe like, I don’t know the numbers, it’s like a dozen cases in the 17th century. There wouldn’t be like hundreds of thousands of pages of documents about it and all that kind of thing, but the existence of the Inquisition is like one of those big global facts that from the Reformation onwards is pointed to by English people as showing that we’re on the right path and that’s the other path they have the Inquisition on. It’s like that and the other big example is the absolutism and arbitrary government of the Turkish, of the Ottoman empire. It’s those two big things, the Inquisition and Turkishness. It’s as though you can define what it is to be a good rational forward looking Protestant by triangulation from those two. Even though they know little, I think about what actually goes on in Inquisitorial processes.
[Nicholas Davidson] And of course that is in a way leaving the English exception aside. Leaving that aside, of course one of the big differences perhaps between 21st century and the 16th, 17th century is that torture was not seen as in itself a bad thing. Not the arguments about its effectiveness, but states did it, churches did it, Protestants did it outside of England anyway. You would expect this as a normal part of the judicial process. Of course in the American case that you’d have to try to explain it away or cover it.
[Ada Palmer] I’m thinking of schools and classrooms are also employing violence every day in the allegorical representation of school as a woman with a bundle of cane to beat you with who represents grammar. So the idea of inflicting pain on another human being on purpose is saturate within this civilization as a normative rather than an aberrant situation of a thing that might occur which leads to a very different attitude. You’ve had me thinking in terms of the question of the production of documents, about a parallel, which will take me a moment to make transparent why it’s parallel. But I was recently talking with Kate Coker, who’s a wonderful printing press historian and she had been working on some documents which we have documents detailing all sorts of details about the premodern printing process and making type and making ink and building the press and putting it together and all of the steps and not cleaning it. That there would be very, very, very detailed notes on everything else and then you clean the ink off. And she was trying to figure out why the cleaning process wasn’t being documented in these very intensively laborious things that spelled out every one of the 52 steps of ink making and then don’t bother to tell you about the cleaning process. But the thinking about it, she realized that they’re probably creating it with lye which is being made in the home by the women. And that what we’re looking at is this is the female labor stage in the printing process where women make the cleaning agents that they use to clean anything in the house and the women are cleaning it and that isn’t being documented. Only the male labor is being documented and that produces a particular lopsidedness to your documentation. And as you were saying, we often know the name of the inquisitor, but we don’t know the name of the torturer who is a separate employee, who’s the specialist in this, who is a lower class of labor, a less intellectual labor, a more manual labor or lower status labor in a period where at the same time, for example, in parallel if you look at the wonderful recent work on the history of touch and surgery of Pablo Marette, who looks at how in the earlier periods of the Renaissance, a doctor never touches your body. The doctor stands at the other end of the room with a volume of Galen and the doctor’s assistant who is not named in documents is the one who actually touches the body or in a dissection cuts it open, and that changes over time. But in the production of documents, and in the production of knowledge, we often differentiate between the things that get documented and the people that get documented and the kind of labor that gets documented, which is often the higher status labor and the kinds of material that isn’t documented and the kinds of people who we know rationally are present in this internment camp, in this inquisitor’s office, in this prison, but who, because of the way their labor is valuated in that society or for other reasons, don’t get documented. So I’d love to hear either of you reflect on this question of the sorts of things that get documented. The sorts of people that don’t get documented, the sorts of labor that get documented versus the stuff that we work out rationally must be there. There must be a janitor but isn’t documented and what that does to the presences and absences in something like an interrogation record.
[Joshua Craze] I mean there’s two interesting processes that a student here, Jade, said earlier today, that in the redacted documents in what I was writing about them there’s a process of particularization, a process of abstraction. There are certain figures who are figured, their labor gets to count. So importantly, they are lawyers and psychologists and the people that create the abstract formula of what interrogation is as opposed to those who actually concretely do it and then often the people who go into the extraordinary rendition process. So Al Nasir, Abu Zubaydah, they are named and then they vanish into a black site. So Poland, Thailand, those places themselves vanish, right? Are censored. To this day, Thailand, Poland will not acknowledge that they are CIA sites. The same is also true of Somalia. So the sites vanish and people vanish into those sites. In the sites, the CIA workers who actually do the interrogations are never named. Their labor is absolutely invisible unless they are found guilty and if they’re found guilty of an offense, then you tend to see their name. So there’s a very interesting legal process here by which only given guilt is there visibility. Otherwise, they disappear into those black sites that themselves are black. So you get like all the laborers have gone, all this actors CIA workers are gone and then in all of these camps, if you go to a place like Baghram in Afghanistan there’s a huge staff of cleaners, of people who wash interrogation centers and they are 99% Philippino and there’s a huge force and they all work for the US government, for the US military and they never appear anywhere, and there’s a whole political economy of what interrogation is that vanishes from the documents. What you’re left with in the documents is the abstract formula of what an interrogation should be, ideally, what torture should be ideally, but it’s not torture. It’s extraordinary interrogation, extreme interrogation. And then occasionally you get this narrative focalization on people who are going to be blamed, be they CIA or Al-Nashir, Abu Zubaydah, members of Al-Qaeda and that’s it. So there’s, I mean basically sadly the documents kind of corresponds to a really low budget Hollywood film in which everything is about the one bad lawyer in the government because actually the government’s good, we just need to get rid of the one bad apple then everything will be back. And then the evil terrorist mastermind. And then as you’ve ever seen Hollywood films, they’ll be three sort of faceless guys who left open the door for the hero. So it’s basically exactly that film, except there are of course no heroes.
[Nicholas Davidson] Yes, I suppose in a way what you’re saying is true of all periods and all documentation. I’ve done a little bit of work on the history of my own college and occasionally, we can trace college employees who are not academics. And in fact, quite interestingly, I’ve been able to trace a little bit of family history there for people, find out where the bodies are buried from the 18th century and the 17th century and so on. But there’s nothing really much about those people. We know there were dozens of those people working in the college, male and female. You just have no record of them. The record is all about as you’re saying, the guys at the top, and it always is, until more recently, the guys. There’s also, I think, in the Inquisition of course a focus as you were saying again on the arch heretics, the devil’s men. You’re less interested probably in the others who are not quite so serious and maybe just deceived and muddled and confused and you certainly don’t get any evidence at all about people who clean up in the torture chamber or the interrogation chamber afterwards. You can learn quite a lot about the notaries because you can trace their handwriting and sometimes you get them named, but a lot of them are pretty anonymous too. But without them we wouldn’t have any records at all.
[Adrian Johns] It’s slightly tangential, but I think it’s kind of interesting parallel. So in the history of science, if you go back and look at the history of experimental practices, Steve Shapin, who’s an emeritus now, but was a historian of science at Harvard, did a famous paper in that field called Invisible Technicians and it’s about exactly this issue where you found that going all the way through accounts of scientific work, scientific papers that are published in journals and so forth, going right the way back to the origin of the scientific journal in the mid 17th century. You pretty much never get explicit acknowledgement of the people who actually manipulate the Bunsen burners and do the filtrations. And in the 17th century, it is basically a descent from 17th century social hierarchy like Ada said at the beginning. What you’re seeing here is a 17th century notion that servants are, as they used to put it, included in their masters. So servants’ wills are taken to be just extensions of the wills of the master and the servant’s body is like an extra limb of the master’s body. And you see this in law courts as well where servants, and to some extent wives, are actually taken to be extensions of the will of the male patriarch. And in early experimental papers, it’s inherited by the entire rest of the history of science, they’re not included, even though we know they actually did the physical labor. For that reason because they’re taken as just like instrumental extensions of the Robert Boyle figure or the Newton figure or something like that. But where you do see them and occasionally they are named and they do appear and when that happens, is when they make some terrible mistake. So there’s this rather disquieting set of times when servants, as they’re referred to, appear in the papers of somebody like Robert Boyle in the late 17th century. And it’s because something terrible has happened, like the acid bath exploded in this poor man’s face and you hear at that point that is called like Timothy Burton or something and then you never hear from them again and it’s not clear whether he’s being fired or he’s been terribly injured and has gone off. But it’s the attribution of error to these people rather than to the Robert. So Robert Boyle is responsible for Boyle’s law even though it was actually probably created by Robert Hook, who at one point had been his servant, but he’s not responsible for the terrible things, where experiments get wrong. Those you can give names to the servants.
[Joshua Craze] Which is structurally identical to the faceless CIA agent, except when I do something wrong and then they’re blamed. The particularization of the working class only is allowed to occur when you want to disengage responsibility for what you’ve done.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah and it has, even in the 17th century, I think it has a very clear, sort of projection into what is taken to be knowledge. Where does truth exist and the dividing line between truth and error. Those two things are very clearly connected with each other. The naming of servants for errors, the naming of the master for truth.
