A Transparent Epochal Fallacy
I heard on NPR that they’ve re-opened “Abu Ghraib,” except that the prison has a new name: it is now called “Baghdad Central Prison.” Naturally, a new name is used to signify a break with the past, the sense that the old has been replaced with something new, and in doing so, been exorcised. So what are we to make of the emptiness of the “new” name — which signifies nothing except that it sounds furiously English — versus the opacity of the old name to American NPR listeners (who hear only an incomprehensibly Arabic signifier of American atrocities)? These aren’t the only ways that these names can be understood, of course, and the narrative told on NPR needs not (and I presume does not) have anything to do with what the change in names signifies, say, in Baghdad. But the fact that a reform of abuses proceeds by transforming an opaque Arabic name into a English name whose emptiness signifies transparency seems worth at least flagging. Or worth reflecting on; I wonder if Abu Ghraib has ever been a penitentiary in the only sense the idea is worth defending, the idea of a place defined by reflection on a past in service of overcoming it. It doesn’t seem to be that now. It seems to reflect something else.