Kafka’s Harrow Contraption & Cute
Names for Chinese Torture Devices
This won’t hurt a bit. But as far as absurd literature master Franz Kafka was concerned, worst than physical pain was not to know its origins. His tragic characters were often at loss to fully grasp why they were being accused, punished, and ostracized. Or acted numb, while being described in detail a despicably grotesque torture device, as in the 1919 story In the Penal Colony.
That device, the Harrow, has now been recreated for a show, and unless you’ve read the book in its original German, it may pack an equivalent emotional punch in its visual brutality. It certainly invokes the horrors of the Inquisition, but everything about it, including its name, greatly contrasts with the almost light-hearted names the Chinese had given to similar contraptions.
Without dwelling much in the horrors of torture, an ever present but rarely discussed issue in times of political turmoil, and under the banner of war on terror, for example, we do tend to think about the Catholic Church and its systematic use of it for over 600 years, in many parts of the ‘civilized’ world. And all supposedly in the name of a loving god, no less, of course.
But alas, with all its consistency and increasingly sophisticated methods, the church was far from being the first, the last, or even the worst at it. We’ve been physically torturing each other since, well, you give us a date, as far back as you can conceive it, and we’ll add a few thousand years even farther than that.
Every single conqueror and emperor and invader and king and sheik and warlord and centurion and clan-leader, their followers, family and friends, all went after their opponents with every possible means of inflicting pain till dismemberment and death. All in order to extract Continue reading