[Joshua Craze] I had a question for Ada and Ada as you were organizing this, as we’re going through this, a lot of the type of information we’re talking about seem to veer away from what I would in a sort of simple way I’d understand as censorship, taking words off, ripping up books. So we’re actually talking about flows of information in which there are always silences and omissions and the one that you just pointed to was the omission continually of the laborers from accounts of their own labor, be they CIA workers or scientific workers. So censorship, if actually all documents are sort of striated by these absences and controls, what do we mean when we say that?
[Ada Palmer] That’s the gradient from censorship into inflammation control as well. And the more I think about it, particularly this week, I keep imagining creating an illustration in which we make a bullseye and we try to take book covers or pages from different things that we’re talking about, or movie posters, and arrange them of how far they are from the center of the bullseye of what we instantly say yes, that’s definitely censorship. And so if you produce one of your redacted documents and there’s black marks out of the text, we can put that in the center of the bullseye and no one’s gonna hesitate putting that in the center of the bullseye. But then there are all these different gradients outward that have the same consequence of information being distorted, information being partial, a narrative being constructed based on absences or x thing being inaccessible to y category of people, although not z category of people frequently. So that you have this blur and that there’s no line that you can draw that is as informative as investigating that blur and that gradient out to an inch. So in many ways, this discussion we’re a little closer to the center of the bullseye than in many weeks since we’ve been talking a lot about questions such as last week’s discussion of news and who owns news and the characteristic that news when new benefits from being repeated or at least up until perhaps the online advertising-driven economy has always benefited from being repeated by other news outlets. And that’s an arena very, very far from the center of the bullseye of censorship in that no one is suggesting silencing the news item. The question is who has the right to repeat the news item and in what circumstances can it be repeated? But the consequences can be the same whether that news item can or cannot appear in a place at a time and the impulses behind can be parallel. So in many ways, when we’re asking what is censorship, part of what we’re getting at is the interiority of the person we imagine doing the active censoring and what we think that person’s intent in doing so is or doing an act of information control of how we think that person is sitting down to do it. So if I said, there’s a company and they bought up the license to a book and put it out digitally in such a way that you can’t get it in Australia and New Zealand, you can only get it in the US. Whether that censorship depends on whether the motivation of that person was that they wanted Australia to not be able to read it or whether the motivation of that person was they wanted to be paid again to have it licensed in Australia and have that be a separate commercial transaction. Because if it’s A, it’s definitely censorship and if it’s B, it’s information control, it’s copyright. It’s this haze that exists next to the censorship bullseye and yet the effect, the act is the same and the effects on readers who do or don’t have access to the object is also the same in that kind of sense.
[Joshua Craze] I’m trying to think about what the center of the bullseye is and it seems like the closest that you pointed out earlier that is Sappho’s poetry. Here is an entire collection that’s been destroyed except for fragments recorded by grammarians. So it’s not been entirely successful at least this censorship and the center of the bullseye, of course is entirely black. There’s nothing there.
[Ada Palmer] If there is an absolute success, we don’t know.
[Joshua Craze] This is the the thing in itself, in the middle.
[Ada Palmer] It is a black hole and so sometimes people have the question, has there ever been a case of censorship that absolutely succeeded and that question can’t be answered because if the answer were yes, we wouldn’t know. So you can try to say what are the acts of censorship that has been the most successful in what they’re aiming at but then again, that depends on what you think they’re aiming at because let’s go back to the redactors of your terror documents. What is the goal of this redactor? If we think that the goal of the redactor is to conceal the fact that torture was happening, then the redactor has failed. But what you have found in the documents is completely inconsistent with that goal. If that was the goal, you would have a black page, not a black page with what was waterboarded left in the middle of your black page. So we have to look for what the goal is or what the plural goals are and we can’t say that it’s simply the destruction or silencing of information. It’s something much more complex.
[Adrian Johns] I do want to slightly disagree with that. It seems to me that yeah, that’s in many cases that’s going to work. The question of intention is going to work, but that often I think that, or at least it’s not implausible to think that one would want to use the term censorship of cases where the person doing the act would defend themselves as not being censors, but the population at large wants to know something would be persuaded that this is an inappropriate act of suppression in which case it’s not intention as such, unless the person is arguing in bad faith or something. But it’s still an attribution. I would agree that there isn’t a hard and fast line that we can draw that says, in terms of the actual sort of material practice, this is censorship and that’s information management. To my mind, one of the things that we’re doing here is what can I say? We are trying to map out something like a bullseye diagram or a spectrum or something like that but then in terms of, as it were, what in a corporate setting you might describe as the concrete takeaway of it, what do you go out and do, the thought is we’re not trying to say, I think that, like, everything is the same, there are no distinctions to be drawn. It’s to say that in an agonistic circumstances where one does want to draw attention to something and use labels like censorship, it’s going to be more truthful and therefore maybe more effective if you have a realistic sense of the sort of impossibility of the antitype to that. There’s never going to be a situation where there’s completely optimal situation from all perspectives.
[Joshua Craze] So my argument against the bullseye. It places that the very center what it actually seems like you’re arguing against, that there is a form of censorship which produces the absence of information, the absence of knowledge. And yet you’ve also saId, which I think I agree with, that all forms of censorship are forms of information production. So when I’m looking at a redacted document that just says, black, black, black, Abu Zubaydah, black, black, black, was waterboarded, they’re trying to tell me something. The document itself is trying to tell me something and those black spaces are speaking to me. It’s not an absence there. The absence is a presence so if that’s true and I don’t know enough about the history of censorship of all forms of censorship. It doesn’t feel like there’s information management in the censorship, it just feels like there were a variety of forms of information management. One of those is redacting documents but another one is the existence of the New York Times. Another one is fake news, right? There’s a whole variety of forms and information management, but none of them really are ever about refusing or omitting something.
[Ada Palmer] Or even the Sappho example. You know when Sappho is burned at the order of the pope, it’s not done secretly in a back room it’s done very publicly in multiple cities with lots of ceremony as a communicative tool and meaning is being manufactured from the act of the destruction of Sappho and the act of the proclamation that this is the sort of thing that should be destroyed and that should not be here. So meaning is being constructed in that case, even when the goal is the eradication of a text.
[Nicholas Davidson] I think that’s an important theme, isn’t it in the history of censorship, censorship anyway, more generally. One of the things we’ve talked about a little bit in the past couple of days, is the way the Catholic Church was so incapable of creating a machinery of censorship in the early modern period because they couldn’t agree on what it was that ought to be censored and they couldn’t agree on how to do it either, which really is bringing back these two themes I suppose. And so a recent article on the attempt of the Roman Inquisition in Rome to censor Bodin’s historical book Methodus, and there were several very distinguished people, cardinals and the like, who were writing in and saying what we should do with this book. And in some cases they’re just trying to, and they disagree entirely among themselves. Some cases what they’re trying to do is just get out the names of the nasty heretics that Bodin mentioned. So anything that says Luther, anything that says Calvin is got to be removed. The rest of the book isn’t touched at all. But there are other people who say, look, we can do something with this book. It’s not right as it is, but we can reframe it in some way, rework it in some way to make a good Catholic book out of it. And that both forms of censorship working for exactly and being paid for by exactly the same institution within a matter of 20 years of each other. So censorship is deletion, but censorship is creation of something good.
[Ada Palmer] Well, you’re making me think of the, you’re saying there’s no ticking time bomb equivalent in the rhetoric of thinking about the Inquisition’s period of censorship. I suppose if there were to be one, we’ve heard that a clandestine edition of a really dangerous book is about to be printed and they’re about to disseminate it from the bookshop and this is our last chance to try to intercept it before a thousand copies disseminate across Europe and it’ll be unstoppable. And I’m thinking of a case I was just looking at from the earlier 18th century where there was an anti-Jesuit education manual being printed in Portugal and it was criticizing Jesuit-run education and advocating what we would think of as liberal Enlightenment education. And the Inquisition did rush in and find out where it was being printed in advance and get there before the bomb goes off and destroyed almost all of the copies but a couple of copies survived because the book, the printers wrapped a different title page around them. So they didn’t get identified as being that book. And then a second edition of the book was printed by one of the inquisitors a little while later and this strange human penetrability of what does this mean? This is somebody’s job and yet also after diffusing the ticking time bomb, now we are disseminating this again.
[Nicholas Davidson] I like that example, rather like I’m very fond of that fellow of the Royal Society in the early 18th century who is a censor of the Roman Inquisition at the same time, censoring other scientists’ books.
[Adrian Johns] Who’s that?
[Nicholas Davidson] I think John Keaney I think his name is. He was recommended to the Royal Society by Isaac Newton himself.
[Adrian Johns] He’s an optics guy as I remember.
[Nicbolas Davidson] Got all his money from the Inquisition.
