Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Griselda and Guantanamo

It's rare for me to find something I'm reading for PhD-type purposes to have obvious and hugely pertinent relevance to a situation in The Real World. But Agamben's Homo Sacer, published in Italian in 1995 and in English three years before 9/11, could have been written as a description of the men incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay. I'm still reading the final section, in which Agamben applies his theory to the treatment of the Jews by the Nazis. In an interview with the German Law Journal, Agamben discusses the parallels much better than I could.

This book treats matters that are deeply serious. Consequently, I feel a bit of a fraud in opting to use it to think about the Clerk's Tale. People who have suffered terribly at the hands of those in power may not thank me for comparing them to a fourteenth-century poem. But Griselda's innocence and her vulnerability to subjection to her husband's abuse of power provoke such extreme reactions in readers from Petrarch (when he encountered the Decameron), his two friends, Chaucer's pilgrims, Vivaldi and hundreds of others through to me, perhaps there is some validity in allowing this tale to help me to understand the terrible problem of Guantanamo Bay.

Edited to add: the idea of applying Agamben to Griselda was not mine so I can't claim any originality here.

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