Continental Philosophy Review

, Volume 42, Issue 1, pp 63–80 | Cite as

Bodies against the law: Abu Ghraib and the war on terror

  • Kelly Oliver


In this essay, I argue that the contemporary notion of law has been reduced to regulations and disciplinary codes that do not and cannot give meaning to our emotional lives and moral sensibilities. As a result, we have increasing numbers of what I call “abysmal individuals” who suffer from a split between law—broadly conceived as that which gives form and structure to social life—and personal embodied sensations of pain and pleasure. My attempt to understand the place of Abu Ghraib within American culture leads to an analysis of our valorization of innocence and ignorance that not only becomes the grounds on which we morally (if not legally) excuse abusive behavior as “fun,” but also becomes part of the justification for condoning some forms of violence while condemning others. In addition, I argue that the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate violence trades on underlying assumptions about the relationship between culture and nature, technology and bodies, wherein bodies are imagined as natural and outside of the realm of law.


Abu Ghraib Torture Law Agamben, Giorgio Cavarero, Adriana Kristeva, Julia 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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