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Feminism and Pornography

Feminists have been somewhat split when it comes to the issue of pornography. While there are many perspectives, there isn’t a major consensus from feminists on pornography. Feminist positions on pornography currently break down into three rough categories. There are feminists who insist that pornography degrades women and turns them into nothing more than sexual objects. Liberal feminists claim that a woman owns her body and has the right to do what she wishes with it. There is yet another position that says that pornography doesn’t degrade women at all and, in fact, that it empowers women and is sexually liberating. A true defense of pornography arises from feminists who have been labeled ‘pro-sex,’ and who argue that porn has benefits for women.

The anti-pornography position is that pornography is an expression of male culture through which women are exploited. Anti-pornography feminists claim that pornography is a degrading portrayal of women and that pornography often shows women being mistreated or abused and gives men the false impression that they enjoy being treated this way. Some anti-pornography feminists treat women who disagree as either brainwashed dupes of patriarchy or as apologists for pornographers. In the anthology Sexual Liberals and the Attack on Feminism, editor Dorchen Leidholdt claims that feminists who believe women make their own choices about pornography are spreading "a felicitous lie.” In the same work, Sheila Jeffreys argues that "pro-sex" feminists are "eroticizing dominance and subordination."

Blogs and other media sites have posts that describe the desperation that can come along with the pornography. The leads women to feeling trapped into the pornography industry. Many women, in desperate need of money turn to pornography as a “last resort” and then their reputations are destroyed because of the stigma surrounding women in pornography. The anti-pornography position insists that pornography isn’t really a choice or may be at first, but then women are trapped into doing it for years, even when they want to quit.

The more liberal feminist view on pornography, while still against pornography, says that a woman has the right to choose to do pornography. Many also feel that censorship of pornography is a free speech issue. These feminists agree with the anti-pornography position that pornography does objectify women but argue that a woman should have the right to do what she wishes with her own body. Some also claim that the issue goes beyond women and into free speech. The idea is that speech, even if it is offensive, obscene or immoral, is and should be protected by the first amendment.

The third position is part of the pro-sex feminist movement. This movement draws much of its strength from the riot grrrl movement that started in the early 90’s. The riot grrrl movement was about empowering women through freedom of expression, including sexual expression. Pro-sex arguments sometimes seem to overlap with liberal feminist ones. For example, both express concern over who will act as censor because subjective words, such as "degrading," will be interpreted to mean whatever the censor wants. Wendy McElory, author of XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography, writes, "Pornography benefits women, both personally and politically." She argues that censorship of pornography means effective censorship of women. This movement argues that traditionally women have been expected to be sexually reserved and those who do show an interest in sex are called “sluts” and she seeks to change that.

McElory also points out the personal benefits for women in pornography. She writes, “Pornography allows women to enjoy scenes and situations that would be anathema to them in real life.” Another example is in Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape by Lee Jacobs Riggs. Riggs writes about pornography's benefits with women dealing with sexual trauma. He writes “Pornography can be a less risky way for survivors to reintroduce sexuality into their lives before they are ready to do so with another person.” For these reasons, pro-sex feminists defend pornography as being helpful rather than destructive to the feminist movement.

Pornography continues to be controversial both within and outside the feminist movement. While a somewhat mainstream feminist idea has been the pornography is harmful to women, the pro-sex feminist movement has been increasing in size and support sense the early 90’s. The pro-sex movement is often seen as the more progressive view point while the anti-pornography has been called outdated. Very little dialogue occurs between the different views and it seems unlikely that there will be any consensus.

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You probably have to look at imagery of death and dying regularly to stay focused on what really counts in life: great sex before you are gone anyway.

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Solving Nabokov’s Lolita Riddle

‘There is a certain type of critic who when reviewing a work of fiction keeps dotting all the i’s with the author’s head. Recently one anonymous clown, writing on Pale Fire in a New York book review, mistook all the declarations of my invented commentator in the book for my own’ — Vladimir Nabokov (SO 18)

Over the past ten years, some of the most challenging and exhilarating exegesis of Nabokov’s oeuvre has emerged — Michael Wood’s The Magician’s Doubts and Brian Boyd’s The Magic of Artistic Discovery spring to mind, among others — so it gives me no great pleasure to announce that with the advent of Joanne Morgan’s Solving Nabokov’s Lolita Riddle, this decade is now host to a work which must rate among the most alarmingly unscholarly efforts in living memory. Indeed, it would be difficult to envisage that such a text — riddled with factual inaccuracies, irresponsible speculations and inventions, and grating grammatical and syntactical errors — could be published in the present day. Morgan admits that her text was met with an ‘extremely hostile and dismissive response’ (311) when proffered to university presses and reviewers in 2001, which evidently only steeled her resolve to self-publish. Unfortunately, all the crucial checks and balances that are in place during the institutional publication of an academic work have been removed by the self-publication process, allowing Morgan to reach farcical and thoroughly libellous conclusions with immunity. In her debut work, Morgan offers the thesis that Nabokov wrote Lolita in order to encrypt information about some alleged sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his uncle: sexual abuse which Nabokov never explicitly or implicitly hinted at, and which one can only conclude Morgan has fabricated. She unfolds her analysis through an examination of Nabokov’s response in a 1962 interview to the question, ‘Why did you write Lolita?’:

