Figurative Inquisitions

Paper Text – $45.00

ISBN 978-0-8101-2945-0
Publication Date
January 2014
Page Count
174 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9

Figurative Inquisitions

Conversion, Torture, and Truth in the Luso-Hispanic Atlantic
Erin Graff Zivin

Winner, 2015 LAJSA Best Book in Latin American Jewish Studies

The practices of interrogation, torture, and confession have resurfaced in public debates since the early 2000s following human rights abuses around the globe. Yet discussion of torture has remained restricted to three principal fields: the legal, the pragmatic, and the moral, eclipsing the less immediate but vital question of what torture does. Figurative Inquisitions seeks to correct this lacuna by approaching the question of torture from a literary vantage point.

This book investigates the uncanny presence of the Inquisition and marranismo (crypto-Judaism) in modern literature, theater, and film from Mexico, Brazil, and Portugal. Through a critique of fictional scenes of interrogation, it underscores the vital role of the literary in deconstructing the relation between torture and truth. Figurative Inquisitions traces the contours of a relationship among aesthetics, ethics, and politics in an account of the "Inquisitional logic" that continues to haunt contemporary political forms. In so doing, the book offers a unique humanistic perspective on current torture debates.

About the Author

Erin Graff Zivin is an associate professor of Spanish and Portuguese and of comparative literature at the University of Southern California.


"Erin Graff Zivin’s Figurative Inquisitions: Conversion, Torture and Truth in the Luso-Hispanic Atlantic is an outstanding book that represents a major contribution to contemporary literary and cultural criticism.  Highly original, interdisciplinary, and comparative, it addresses issues that are at once timeless and timely, including the operations and limits of power, and the inherent instability of subjectivity and representation."  --Kate Jenckes, Associate Professor, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan

"In Figurative Inquisitions: Conversion, Torture and Truth in the Luso-Hispanic Atlantic, Erin Graff Zivin does something quite remarkable:  She engages in close readings of Brazilian, Mexican, Portuguese, German, and U.S.-American literature and film, in order to argue in the most convincing of fashions that the persecution of marranos (Jewish converts to Catholicism during the 16th century Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula) stands as the foundation of modern subjectivity and modern political order.  To make this case, she provides lucid theoretical engagements with Benjamin, Derrida, de Man, Althusser, and Žižek, among others, that likewise position marranismo at the core of modern philosophy.  The fact that she can make such a rich and complex argument at all is praise-worthy.  The fact that she does so in such a concise and elegant manner is, like the "Truth" of the marrano itself, almost unspeakable. --Justin Read, Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, University at Buffalo (SUNY)


“In Figurative Inquisitions Graff Zivin provides the clearest, most energetic and most consequential treatment I know of the ways in which literary works produce truth effects and sorts of truth askew of principles of identity.  In her hands, the literary and cinematic traditions of Europe and Latin America encounter Levinas, Derrida, and Benjamin in sustained and subtle cross-interpretations.  The result is exhilarating: a major contribution, not just to the cultural historiography of the Luso-Hispanic Atlantic, but to our efforts to understand the incoherent and tormented figures (the figures of allegory, identity, conversion, pain, and above all, truth) that the disciplines of literary criticism and philosophy marshal to bring into contact the languages of ethics and of politics.”—Jacques Lezra, New York University