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

Rafe McGregor

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    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
    JournalJournal of Aesthetic Education
    Issue number4
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2017


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