Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Internal Memo

for Josh

It was an extraordinary rendition. The Secretary of [blank] seemed almost convincing, for a moment. We were playing extras in the ordinary, in front of our screens. No lines, of course. The tortured man looked like a tortured man; he made the extraordinary muffled sounds of a man being tortured; of information, under violence and the threat of violence, rendered from the tensed body as fat might be rendered from a chunk of salt-pork, from the Latin reddĕre, to give back, render meaning in its first sense to relay or recount but eventually, also, to surrender or turn over. Because to say is to submit; to say is to turn what you mean over to the authorities for processing; because the word rendition in the mouth of a U.S. attorney is murder to what it should or might have meant to a storyteller in the 12th century at the tattered edge of one empire or another and with something to remind us about ourselves. There is nothing extraordinary about this. It is part of the order of things. Order meaning rank, hierarchy, row, class, category, social grouping, taxonomy of living things, style of architecture, laws governing the universe, method, sequence, succession, harmonious arrangement, respect thereof, referring originally to the fertile, feverishly proliferating phyla of angels which eventually, in their disorderly congresses, threatened to outnumber men by three-to-one—order cognate perhaps with ōrdō, “a thread on the loom.” From what I can gather, these angels were like extras in the ordinary, in front of their screens. No lines, of course. They thronged in the middle dark of the dungeon, their ductile bodies woven together in a gorgeous, orderly and yet largely invisible tapestry, lending an air of reality to the rendition of a tortured man played, in point of fact, by a tortured man. We were not sure if the torturer’s ordinary instruments were arranged in any kind of order: the Iron Maiden of Nuremberg, the Headman’s Sword, The Judas Cradle, Vaginal Pear, Pillory, Thumbscrews, the Headcrusher, Saint Elmo’s Belt, The Heretic’s Fork, Scold’s Bridle, Cat’s Paw. Elsewhere, Crusaders crashed into a Jerusalem in ruins a thousand years.

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