[Adrian Johns] Learned something. Well, the Royal Society is if you wanted to talk about these questions of as it were, control or suppression on the one hand and enablement on the other is almost like an institutional personification of that because it got the right to give imprimaturs to books in 1662, so it’s formally passive–
[Ada Palmer] Imprimaturs meaning permission that they be printed.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah. It means it may be printed or let it be printed. So formally it’s part of the book licensing apparatus that’s shared with the licensing of newspapers and the policing of unlicensed books. But the purpose of it is not really to suppress books. It is to act as something like a quality control exercise. So early scientific books from the Royal Society do have this imprimatur on them and it signifies like a mark of, it’s been looked at, it’s been refereed in a certain sense. And the first, not the first but the longest surviving scientific journal, comes out under that imprimatur and actually interestingly, I think this is interesting, the secretary of the Society, Henry Oldenburg, who was a diplomat, who invented the journal and sort of oversaw their system for the first 15 or 20 years or so, for about two or three weeks, was actually a government licensed like a censor, a real censor, not just to do with the Royal Society but it was actually charged with censoring news pamphlets. And he only lasted for about two or three weeks. And the only sort of story we have about why he only lasted that period is that he wrote a letter as he was resigning the position to say that it was too much effort and too much work and he felt that he’d done his duty as a censor because he’d rejected far more books than he’d accepted which is a sort of moment of giveaway. He doesn’t give numbers or anything. He just says that, that he thought it was his role as a licenser to reject far more than you accept.
[Ada Palmer] What about the role of the redactor? Do you think you ever see pressure among redactors to redact certain volume within the text? Do you see patterns of that? Any feelings of as a redactor I must blackout x percent of the page for it to feel legitimate?
[Joshua Craze] I mean I think they are obviously worried about legal liability. So their tendency is just to black things out and ask questions later. They don’t get in trouble for not blacking things out. I mean, they get in trouble for not blacking things out rather than blacking things out. So you might as well just to the extent possible black out as much of the page, unless you want to particularly send message. And because the legal frameworks are open to so much interpretation in terms of what national security is, they don’t need to be told to black out x amount of a page. They just need to be allowed to do the job that they do, which is to try to give journalists only what they want.
[Adrian Johns] Can I ask this is something that came up sort of obliquely a little earlier. It’s about the chronology of redaction because it sounds like if you have a document that’s redacted once, 10 years later, it can be redacted again. Does it have to be by some—some different agency or could it be by the same agency? What happens with that?
[Joshua Craze] It depends. The document that’s in the exhibition was if you recall, you won’t recall because you’re all too young, but I recall when Colin Powell went to the UN to announce that America was going to invade Iraq and he held up the dossier, the weapons of mass destruction dossier, and this is the document that you will find in the exhibition which you should all go and see. And then 10 years later following an appeal, this document was re-released from the same agency except now under a different administration. The priorities had rather changed. The priority in the first case was to conceal via redactions all the moments at which CIA said, we don’t actually know if they have any weapons of mass destruction and the evidence is kind of bad. 10 years later, the priority was showing precisely that passage. So that had rings around it and some star lights going “Bush was a bad man and we’re great.” So in that case it was purely a political operation that changed it. With other documents you see, and this came up for me actually when I was going around the exhibition today, that there were things that were being redacted in Erasmus. No, tt was in Paradise Lost and it was, I forget the word.
[Ada Palmer] Instead of hailed it was hauled.
[Joshua Craze] Instead of hailed it was hauled.
[Ada Palmer] One word being changed in paradise lost.
[Joshua Craze] Because of the problems of astrology and so on. It would never have occurred to me that that word was what everything turned around and history has that power to remind us that the frameworks of other areas a very different. But that’s even true for that redacted documents from 2002 they get re redacted in 2012 and in 2002 they would desperately worry that you didn’t find out for instance that Abu Zubaydah was initially kept at active military bases in Pakistan. In 2012, it became much less interesting. So you see these sort of changing worries which are partly legal, partly political and military, but also just about how these documents get circulated in public.
[Ada Palmer] You’re reminding me of the patterns that ,and Nick you know this even better than me, you’ll see the Inquisition be obsessed with particular topics in particular decades. And the trials of people doing experimental science for example, are all clustered right around the moments of Galileo and really the decade before and after. And you get almost nothing like that, in fact, nothing like that beyond that sort of two decade window. And you’ll see the Inquisition re purposing itself or being repurposed as a tool to go after particular subjects of anxiety because it has a mutli-century history, we see this happen more and more visibly and I’ve seen it happen grand scale but you’ve probably seen it happen on the more micro scale in the documents you’ve read as the priorities change.
[Nicholas Davidson] Oh yes, I think that’s right and there are clearly panics and that became apparent also in the exhibition I think. And you were saying at one point when we were going round it, “well look, first of all, there was the anti-Nazi scare, then there was a communist scare and then there was a terrorism scare.” And you can see within relatively short periods of time the focus of information control, information management, censorship, prosecution, whatever you want to call it, changing. And again, going back to the question of styles of inquisitor, another thing you can see across the inquisitor’s career is an obsession with one particular type of event. And it’s very interesting if you do the sums and each inquisitor might, I suppose they might be there for a long time but they tend to change quite frequently. So you can do the sums of the trials and the type of offense which is being investigated within one inquisitor’s tenure and then his successors and then the next one and then you can follow the same guys around from tribunal to tribunal. And some of them are absolutely obsessed with magic and they get there in como and there’s a lot of magic and como, I don’t know why and the coma inquisitor comes to Venice and he says, “we haven’t had any trials in Venice. I’ve been going through the archives, there must be lots of trials we have been missing, people we’ve been missing for magic, must be lots of trials for magic.” And they ruffle through the archive and they find all these denunciations from one year, two year, three years back, which his predecessor had forgotten or missed or thought wasn’t important. And so suddenly these guys are hauled out their tranquil lives in Venice and hauled up for the Inquisition. But then the next guy is obsessed with Calvinism. And he says, “why? Magic, this is rubbish. We don’t care about magic. What matters is Calvinism,” and suddenly, there’s lots of trials about Calvinism. And the next guy isn’t interested in that either. And so you can see those sorts of panics, perhaps, or maybe just personal obsessions.
[Ada Palmer] Well, you’re reminding me of the passage in the Areopagitica in which Milton talks about one of the problems with having licensing for books is that you would have trouble finding someone worthy to be the licenser because “one who will sit judgment over the birth and death of books,” is his phrase, must be someone of great superior judgment and intellectual breadth of knowledge and tranquility and that it’ll be impossible to supply a population of such people. But if you think of that as being an argument for, because Milton is arguing for censorship after publication rather than before publication. So in a sense, another way to paraphrase what that argument actually pushes for is, “we don’t want it to be the habits and foibles and discretions of an individual who sits in judgment on the birth and death of books. We want it to be public panics and public concerns about particular dangers and the moment when the public is worried about A or B or where the state is worried about A or B to be what sits in judgment on the birth or death of books.” That it should happen after by a group examination rather than before in secret by the private preferences of one particular examiner/inquisitor/judge.
[Nicholas Davidson] And that probably makes sense, doesn’t it? At the time when it’s quite hard to manipulate public opinion.
[Ada Palmer] Or when people were less conscious of the manipulation of public opinion and that’s something to worry about. People been worried about people manipulating public opinion since Cicero and others are arguing about whether Sophists can change the mind of the crowd. So this is a very old concern, but certainly might function differently when you have different ideas of how the process operates and Milton is early in the period thinking about a public press as a phenomenon. I don’t know Adrian, what do you think of that question?
[Adrian Johns] Yeah. He is early. And one of the things about Areopagitica to my mind, the most memorable passage actually is the one about two thirds in that starts, I’m going to probably going to misquote it, but it’s something like “Lords and commons of England consider the nation whereof you are the governors,” and then it goes into this glorious passage portraying London in the middle of a civil war/revolution as the city full of people up in garrets burning the midnight oil, comparing pamphlets and sort of poring over them and, as he puts it, “yielding to the force of reason and convincement,” and the idea is that truth itself has to be subject to what, depending on whether you believe the errata or not, what he calls wayfaring Christians or warfaring Christians. And I think thanks to providence, actually in any battle like that, truth is inevitably going to emerge in the end as the victor.
[Ada Palmer] “All the winds of something be at play, though truth be in the field, she will triumph,” I think is the quote.
[Adrian Johns] One of the interesting things as a modern you look at that and you think, well, why? What guarantees that truth is going to win? I think it’s basically providence for Milton. But yeah, I can’t remember whether he quite calls it this, but it does seem that at the heart of that, there is quite a strong notion of legitimacy and if you like, the judicial function of a public that’s tied together by the reading of, especially printed, tracts. In the 18th century, that becomes a much more explicit piece of ideology actually, and often explicitly referred back to Areopagitica. So a lot of these phrases for Milton actually then float free and become almost mottoes of the public sphere and the Enlightenment. So yeah, I think there is a question among historians about if what Milton is describing there is actually a public sphere that’s got a kind of constant existence, when actually does it come into being and why? And usually, it will be referred back no more than about 10 or 15 years actually earlier than Milton is writing. Not much more than that. But the other thing that Milton which I also think that resonates now is at the heart of that notion of the public is that as a reader, you have rights and responsibilities. So you have maybe the right in a proper providential Protestant realm to get together all of these tracts that need not be subjected to the will of a licenser and you compare them. But you also have the duty to do that. And I think that’s a very important part of Areopagitica because that tends to get forgotten. A lot of it is about the duties of readers. We tend to notice the freedom part of it that it’s about the right to consult things independently of the oversight of a licenser. But there is very a important thing that is also your responsibility or duty to do this. And it’s hard work. It’s quite explicit about this. You have to work. And it’s one of the things I find quite appealing about Milton actually my more Puritan persona is that he’s telling people that this is not going to be fun. It’s not entertainment. You are going to have to really work hard to do this. And in a sense since that’s the quid pro quo for not having prepublication licensing. The responsibility is then devolved out onto all of us and it’s hard work to rise to and realize that responsibility.
