In Rhetoric in the Time of Torture, Laura A. Sparks investigates how rhetoric and interrogational torture are imbricated with one another, troubling clear distinctions between persuasion and violence. In light of the U.S. government’s post-9/11 reliance on heavy interrogation techniques, Sparks offers a renewed attention to the rhetorical and temporal dimensions of torture, including the ways in which techniques utilized by military interrogators are intertwined with violent action. The author introduces compelling temporal logics related to imminence, surveillance, and prisoners’ world-times, among others, illuminating how temporal concerns figure in both justifications for and practices of torture. In addition, this book offers a range of case studies, including select torture memos, photographs from Abu Ghraib Detention Center, and opportunities for digital human rights advocacy, to demonstrate how recognizing torture’s rhetorical and temporal dimensions is crucial to our understanding and critique of interrogational torture in the present day. Ultimately, Sparks invites readers to consider where rhetoric fits in a world where people torture others to make them speak. Scholars of communication, rhetoric, and political science will find this book of particular interest.
Laura A. Sparks is associate professor of English at California State University, Chico.
Chapter 1: We Don’t Torture; Or, the Problem of Correspondence
Chapter 2: The Temporal Logic of Interruption
Chapter 3: Imminent Time and the Bureaucratic Groundwork
Chapter 4: Prisoner Time; Or, the Time that Unmakes the World
Chapter 5: Surveillance Time and Material Traces
Chapter 6: Making Advocacy
About the Author
“In this timely and compelling book, Laura Sparks dissects the rhetoricity of torture in the United States’ “war on terror” for insight into both the character of the country and the nature of rhetoric itself. A powerful instance of the intellectual fruit borne when bearing witness proceeds in reflective analysis.”
“Laura A. Sparks advances a perceptive and penetrating analysis of rhetoric’s complicity in the regime of torture deployed by the U.S. to combat terrorism after 9/11. She identifies key rhetorical constructions contributing to the violence of torture, focusing especially on modes of temporal manipulation, and draws on her analysis to intervene against the legitimation and practice of torture. Even as we live in a time of torture, Professor Sparks argues convincingly that the rhetorical action of digital media can serve to make a world more attentive to human rights.”
"For its War on Terror, the Bush Administration turned to torture. How did rhetoric serve to rationalize this policy? How did the torturers toy with their victims' sense of time? Such questions still haunt us, and this book provides illuminating answers. It blends precision and passion with stunning command of rhetorical theory."
“Rhetoric in the Time of Torture is an important book for all social scientists concerned with human rights, language use, and specifically torture. Sparks’ precise analysis emerges in her emphasis on time: the moment when torture is inflicted on the bodies of real human beings, when it is sanctioned (and the later hidden) by our own government, when and how it is discussed by our political leaders, when documents about the incident(s) are released, and the wide array of rhetorical moments in between. The use of temporality as a central feature of her analysis discloses the myriad ways that the brutality of torture is obscured, defended, and practiced. Sparks’ analysis is clear-eyed and well-researched.”