Indefinite Detention: Chronotopes of Unfreedom in Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s <i>Guantánamo Diary</i>

  • Elizabeth Swanson Babson College
  • Alexandra Schultheis Moore Professor, English; Co-Director, Human Rights Institute, Binghamton University
Keywords: Literature and the War on Terror, Guantanamo narrative, chronotopes


Former Guantánamo detainee Mohamedou Ould Salahi’s memoir, Guantánamo Diary (2015, Restored Edition 2017), has been well received as a document of the “emergency” violence in the war on terror, with explicit testimony to a range of grave rights violations. In this essay, we show how the book also reveals overlaps between these techniques of torture and abuse, on one hand, and both Guantánamo’s deep colonial roots as well its reliance on “ordinary” prison procedures marked by racist brutality, on the other. “Indefinite Detention and Targeted Harm” builds on the Bakhtinian chronotope as a theoretical frame to explore a set of simultaneously competing and complementary spatio-temporal frameworks that ground and emerge through the text. Analyzing the overlapping and often conflicting temporal registers of “national emergency” and “imperialist history,” our reading of the memoir accounts for the narrative’s production of a post-torture, but not post-carceral, subjectivity, reminding readers that the everyday violence of the war on terror persists into the reading present even though the most egregious violence the text depicts has largely ended.

Author Biographies

Elizabeth Swanson, Babson College
Elizabeth Swanson is a professor of English in the Arts and Humanities Division, Babson College. Author of Beyond Terror: Gender, Narrative, Human Rights (Rutgers UP 2007), She has also co-edited several volumes: Human Bondage and Abolition: New Histories of Past and Present Slaveries (with James Brewer Stewart, 2018); Witnessing Torture: Perspectives of Survivors and Human Rights Workers (with Alexandra Schultheis Moore, 2018); Teaching Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies (with Elizabeth Swanson Goldberg, 2015); and Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature (with Moore, 2011). Swanson has published widely in the areas of literature and human rights, gender-based violence, and slavery.
Alexandra Schultheis Moore, Professor, English; Co-Director, Human Rights Institute, Binghamton University

Alexandra S. Moore is Professor of English and Co-Director of the Human Rights Institute at Binghamton University. Her publications include Vulnerability and Security in Human Rights Literature and Visual Culture (2015) and Regenerative Fictions: Postcolonialism, Psychoanalysis, and the Nation as Family (2004). She has also co-edited several volumes: Writing Beyond the State: Post-Sovereign Approaches to Human Rights to Literature and Culture (with Pinto, 2021), Witnessing Torture: Perspectives of Survivors and Human Rights Workers (with Swanson, 2018); The Routledge Companion to Literature and Human Rights (with McClennen, 2015); Teaching Human Rights in Literary and Cultural Studies (with Goldberg, 2015); Globally Networked Teaching in the Humanities (with Simon, 2015); Theoretical Perspectives on Human Rights and Literature (with Goldberg, 2011). Her current research is on the stories that black sites in the war on terror show and tell.