[Ada Palmer] You’ve reminded me of a quotation from Jen de Steele who was writing about her experiences in the French Revolution and she comments in the earlier stages, censorship wasn’t so extreme and they were exercising censorship mainly of newspapers but not of books, a practice, she says, which could be justified in that newspapers are consumed by everyone casually, whereas books are only consumed more seriously by people who put the time in to read about it and think about it. And thus that in her view, while, she’s clearly uncomfortable with both, she could understand the logic by which you censored materials for casual consumption, censored newspapers, but left completely uncensored the realm of things that are going to be read by more serious deep reading. Which again points at how much circumscribing of who is the audience of things and the desire to censor elite materials less or differently from the censorship of non-elite consumption materials is a recurring pattern in a lot of our circumstances that we’ve pointed at.
[Adrian Johns] We might say that that pulls a bizarre belief that actually, is that what you really want to censor is like one part which you can define socially and it’s the opposite in a certain sense of what Darnton has in his book, The Bizarre Reading List where he’s talking about the British in India, where the British in India seem to have like decided that it wasn’t worth censoring all of the little things like almanacs. What you want to censor are big Sanskrit works, and then they had developed this enormous weirdly philological registration system for everything that leads to hundreds of thousands of entries, but they’re not bothered about the little things like almanacs and so forth. Maybe that’s the more bizarre version of the dividing things up socially move. But still I think either way of doing it just seems to modern eyes weird.
[Ada Palmer] All speaking to how you can’t police everything. So you sort of prioritize and decide I want to police this more and that less.
[Joshua Craze] There’s a nice moment in Timothy Garton Ash’s book called The File where he goes to east Germany and reads his file, his secret police file and he realizes they have been tracking all the social and all the calendars and all his lovers and all the letters he wrote. And he comes up with his own version of the Kantian imperative, the universal maxim, which is act only if you’d be proud to read about it in your secret police file. Sort of particularly totalitarian version. And then I was looking at Instagram and Facebook and thought we kind of do that to ourselves now. We’re pretty good at policing ourselves, such that we will only be public.
[Ada Palmer] I think on that note, we’re at our break. We’ll take a coffee break and then we’ll be back in a few minutes. Welcome back all to our discussion of documents, government documents, trial documents, redaction, the preparation of documents. I wanted to plunge back in with the term damnatio memoriae and the idea of the form of censorship that is trying to condemn something, punish something by erasing it. Now, this is an ancient Roman practice of literally convicting someone who’s done something terrible through having their memory erased, damnatio memoriae and destroying all images and especially all instances of the name of the person. This being an arch punishment in Roman belief where being honored by your descendants and honoring one’s ancestors is absolutely essential. So being deprived of the ability to be named after your death is an ultimate punishment. But you often see things in redaction or censorship which feel like they touch on versions of damnatio memoriae. So I’d like to throw out an example or two and then ask others to respond to how the comparison to damnatio memoriae both does and doesn’t adequately describe some things we’re looking at. So for example, sometimes the Inquisition will order you must cross out the name of this heretic or arch heretic in a book. You must go through and every time it mentions Luther, you must black out the name of Luther or you may have this addition of a classical work like Horace edited by Erasmus but because Erasmus has been condemned, you must go through and cross out Erasmus. And sometimes we see this done with very, very black ink so there’s just a blot. And sometimes we see this sort of done a little skinny line and everyone can easily tell that it says Erasmus. Erasmus has not been erased. everyone can read that it says Erasmus, but the gestures there, the ritual of crossing out Erasmus, like the ritual of writing I will not be bad on the blackboard 100 times it has been ceremonially effaced or ceremonially disgraced even if it’s still very visible. And you do sometimes have versions of erasure that aim to leave nothing and other versions of erasure that aim to leave something very conspicuous and Nick, you and I are both familiar with Venetian paintings where there have been a portrait of someone who’s later condemned and then the portrait will be painted over with black or painted over time as with blue, very expensively leaving a big painting with this one block blue figure. You don’t paint a tree over it. You don’t paint over it to make it look as if there was never something in the painting. You paint it over it with expensive, incredibly conspicuous colors to remind you, a thing has been erased here in this very conspicuous way that is both erasure and commemoration at the same time. So would any of you like to weigh in with thoughts on the way damnatio memoriae both can and can’t be a category that we see in other forms of documentary manipulation.
[Joshua Craze] Well, it seems like one of the things that points to is the difference between something like a social death and a biological death. If someone doesn’t just die, but they are forgotten, they’re stripped of any politics, they’re stripped of any substantive life. The two ways that occurs most obviously in the War on Terror, is one, through stripping someones of citizenship. So this is a practice that of course was done extensively during World War II. It was done to Gypsies, communists, Jews by the Nazi regime, and then again has been resurrected over the last 10 years in which people who are allegedly part of Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda are stripped of citizenship, American citizenship, British citizenship, as a prelude often to being killed. And one of the things that’s signatory about those signature strikes is that what happens is first they disappear and then the reasons for their disappearance disappear. So if you take someone, like Ayfa Saddiqi when she initially disappeared, the American government said, “she’s not even disappeared. We have no idea who this person is.” This later turns out via FOIAs to be untrue, but the logic of this person was someone who was stripped of citizenship, who was then abducted and then the very abduction was denied, so there wasn’t a narrative of this person is an enemy and now we kill the enemy. There was just no longer a person here and then the hope in the end that what’s forgotten is not just her, but even the reasons for her disappearance.
[Ada Palmer] So that’s not the kind of damnatio memoriae that wants you to be conscious of it, that wants there to be a black blot on the wall. That’s the kind that wants there to be nothing. Wants this to not be, this can no longer be the subject of a sentence or the subject of a thought because there’s not enough there to be extinct.
[Adrian Johns] There’s a book collection of photographs from the Soviet Union where they edited out people who had been in the first. This is not like your— your Venetian paintings, so they don’t put a big block in there. They kind of fill in the background, so the person it might be, say the presidium of the Supreme Soviet sort of looking out over that parade that happens every May Day of the armed forces. And so they’ll go back and they’ll edit back all old photographs so that somebody who’s been purged is no longer there. So this book is called the Commissar Vanishes. And it’s quite striking. It’s the closest that I can remember seeing to the actualization of that Orwell, satire that where you really do go back and you change, “he who controls the present controls the past, he who controls the past controls the future,” it’s the closest that I’ve seen in actuality to that.
[Ada Palmer] Yeah, there’s that chilling set of four photographs of Stalin with three comrades and then with two and then with one and then alone and it’s the same photograph that’s been transformed repeatedly and only Stalin stands in the fourth version, which as I recall, was also turned into a painting and colorized. Yes but we do know who those other three were and we are here talking about the fact that this editing was done. So it isn’t successful if its goal is to actually erase those people as possible subjects of a sentence or a thought.
[Nicholas Davidson] In the way that your people were deliberately disappeared. Nobody knows where they were and you could even deny they ever existed, right?
[Joshua Craze] But then you also have the opposite case which is the Venetian painting, which is that some of the documents about Al-Nashiri also included a name that was redacted. So there were documents about this great high profile member of Al-Qaeda and black, and black, and the American government repeatedly would be asked, “but you haven’t got anything from these guys. Who even are they? This is nonsense”. And then they go, “oh no, no, no, we do. We do, we do. It’s a very important guy. The guy in the black.” “But who is he?” “We couldn’t tell you.” So the way like this disappearance functions almost to create an Everyman. There isn’t like you might not. Okay, we can see Al Nasir, not really number of Al-Qaeda, we picked him up at random. We paid too much money. Okay, fine but the other guy who is just like almost sort of the logical possibility of the other guy because there’s just a black space, that guy justifies everything we’re doing. So that’s sort of a black space that’s not just about disappearing someone and letting you know that they’d been disappeared, but the possibility that there is at least some disappearance that might justify what we’re doing.
