PUNISHING THE RESIDUE
But he remains in life to whom the mind
and intelligence remains. He may be a mutilated
trunk dismembered all about, the spirit removed
all around and separated from the limbs,
yet he lives and breathes the vital air.
—Lucretius, De Rerum Natura
THE EXTREMITY OF CONTEMPORARY PUNISHMENT IN THE UNITED States—practices (anomalous in the so-called civilized world) of state-sponsored execution, prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement, excessive force, and other kinds of psychological torture—can be traced back to the country’s colonial history of legal stigma and civil incapacity. This terrain of disfigured personhood is everywhere. The “global war on terror” has facilitated the export of prison practices from the United States, where over 2.3 million persons are now incarcerated, to other locales of containment. In accounting for the continuity of these landscapes of unfreedom, let us engage with the legal forces that hover ghostlike on the ever-permeable limits between human and animal. There is something far worse than being turned into an animal. Naming that thing requires a great deal of thought, since the persons redefined in law remain persons—even slaves, as we have seen, though sometimes called “things,” were always “persons in law.”