The Person of the Torturer: Secret Policemen in Fiction and Non-Fiction

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Abstract

Early Modern conceptions of aesthetic education propose a necessary relation between aesthetic and moral values such that the appreciation of beauty is a necessary condition for the attainment of virtue. Contemporary conceptions retain the causal connection, claiming that the appreciation of literature in particular produces more responsive readers such that the aesthetic merits of novels are (also) moral merits. J.M. Coetzee agrees that there is a relation between the two spheres of value, but maintains that the novelist seeking to represent the secret policeman in a society that condones torture is faced with a dilemma: he or she must either portray the torturer by means of cliché and fail aesthetically or attribute glamour or grandeur to the world of the torturer and fail morally. In the case of torture, the aesthetic education thesis is thus opposed, as the aesthetic merit is (also) a moral defect. I shall argue that the dilemma is in fact false, comparing J.M. Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians with journalist Jacques Pauw’s In the Heart of the Whore, an exposé of torture and assassination under apartheid that takes former secret policeman Dirk Coetzee as its protagonist.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)44-59
JournalThe Journal of Aesthetic Education
Volume54
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 28 Feb 2018

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Non-fiction
Torture
Fiction
Merit
Person
Aesthetics
Aesthetic Education
Conception
Expo
Reader
Causal
Whore
Moral Values
Journalists
Defects
Apartheid
Novelist
Assassination
Aesthetic Value
Glamour

Cite this

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abstract = "Early Modern conceptions of aesthetic education propose a necessary relation between aesthetic and moral values such that the appreciation of beauty is a necessary condition for the attainment of virtue. Contemporary conceptions retain the causal connection, claiming that the appreciation of literature in particular produces more responsive readers such that the aesthetic merits of novels are (also) moral merits. J.M. Coetzee agrees that there is a relation between the two spheres of value, but maintains that the novelist seeking to represent the secret policeman in a society that condones torture is faced with a dilemma: he or she must either portray the torturer by means of clich{\'e} and fail aesthetically or attribute glamour or grandeur to the world of the torturer and fail morally. In the case of torture, the aesthetic education thesis is thus opposed, as the aesthetic merit is (also) a moral defect. I shall argue that the dilemma is in fact false, comparing J.M. Coetzee’s novel Waiting for the Barbarians with journalist Jacques Pauw’s In the Heart of the Whore, an expos{\'e} of torture and assassination under apartheid that takes former secret policeman Dirk Coetzee as its protagonist.",
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The Person of the Torturer: Secret Policemen in Fiction and Non-Fiction. / McGregor, Rafe.

In: The Journal of Aesthetic Education, Vol. 54, No. 4, 28.02.2018, p. 44-59.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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