[Nicholas Davidson] I suppose the policy of the Inquisition is exactly the opposite of that in a way because it is all public when you do punish someone. A lot of the punishments weren’t execution. They were forced abduration. So you had to go on a Sunday or feast day often several times across the period of time in front of your parish church and read your aberration which confessed, written for you of course, but confess the things you had said you had done or had been forced out of you one way or another. And it was very, very public. You often had to stand outside the church door, the aberration included your name. I, Nicholas Davidson once believed this, did this and so on and you stand outside the church doors. Everyone comes out and they will know who you are you’re wearing a special outfit to show your penitent. That’s almost the opposite, isn’t it? That’s very much drawing attention to somebody who has been shaped by the system as a deterrent for other people from believing the same. And similarly in most places except Venice for executions, the executions are public and it is an opportunity to humiliate and laugh and be cruel to the person who is being sentenced by the state or the church.
[Ada Palmer] Well and you have the practice of the auto da fe in the Spanish and Portuguese territories where you have huge groups, parades of people who have been tried by the Inquisition and they’re all dressed up in different special outfits coded to what it is that they’ve been accused of and then they’d parade through the city and they go to a mass and they parade through again. And then only when they reached the execution ground, do they find out you’re getting let go, you’re having, being flogged with this amount, you’re having to go on a pilgrimage, you are getting executed. And so you go through this whole elaborate, complicated repentance process at the end of which you discover what the penalty is. It’s very much like Kafka’s In the Penal Colony with the machine that only three quarters of the way through being executed do you find out what you’re being executed for.
[Nicholas Davidson] But it’s another example, isn’t it? Ratcheting up the emotional and psychological tension and it’s all very public.
[Ada Palmer] And everyone knows who everyone is,
[Nicholas Davidson] In that community everyone knows you.
[Adrian Johns- I think one of the things about execution scenes. I don’t know whether this is true in the Spanish cases, but in England is the scene of the execution itself was seen as a moment of truth telling. This is one of the reasons why the English thought the Jesuit were particularly perilous because it was believed that the Jesuits had been given a special dispensation by the pope to lie even on the scaffold and that cut through what otherwise was regarded I think as like the one moment when you could be really sure that somebody told the truth because you don’t want to die with a lie on your lips because that’s when you’re going to be judged. You don’t have time to do anything about it. And so death scaffold speeches have a peculiar epistemic value. And so they were somewhat policed and the printing of them was somewhat policed as well. And when Grub sSreet starts up in the late 17th, early 18th century, there’s this sort of darkly—
[Ada Palmer] Can you say briefly what Grub Street is?
[Adrian Johns] Oh, Grub Street. Grub Street is the world of low-grade professional authorship. So hack authors who, and you can trace its roots back into the 16th century, but it really starts in the late 17th, early 18th century. And its heroic period is sort of the mid 18th century through maybe the late 19th. And Grub Street was actually a real street in London. If you go to London now, it doesn’t exist because it used to run underneath where the Barbican is. And it was an old street where there had been like plague pits and so forth where mass burials of plagues. So it’s a kind of seedy area. And it was where these low-grade professional authors for hire went to live. Authors for hire, the legend is that they were paid by the line to produce hack poetry, pamphlets, cheapo things that are sold by the, it sold in huge quantities, that kind of thing. And one of the standard genres that they produce in the early 18th century is the scaffold speech and these are purportedly the speeches given by condemned criminals, especially high celebrity condemned criminals telling the truth about their lives. So if you have somebody who’s a pirate say, then they will, the pirate’s life will be told in the scaffold speech. And it plays off this idea that the scaffold speech is the one moment when you can be really sure that somebody is not going to lie. And this is why Jesuits were so perilous, because it was thought that they alone might actually lie even on a scaffold. So it was hard to do public executions of Jesuits. But the thing that makes it sort of comic is that sometimes the criminal would actually be reprieved at the last moment and we actually have these scaffold speeches that are issued by hack authors for people who weren’t actually executed, but there’s this kind of elaborate description of going to their death with dignity and so forth. And this was a standard. There are lots and lots of these that are issued in the early through mid 18th century before executions became private things, which is I think, late 18th century sometime. I don’t know the exact day.
[Nicholas Davidson] Of course that sort of policy can backfire, can’t it? If at the end, the suspect, now convicted, does tell the truth, it can backfire. And one of my favorite cases, is someone called Julio Cesare Manini who is executed as an atheist in France, in Toulouse in 1690, and it’s pretty clear he was an atheist and we’re not quite sure this is really the true story but it’s told us by someone who said he was there, that on the scaffold, he was asked if he wanted to make a speech and he said, well, what I want to tell you all and this is to the whole assembled company is that you’re making a terrible mistake executing me. And what I really ought to say is that I believe because you’re making this terrible mistake that God will open up the earth and swallow you all whole, but since I don’t believe in God, I’m not going to say that. That is truth telling. He had not been converted. Actually backfired on the authorities because it showed they’d failed.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah, it can really backfire. And so some of these speeches, this is true in England as well. If you have state trials and Algernon Sydney is a great example of who’s who’s done to death in 1684 or so, and they go up and they say, they give a speech which is sort of political opposition speech. They can become martyr figures for a century or more afterwards. That’s certainly true of Algernon Sydney and so people would often look, not just at as it were the words that are being said, but the demeanor. So that it makes a big impression if the person comes off as upright and sober and dispassionate as they say it. The whole thing about reading appearance seems to be very big with these scaffold speeches.
[Joshua Craze] It’s striking the difference between this and the contemporary and it goes back to something you said, Ada, about the fact that cruelty is not a pure negative in the 16th or 17th century. It’s an expected part of punishment. And there are these two, on the one hand in Guantanamo, death is a real problem. The one thing you don’t want to do is kill people. Extraordinary interrogation techniques fine, but killing is an absolute no-no. We’re not going to kill them. That would be to totally destroy the very logical basis of the operation, and indeed sometimes people try to commit suicide and the name for suicides in the American military is it’s a hostile enemy operation. So the killing is not done by the military. They kill themselves and that is an attack on America because they’re trying to show that this death has been caused by us and we’re not going to let them do that. No. We’re going to keep them alive. Literally, that’s the phrase used. But the other problem they have, and you see this discussed a lot in the most absurdly racist terms in the discussions of how to create these EITs is the problem that Muslims aren’t scared of death. So in the example you’re giving us of an atheist being threatened by the state and going, “I would wish God would threaten you but I won’t because I’m atheist,” here we have the reverse, which is the Americans going we can’t even threaten them with death. I’m sorry about my accent. “But what do we do? They might threaten us with their own death” and the death here becomes this limit and sort of the limit of a secular torture regime is the killing of someone. And what the threat to that is, is people actually threatening their own death onto the regime. And that just seems such an inversion from what you’re describing.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah it would be, yeah.
[Ada Palmer] Yeah, cause so much of the logic of execution in the premodern world is the idea that this is good for the soul of the person. That we’re going to take this person through this complicated repentance process at the end of which a good execution is one where we’re pretty sure the person went to heaven at the end and you have whole charitable societies dedicated to visiting people or you’ll be sent to your confraternity brothers the last night before your execution to repent and spend time in prayer services. And there’s an amazing painting in Florence in one of the little churches you go by, which is a nine-panel comic strip basically, of the execution of a guy. So in the first panel he’s gambling and getting drunk. And the second panel there’s a devil on his shoulder giving him bad ideas. And then the third panel, he’s picking up a horse manure off the street and it’s obvious that what he’s doing is he’s about to throw it at this icon of the Virgin Mary but we don’t dare actually show that because that’s too terrible to show. And then in the fourth panel, he’s being arrested and he’s begging the magistrate to let them execute him instead of just ripping him limb from limb for violating the icon. And then the remaining panels are him going to his fraternity brothers and going through confession and talking to priests and all of this stuff getting ready to be executed and the final panel is him being hanged and a little angel taking his soul away up to heaven and the little devil going, angry that they didn’t get the soul. And that this really is a synthesis of the ideal of how an execution was supposed to operate. That it was supposed to be here as a person who was on the Hell track and we have corrected this by giving this person this process of collection and making sure that they die well and die thinking theological thoughts and there even a genre of paintings, of icons of saints which are meant to be carried on a stick held in front of the person’s face on the way to the scaffold so that even at the last moment, they’re not looking at the scaffold and thinking about being scared, they’re looking at St. Catherine of Sienna or the Virgin Mary and thinking about how good it is that their souls about to go up. So it’s an utterly different way of thinking about what the execution is for, that it is a punishment, but the idea is that it’s supposed to be therapeutic. And I don’t think in modern contexts that we ever think of an execution as therapeutic in the way that in an early modern context it was.
[Nicholas Davidson] And I suppose because they’re so public in the period we’re talking about, not 21st century, executions do have to be properly staged managed because otherwise you do get the guys who say their own thing. And that’s where another element of censorship comes in. Very often what the Inquisition will do is edit the list of beliefs so that the really nasty ones are not mentioned. And this is very explicit in the documents. They say well, you’ve got six beliefs we’re leaving two more out because we cannot publicize those beliefs to the general public in the city.
[Ada Palmer] What are some examples of–
[Nicholas Davidson] Oh, they’re normally nasty things about the Virgin Mary. That’s particularly difficult but also, I suppose in some, I suppose if adopting some nasty Protestant belief, that’s okay you can say you’ve abandoned that because people would say, well, obviously adopting that belief is going to put me on the scaffold, so I won’t read it. But for some reason they don’t even want people to think about things like the Virgin Mary perhaps not being virgin and that is censored in these truth telling moments.
[Ada Palmer] I think that’s another great example of how often the things that we expect them to be most alarmed about are not things that are most alarmed about. It’s not atheism that they’re silencing. They’re perfectly comfortable talking about that. That’s not a danger the way this is a danger in their mindset.
[Adrian Johns] So, there’s this book by Clive Griffin about printers and the Inquisition in Spain and I can’t remember if it’s on our list or not but one of the, it’s a book about 16th century experiences of largely journeyman printers. So low grade printers who don’t really have a fixed abode often there they work they move from printing house to printing house or they move through Spain and northern France and their interactions with the Inquisition in these various towns. And one of the things that’s odd about the story that’s told in this book is that in a certain sense, the information network of the printers seems to be more sophisticated than that of the inquisition. The Inquisition often don’t know where the printers are going and if the Inquisition is planning a move in some city, some principal blade, we’re actually traveling by road from that city and will be able to warn them before the Inquisition actually move. And the printer is also the other thing is that the Inquisition, and I think this is very different from the Roman Inquisition or the finishing inquisition. They don’t seem to have an awfully sophisticated notion of what they’re looking for. So there are these things labeled Lutheran which are very, very sort of crude, sort of almost taglines that they look for. But I’m interested, that I think is interesting that the lack of sophistication at least as this reported in this book. But the thing that interests me is this idea that as it were, what we have are two rival information networks and the one that we see and hypothesize as very efficient, the nquisition actually looks from the archives as though is actually much less efficient than the one that’s almost completely invisible to us which of these artisan printers moving backwards and forwards and telling each other things. And I wonder what you think about that, about whether that’s something that’s well whether you believe the story first of all I guess. But whether you think it’s representative or is Spain unusual or what?
[Nicholas Davidson] No, I think that would be typical in other parts of the Catholic world as well. I think that’s right. Partly for the sorts of reasons we’ve already talked about, which is these institutes are not very centralized in reality although structurally, if you did an organogram, they would look very organized, but in fact they’re not. And communication between them is not very good and it’s not pretty fast. I think there’s also, if I can use the word of class distinction here as well. And the inquisitors may not actually have been as well informed simply because they moved in much more restricted circles. They lived in closed conference. They met mainly people much like themselves except in the interrogation room where of course there was a barrier and the lack of communication. And I think they just missed most of what was going on actually. And yet the printers, as you say, and lots of other people were professional notaries and so on, they were scuffling around the country, around the city, they knew much more.
[Adrian Johns] Because that’s, that’s very different from some of the other police encounters we’ve been looking at like in 18th century France, for example, where in Bob Johnson’s world his police are not in a convent. They’re moving around through the backstreets and they’re interacting quite close quarters with the people that they’re policing. And one thing about that is that this crudely, there’s a reason why cultural history in its modern iteration, sort of originated in France more than anywhere else and 19 century and looked at 18th century France more than anywhere else which is that the police files are so deep. You’re often looking at when we do something like the history of oral culture in Paris in the 18th century, what we’re actually looking at are police files of the recorded conversations which has a sort of ethical implication to it, I think. People have tried to do something somewhat like that with the Inquisition records. And I wonder whether I could ask you what you think about that kind of enterprise. So take Inquisition records as records, as it were, something out there in the culture, like life out there in the culture, that cross cuts into the inquisitional setting. And thanks to that we have a record of it but otherwise we wouldn’t. It’s just out almost out there. We wouldn’t have any trace.
[Nicholas Davidson] I think that’s right. There are problems using old historical documents, of course and particularly documents produced in the sort of emotional and psychological atmosphere we’ve been talking about. These are people who know in certain circumstances they might be trying to talk themselves out of death sentence and there is, this is another form of self-censorship, I suppose. Nobody in the Inquisition is probably telling the whole truth. The inquisitors aren’t necessarily telling the whole truth because they don’t want to release to the other people in the room what they know. They’re not going to give a rundown of what they know about this other person before the question them. So they’re probably lying or at least being less than candid and of course the suspects and witnesses themselves may be trying to make a point. And one of the interesting things become very systematic and I worked my way through the trials 15th, early 15th mid 16th late 16th century. And when you get to the sort of 1580s, Protestantism is pretty well disappeared.
[Ada Palmer] As a subject of anxiety.
[Nicholas Davidson] Yeah, exactly. Whether that’s because there actually aren’t Protestants or because nobody’s bothered about them I think the second, but it could be either. They just disappear from the record in lots of ways but what you get then is lots of trials against people who’ve never been suspected of Protestantism for all sorts of interesting things like eating meat on Fridays, swearing in front of an image of the Virgin Mary or whatever it happens to be. They’re relatively minor things and nearly always these denunciations come from their nearest and dearest. That it’s, say, family members, neighbors, people they worked with, people they work for, landlords and tenants. And you can begin to map then particularly in the city like Venice networks of neighborliness, or as it may be anti-neighborliness because normally they hate each other and you can begin to work out why. They’re business rivals, they’ve shared lovers they’ve some sort of terrible family rift. Also they’ve had law case against this guy in the past so now I’m going to take him to the Inquisition and you can almost hear the inquisitor sighing as this stuff comes in. They’ve got to investigate it, but it’s nearly all false or trivial and eight months, 10 months later, the trial just peters out. But if you’ve got that sort of information, you can begin to put together some social history of the people who otherwise would have no voice at all.
[Ada Palmer] You’re reminding me of Michael Rooky’s work on homosexuality in Renaissance Florence, where we have enormous amounts of documents from the agency in charge of policing sodomy and other such things where there were anonymous dropboxes where you could drop off a denunciation of someone. So you didn’t even have to admit who was denouncing someone and there were very layered politics of who got denounced and particular moments or which if you were arrested for sodomy, you would get a much lighter treatment if you gave away your lovers. And so every time one of the major male prostitutes of the city was arrested, suddenly 150 people would all run in and denounce themselves because you also got a lighter sentence if you denounced yourself than if someone else denounced you. And there’s some people who denounced themselves for sodomy me six times over the course of their lifetime. Every time a new major male prostitute got arrested and have all the and this is something that is theoretically a capital offense, but almost never enforced as a capital offense. The result is almost always a fine of varying degrees of size depending on severity so that when you’re investigating it and someone is executed, that’s the warning sign. That’s when you say, wait a minute, what was weird here, the actual sentence was actually carried out, which almost never happens under this legal system but you do get these complicated networks. This is how we know who’s sleeping with who. This is how we know who is making use of professional prostitutes as opposed to who’s just being lovers with their boyfriend living at home together, which is also very common in the period because you can trace it through again, the trial records. But what are amazingly vexed uncomfortable space through which to try to access homosexual culture have the trial records being your biggest avenue is a very uncomfortable one. I want to ask and some of Adrian’s questions pointed at this to hear from both of you about the question of producing these documents in the first place before they’re being redacted, before they’re being visited centuries later by scholars. A choice is made to produce 1,000 pages of records of a trial or 8,000 pages of records of the interrogation that’s going on here in the first place. Do you have thoughts about the initial production of these documents? Why are they being produced? Is there an intended audience for them? What are they for? Are they a form of creating some kind of legitimacy on the part of the creator or the organ that has demanded that they be created? The production of these documents in the first place in their vast, tedious, repetitive enormity, which is itself an expense in man hours and material. What are your thoughts on the production of the documents in the first place?
[Joshua Craze] I’m not a historian first, unfortunately and luckily. I don’t often read these documents and think there is very little you can glean about a world outside of the documents. So the documents that one looks at in the War on Terror were interrogation reports, they’re Office of Government Oversight investigations, they’re CIA investigations and they are produced by bureaucracy and they’re produced by bureaucracy and they simply are what a bureaucracy does. It produces paper about itself unlike all of you who hopefully not have to go into office jobs where you will simply produce more and more paper about being in an office producing paper. And that’s, thankfully now it’s online so there’ll be less trees dying, but you might die a little bit because it’s so boring. And that is like the unyielding boredom of these documents is really spectacular. And so one of the sort of things that I found most interesting that I tried to do and this isn’t about the War on Terror, it’s about the other war that I work on which is the war in South Sudan and I often go to the State Department and I once decided for fun that I would FOIA myself to the State Department, which I know there is a record of and I came across a record of my own lecture to the State Department about the situation in South Sudan which is where I do my field work. And it was unrecognizable. I didn’t say that or at least not according to what they wanted to say. And the reason for that was that they had a very delimited set of questions. They’re very busy. They’re working for the State Department. They don’t have much time. They don’t really want to be on the South Sudan desk they’d rather either be in France. or they want to be in Iraq. They want something a bit scary and they move quickly higher up and so they have questions and their questions were, which weren’t expressly addressed to me but were internal to themselves. “South Sudan, is it going to be Mali or Kosovo?” And you know what, I’m terrible—I’m an anthropologist so I say very boring things like no, it’s South Sudan. It is not Mali or Kosovo, but they can’t hear that. And when they mean Mali or Kosovo, what they mean is a history of US intervention in those sites, alright, so they have a series of frames, an epistemology about how they come to treat information and that’s how the information gets recorded. Are there some “true facts” in there? No doubt. But that’s—because again, I’m not a historian—the least interesting thing for me, the most interesting is that any reality that you give them is taken up by this enormous bureaucratic machine and is then rendered in forms that can be produced in a document which is then been handed to another ministry which then actualizes another possible plan for America in future and their job is just the production of documents. And that’s very similar during the War on Terror. If you look at an interrogation report, an interrogation report is then given to the boss who makes the decision, “okay more interrogation, less interrogation.” And what’s interesting about those documents is that everything human about this person is cut away from them. Do they cry? Do they laugh? Do they have an interesting backstory? We don’t care. We care in this very delimited way about the production of certain types of information that allow the bureaucracy to justify itself and that’s basically what bureaucracies do. But this is also why I’m not a historian because I’m so cynical about this.
[Nicholas Davidson] I suppose this brings us back to the similarities and differences between our documents. In some ways, I think the Inquisitors were historians and they use the archive as an archive and you can see this in some of the annotations and the trial records. They will often say we know about what’s going on in this trial because we had this other trial three years ago where we knew that there were these connections and so and so in this trial, and knew so and so in this trial, and they’re using it to build up a body of information, sources of information you mentioned in your chapter. And I think therefore it’s not just a bureaucratic exercise for the sake of a bureaucratic exercise. It’s a bureaucratic exercise for the Inquisition to be a better Inquisition and to catch more people or at least, prevent more people from becoming heretics. I suppose that’s another way of saying what you’re saying, but it’s a slightly different way of saying it.
[Joshua Craze] It like had this positive knowledge.
[Adrian Johns] A subsequent question to that might be so if you have either an Inquisition or War on Terror that’s producing paperwork at such a rate, do they have like a meta bureaucracy that helps provide things like indexing to the paperwork. Otherwise, as long as your inquisitor is still alive maybe you have just a memory of where everything is, but the next inquisitor who comes in, after your inquisitor becomes bishop, that archive is going to be useless to them unless there’s some finding aid. Is there something like a librarianship for the records?
[Nicholas Davidson] No and I think that’s true of bureaucracies generally, isn’t it? That bureaucracies have relatively short living memories because people move on and there’s too much paper to work it all out if you go back too far.
[Adrian Johns] So they don’t have like an organizational principle.
[Nicholas Davidson] It’s not an index, no. I mean not an index of characters being investigated, characters being sentenced.
[Ada Palmer] In this context, the index is the list of forbidden materials, not any finding aid.
[Nicholas Davidson] I’m not talking about that index.
[Adrian Johns] A different index, right?
[Nicholas Davidson] I suppose I’m trying to create one of all the characters who come before the inquisitors. I don’t think they had one at the time. If they did, they didn’t leave it to us.
[Adrian Johns] You were in a sense working for the Inquisition.
[Nicholas Davidson] I am but not getting paid for it.
[Ada Palmer] We have a question. Just to repeat that, the question is about Josh using the phrase, “the redaction of the mind in advance of the redaction of the document” in some of his discussions.
[Joshua Craze] So what’s interesting in these documents were devising a torture regime or when they’re devising an extraordinary interrogation program is that they have to imagine this figure, this ideal person and how they would respond to various types of techniques of interrogation. So one of the very extensive, utterly surreal, discussions in the torture memos is about insects. And the question is, according to psychologists, would you be reasonably scared if you were trapped in a box with an insect but you were not scared of a given insect as a species? So like maybe you were scared of cockroaches but caterpillars, fine. So then there are a series of interrogations of Abu Zubaydah in which questions are asked, “how do you feel about caterpillars? Cockroaches? Spiders? Ah, okay, no spiders.” And they’re preparing for interrogation by in a sense acting out the interrogation as a form of play, or as a sort of a formal form to which he then has to correspond in the interrogation. And the redaction of the mind there seems to be twofold. One is just the utter erasure of Abu Zubaydah as a human being. There is no action–and what’s fascinating about all of these documents is, there’s basically no history of how he reacts to any of this because everything legally is done in advance. The question of torture is about intentionality. So as long as your intention is not to commit pain in excess of—akin to serious organ failure, you are fine. If you slip and he smashes his head, well, that’s not torture. That’s an accident. And if you read the GAO report, the Government Accountability Office oversight report, on whether the torture occurred during this process, the conclusion is no. Not because egregious things weren’t done or because drills weren’t held to people’s heads, but because those instances were exceptions and they were not intentional and the intention is already prefigured to conform to certain legal frameworks, such that who Abu Zubayda is doesn’t matter. So you basically sort of formalized the system in which the person disappears, and it’s that redaction that allows the redactions to a document in which, also, the individuality disappears. The singularities disappear. The names disappear in the document.
[Ada Palmer] I mean, I think thinking on the way the creators of those documents are conceptualizing torture and the other ways torture is being conceptualized for example, by Beccaria in his treatise about torture as a deterrent, being ineffective as a deterrent, Savonarola and his discussion of torture getting anybody to say anything and not being a tool of truth. There’s a question of what is torture’s function vis a vis the production of truth and separately, what is its function vis a vis the transformation of the individual? And this is similar to the question of premodern execution versus modern execution where premodern execution is about the way the process of being executed transforms that person while that person is still alive, producing a in the period concept, a theologically redeemable person who might be on the path to heaven in contrast with a person who was presumed to be on the path to damnation and that way of engaging with what is the function of execution really is about realizing that it is a transformative interior process for the interiority of the individual and thinking hard about the interiority of the individual and if anything, centering the interiority of the individual. This execution is about the internal process that is going on, on the part of the person being executed to a lesser extent it’s about the internal processes going on in the audience that is watching this public execution that is getting a good moral lesson from seeing how the execution is taking place and both of those are much more prominent in the focus of the infrastructure of how it’s being put together than for example, the law or the magistrate or the government that has created the law under which the execution is happening which relates to why in premodern law or the fact that in premodern law on the books maximum penalty is almost never enforced. There’s almost always an intervening mitigation. Somebody writes a letter on behalf of the wife of the duke, something intervenes and you get the milder version of the punishment. The idea that the default outcome of a trial is that the person if convicted suffers the official penalty for the thing is an enlightenment and post enlightenment idea also partly Beccaria of the idea that there should be a fair proportion of crime and punishment and that justice is when the punishment for the crime is enacted upon the person who is guilty of the crime which is weirdly a very young idea historically compared to these many, many, many centuries of trial records where there is an official law, but the expectation that that’s going to always happen isn’t there. The expectation is much more that there will often be mercy. And this is also a very tied in with the way Christianity of the time operated or the Christianity’s plural of the time operated with this presumption that everybody is guilty and ought to be damned forever. But we hope that for many, many cases there will be mercy and the person will not receive the punishment that the person actually deserves. That the whole way one thought about the relationship between justice and mercy at the time is that what one hopes for is for the punishment not to be enforced and that what God does the best of all judges is to not enforce what would be just death sentences upon everybody and in only enforcing on some people. So there’s this great focus on the interiority of the person. But then within the trial records themselves and then contrasting that with modernity, we have a very different focus on the interiority of the person. So that in a sense Beccaria’s proportionalism almost has the least interest in the interiority of the person of any of these models. Now he still cares about the interiority because he’s concerned about this as a deterrent and the question will this deter the person from doing the crime, but once the person has committed the crime, the person’s interiority doesn’t matter anymore. It only mattered as the person as a potential offender who might be considering whether or not to commit the crime and is aware that acts as a punishment for the crime and will that punishment deter them? Yes or no. Once they violated it, we’re really not concerned with that person’s interiority any further in a hypothetically deterrent space justice system but we are very concerned with it in the reality of what we’re seeing in your documents. There’s a confession and in the reality of the way that the premodern executions are being organized, it’s just interesting to see how much the interiority of the condemned or suspected or interrogated individual manifests in the thought process of how you go about it, which overlaps with isn’t identical with how much it manifests in the documents produced about that process.
[Nicholas Davidson] I think you’ve identified something really important for the history of the Inquisition there, absolutely central, I think. And some people are very cynical about this because I’m just quoting here, paraphrasing here from official documentation but they always say the purpose of the Inquisition is to convert people. And that may be one reason why some of the trials lasted a very long time coming back to Adrian’s earlier question. If it takes 12 years, it’ll take 12 years. But if that person then converts, it’s a success. And it becomes a matter of judgment when you decide the conversion is not going to happen. It becomes a matter of judgment and motivation and assessment by the inquisitor which is why you can’t quite type that in the way that Beccaria would like. You’ve got to wait until you think this person really is never going to convert and if that comes earlier then the execution comes early, if it comes late, the execution comes late. It may not happen at all. The person may die in prison. And that’s why it’s very difficult then to set out a clear sort of timetable or set of rules and procedures because it is so much concerned with the interiority of the suspect and what the judge thinks of the interior life of the suspect.
[Adrian Johns] I think there’s another thing which has been kind of nagging at me about the distinction between the way we tend to see our modern systems and something like the Inquisition or the other ones which is that—and it partly relates to the question of interiority, but not directly. But it’s more about the business about the formation of the documents. And it’s about the phenomenon of things like denunciation and informing and we tend to see words like informant and the associations are all, well actually in some ways, they’re very modern because we tend to think Stalin in Russia, that kind of thing. Some ways, they’re also ancient in the 17th century in Britain when there was a move against informers, people would cite Tacitus and I would go back to this idea that under Tiberius, Rome was full of informers and you couldn’t do anything without being betrayed. But I think as a matter of everyday life, this is my sense of it, at least in much of early modern Europe. Informing is an everyday thing and it isn’t necessarily seen as a bad thing. It’s seen as part of the sort of social fabric and much of law enforcement is actually mediated through informing of one kind or another. And in the sentence with things like the Inquisition, you’re seeing a practice of informing kind of breaking through into that world and we shouldn’t inform that. We shouldn’t sort of assume that the act of informing there is something that is kind of sui generis just to what do the inquisitorial world. It’s something that people lived with all the time. There’s a kind of a social potential transparency to communities and because there aren’t things like detectives in the early modern world. There aren’t really professional police forces at all. All law enforcement is done by participants in the community. And so the whole thing is an instructor of informing. And I think that that’s something that deserves to be pointed out because it means that the whole world of the information management that then rises in things like the Inquisition is actually based on this very sort of commonly complex practice of informant, which is sometimes called that and sometimes not. And the other thing that’s connected to this is in another class that I’ve been teaching, we were just talking about a culture of letter opening. So there are mail services that are starting up in this kind of period under transmitting by all across Europe. They start by transmitting basically state like royal family mail then it extends out into the more general population. But there’s every evidence that mail services routinely open letters and pass on information to whoever the state, the secretaries of state in England or maybe the Inquisition, I don’t know. And it seems like it would be just a completely normal thing that if you mailed a letter, you could just expect that it will be open and read and information taken from it and resealed and sent on to the recipient. So everything that you write in a letter, you have to be sort of careful even if you’re not actually conspiring in some way to make sure that it doesn’t look like it’s some kind of encoded reference to something bad. And it depends, of course on the degree of crisis that your country is in at any particular moment. How closely things are going to be read. But in principle, mail services are intelligent services in this period. And it’s not seen as, there is no American constitution of which this is a violation. So it’s just part of life.
[Ada Palmer] You’re making me think about how, well, often in these discussions we’ve uncovered patterns in the functioning of censorship that are very, very different from Orwell’s 1984 and that show how atypical it would be, if real, for what we see in real historical censorship. But in some senses here we’re looking at things where Orwell isn’t that far from realities, particularly, the focus in the Ministry of Truth is on Winston Smith’s interiority and bringing him on an intellectual interior journey through surveillance, fear, and eventually torture to coming to love the regime and coming to love Big Brother and that that intentional reconstruction of the interior self is something that we are seeing in the realities in both the contemporary and the historical cases here. Motivated differently but with the same obsession with the interiority of the subject. And also with everyday informers and informers of your family and informers next door and informers being saturated. Though he’s getting that from reports and so on instruction as well as from Britain’s wartime censorship. Oh, we have another question. Yes. So to paraphrase, the question is about when censory bodies tried to eradicate an idea, eradicate a text, eradicate something that is moving and circulating as opposed to trying to symbolically send a message or exert power or instill fear or have a show trial or transform the interiority of a subject and whether there is a point at which that’s considered to happen specifically with the church and Inquisition, whether this happens at the moment of print or print disseminating a certain amount. Whether we see it earlier, whether we see it later, whether we can put our thumbs on a moment at which the church stops attempting to eradicate all copies of a text and starts having what I would term symbolic book burnings or collection book burnings rather than eradication book burnings. Now, it’s hard to say that even in the Middle Ages, they ever fully attempt eradication burnings because they want to keep copies of this. They want to keep copies for reference of the dangerous ideas, the Middle Ages are less well documented on this, but certainly the Inquisition has. You’re required to turn in copies of books and the Inquisition keeps examples of things and allows its own members. If you’re a Jesuit, yes, you can have access to the forbidden thing so that you can double check, because they needed to find out whether a thing is condemned to compare it to new things because they’re trying to be consistent. So here’s a new book. It has an idea. Has this idea been condemned? You need to have the earlier condemned books to look it up. So there the question is not eradicating all copies. It’s eradicating all public copies but trying to circumscribe them. But Nick, you’ve been thinking on this as I’ve been talking.
[Nicholas Davidson] Yeah, it’s a difficult question. It relates back to some of the things we were talking about before, not least with Milton. I suppose there’s one element of the question is practical. Can we do this given the flow of information, the publication of books in all these huge numbers increasing in our period goes on and then afterwards? But then I think there’s also a question of confidence. Not so much can we do it, but in the sense of practicality, but can we do it intellectually? Are we really that confident that what we are trying to do is the right thing to do? And I think it’s quite interesting that the as it were moral force and religious force of the index itself in the Catholic Church was just abandoned in 1966. There may be some good reason why it was happening right then. In the 60s, during and after the second Vatican Council, I get the sense–I’m speaking as a complete outsider—that the church was sort of losing confidence. And when Adrian was talking about Milton earlier, I was thinking of someone writing 100 years before Milton, Sebastian Castillo who was actually French but lived much of his life in Switzerland and his last book, unpublished until the 1980s, is a book on doubt. And it’s a very sustained argument that there’s no point in trying to control information, control people’s beliefs, not because of the practicality of doing it, but because we don’t know what the truth is and we can’t know what the truth is at all. And so why should we go out and tell other people they’re wrong when we don’t know what’s right? So I think there’s a practical sense, but also then the intellectual sense, and whether that—and Castillo is already saying that in 1560s. I think the Catholic church took a long time to catch up. But there is that sort of intellectual moment, I think, whether it’s the Enlightenment or the 19th century or the early 20th, I don’t know. But I think you’ve got to have both of those things.
[Adrian Johns] Yeah the corrosive power of skepticism against these kinds of beliefs and practices is really quite dramatic. And you see that it’s felt. Skepticism is one of the major targets and the example that’s been coming to mind of an attempt, I think this was an attempt to actually eradicate a whole book was the burning of Servatus in Calvin’s Geneva where there are actually three copies of the book that survived, but I’m pretty sure that’s an accident. I think they tried to get every single one, if I remember right. And Calvin is about as anti skeptical as you can get. And so, that would be I don’t know. Something like a grist to the mill point about the issue about confidence. It’s in some sense about—this is going to sound Miltonic—kind of dogmatism. It’s about sureness.
[Ada Palmer] Josh I wonder whether you could leave us with any final comment on doubt and skepticism and uncertainty about what they’re doing and how that, if at all, manifests in the documents that you look at either on the part of the producers of the documents or on part of the redactors of the documents.
[Joshua Craze[ Well the producers of the documents think what they’re doing is trying to find out something about the world. Is Abu Zubaydah a terrorist? We know he’s a terrorist. What is he doing? Is he trying to blow up a bridge? When is he trying to do it? That’s the presumptive aim. But what actually happens given the tools they have available is that, rather than trying to discover something about the world, they’re trying effectively to prove their own world exists. The questions they have are so narrow, so restrained by their frameworks and the methods they have undermine the very possibility of true speak by the subject. For instance, via torture. That what you actually get is the production of a world, the production of the internal world of the American interrogators rather than an external world. So if you remember that wonderful moment when Cheney’s talking and he says, “you guys belong,” he’s talking to a journalist, Rob Suskind, “to the reality based community.” He doesn’t mean that as a compliment. “But you see, the world’s changed now and when we act, we create our own reality and then you guys, the historians you’re going to run along after us and describe what we do.” And that sort of sentiment, that reality is something that we can actively create, undergirds a lot of the practices of the interrogators for whom the answer—and they were under great pressure to find results and to find the grand conspiracy against America they believed existed. And if the solution that appeared to be in front of them was that Abu Zubaydah actually wasn’t a member of Al-Qaeda. That’s not possible at all. That’s not a level of doubt they can be willing to entertain given what the program is already set up to do. So what the program ends up doing is not being an investigation into the world, but in the production of a world, that corresponds to the dreams, the fantasies, the paranoias of the American interrogators. So in a way, it is an attempt to cure oneself of doubt.
[Ada Palmer] Alright, well on that very powerful final comparison, let’s thank our guests for this week, and we’ll see you next week.
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