It was an interesting thing to do. Why did I write any of my books, after all? For the sake of the pleasure, for the sake of the difficulty. I have no social purpose, no moral message; I’ve no general ideas to exploit, I just like composing riddles with elegant solutions. (SO 16)

Morgan treats Nabokov’s mention of a ‘riddle’ as a challenge specific to Lolita, bringing into relief one in a slew of methodological blunders she commits. Nabokov frequently drew analogies between the composition of his novels and riddles or chess problems,1 so his comment regarding Lolita is hardly an anomaly; however, Morgan reads it as an entreaty to investigate the novel with a view to solving an embedded riddle. Despite the obvious questions of authorial intention and the possibility of a metalanguage that such a reading-contract invokes, Morgan proceeds without undertaking even a cursory metacritical interrogation, instead belatedly admitting that she finds Derrida ‘incomprehensible and ultimately, [sic] pointless’ (300). However, the Derridean analysis of the simultaneous impossibility and possibility of the secret in literary fiction is the very thesis Morgan is repudiating: in Given Time, Derrida argues that

the readability of the [literary] text is structured by the unreadability of the secret, that is, by the inaccessibility of a certain intentional meaning or of a wanting-to-say- in the consciousness of the characters and a fortiori in that of the author who remains, in this regard, in a situation analogous to that of the reader…it is the possibility of non-truth in which every possible truth is held or is made. It thus says the (non-) truth of literature, let us say the secret of literature: what literary fiction tells us about the secret, of the (non-) truth of the secret, but also a secret whose possibility assures the possibility of literature. (153)

Even if we adopt Morgan’s dubious presupposition that Nabokov was alluding to a singular riddle embedded in Lolita, we still arrive at its function in the text as a secret, and no claim to know the truth or non-truth of that secret can ever truly know. Morgan, however, triumphantly proclaims that she has delivered ‘the solution…as promised, in the master’s own hand’ (60).

Morgan admits that she approached Lolita with a view to use it as a ‘literary case-study of paedophilia’ (145), and her quest resembles a instance, as Derrida articulated in ‘Le Facteur de la Vérité,’ of psychoanalysis always refinding itself [se trouver] (413). By approaching the text with her paedophilic bent, while aiming to uncover the ‘true’ answer to a riddle, Morgan has (coincidentally and conveniently) identified a riddle revolving around paedophilia. Despite the manifestly inadequate evidence she adduces to identify the riddle — a flimsy nexus of ‘intentional Freudian slips’ and mistranslations in Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited, a recurrent symbolic motif of a ‘green leaf,’ and the close lexicographic resemblance between ‘insect’ and ‘incest’ — Morgan asserts with staggering self-certitude that she has discovered ‘the key to Lolita‘ (60). The alleged ‘key’ might be summarised as follows: Nabokov’s ‘riddle’ belies a history of Nabokov’s sexual abuse by his Uncle Ruka (Vasiliy Ivanovich Rukavishnikov); Quilty and Humbert are Nabokov’s fictional renderings of Ruka; Lolita is a ‘gender-disguised’ boy (that is, Nabokov himself), all of which leads Morgan to the self-evidently ludicrous conclusion that Nabokov was a paedophile:

I am keenly aware that the conclusion I have arrived at about Nabokov’s paedophilia is both extremely sensitive and controversial. I hasten to add that I do not feel personally driven by a crude agenda of exposing and condemning Nabokov as a paedophile…we cannot ever know the total truth. (36)

Curiously, ‘crude’ seems an entirely apposite descriptor for Morgan’s conjecture. Nabokov’s legendary disdain for the brand of Freudian literary criticism reliant upon derivative symbolism makes it exceedingly unlikely that he deliberately encoded ‘green leaves’ in his novels to symbolise sexual abuse. Morgan’s assertion becomes particularly absurd in the light of Nabokov’s comical dismissal of a student ‘for writing that Jane Austen describes leaves as ‘green’ because Fanny is hopeful, and ‘green’ is the colour of hope’ (SO 305). One of Nabokov’s more responsible2 characters, John Shade, iterates a concordant opinion in Pale Fire: ‘there are certain trifles I do not forgive…looking in [texts] for symbols; example: ‘The author uses the striking image green leaves because green is the symbol of happiness and frustration”(PF 126). Further, although Nabokov never — explicitly or implicitly — hinted that his uncle behaved with impropriety (indeed, to the contrary, in Speak, Memory, Nabokov recalls rescuing with alacrity an inherited cane of Ruka’s from beneath the wheels of a train (188)), Morgan maligns him as an ‘insensitive monster’ (45) who ‘committed the first act of penetrative sex at age ten, thereby breaking Vladimir’s life’ (144). Ruka is mentioned on a total of fourteen of the some 256 pages of Speak, Memory, and Nabokov recalls a ‘sense of security, of well-being, of summer warmth’ (62) attached to his memories of his uncle, so Morgan resorts to a conflation of the author and his fictional characters in order to make her case. She cites Nabokov’s fictional novels, Bend Sinister, Lolita, and The Enchanter, to fill out her imaginative version of events; in one particularly invidious act of inventive interpellation, she ascertains a chronology of events by citing fiction as fact:

What age was Vladimir when Uncle Ruka started sexually molesting him? While the time-lines in The Enchanter and Lolita imply that penetrative sex began at the age of twelve, there are sound reasons for deducing that Vladimir’s abuse escalated well before this. In Bend Sinister, Nabokov indirectly implies that David’s childhood ended when he was eight years old. This was how old Vladimir was when he was left alone with Ruka after summer lunches at Vyra. (143)

Morgan’s spurious allegations of paedophilia are not restricted to Nabokov and his uncle, however; over the course of her work, she also suggests that Shirley Temple was controlled by a nefarious paedophile network:

It seems highly likely to me that a paedophile ring of some kind, based in Hollywood, was behind at least some of Shirley’s carefully orchestrated performances. Given the clandestine nature of this underworld and the time that has elapsed, future investigative journalism may or may not be able to uncover more conclusive evidence about this matter. (165)

It is hardly necessary to underscore the superfluity of engaging in guessing games in a purportedly ‘academic’ text, yet such serious methodological errors pepper Morgan’s analysis. Further on, she also suggests that Dostoevsky may have been a paedophile:

There are grounds for believing that Dostoevsky did indeed confess on a few occasions to engaging in sex with a minor. Scenes of adult-child sex crop up in The Devils as well as Crime and Punishment. Nabokov’s unsympathetic attitude toward Dostoevsky suggests he believed Dostoevsky did commit an act of child rape…he possibly also held deep suspicions about the language of spiders and leaves found in The Devils. (304)

One would surmise that it is far more likely Nabokov’s enmity towards Dostoevsky was founded on the epitomisation of techniques from ‘second-rate detective thrillers and [the] cheap psychology of the abyss’ Dostoevsky’s fiction represented to him (Nivat 398) than on the possibility Dostoevsky was a paedophile. In particular, Nabokov took issue with Dostoevsky’s ‘literary platitudes’ (LRL 98) delivered by his ‘sensitive murderers and soulful prostitutes’ (SO 42). Nabokov’s quarrel with Dostoevsky was both epistemological and stylistic: indeed, he once referred to Dostoevsky’s fiction as ‘reactionary journalism’ (SO 65), yet it is imperative to note that, as Georges Nivat puts it, ‘God knows that Dostoevsky was not the unique target of Nabokov’s animus’ (398). Nabokov routinely took literary giants to task for the flaws he perceived in their texts, and Dostoevsky was but one in a long line of authors who were often acerbically dispatched by the master prose stylist. Indeed, Morgan’s theory begs the question: even if, at a momentous stretch of the imagination, Nabokov and Dostoevsky were both paedophiles, why would Nabokov have eschewed Dostoevsky for his paedophilia? It would be a laborious and tedious task to identify all of Morgan’s risible hypotheses, so let the above examples stand as representative of the calibre of her scholarship.

Morgan’s work is also riddled with factual inaccuracies: for instance, Humbert Humbert, the French protagonist of the novel, miraculously becomes ‘Swiss’ (19); Humbert’s first love, Annabel Leigh, transforms into the eerie twin of Poe’s ‘Annabel Lee’ (19), and Quilty’s peculiar handwriting becomes Humbert’s (50), to name but a few. Morgan’s superficial knowledge of Nabokov’s work is manifest throughout the text: she asserts that ‘Lolita was one of very few pieces of prose by Nabokov where he adopted the first person narrative’ (180), when, in fact, his novels Pnin, Pale Fire, Despair, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, his autobiography Speak, Memory, and a large number of his short stories were all narrated in the first person. The text is also rife with distracting typographical errors; one particular howler, ‘Kubrick also did not rejected Nabokov’s proposal,’ (239) evoking the spectre of Nabokov’s bumbling protagonist Timofey Pnin. To be strictly accurate, Morgan’s scholarship is more reminiscent of Charles Kinbote’s — Nabokov’s comically deranged commentator in Pale Fire — sans the incidental chuckles which ensue as a result of Kinbote’s hilarious misreadings. Much of the comedy in Pale Fire arises through Kinbote’s dismal failure as a critic an editor: he not only misinterprets the text in question at every opportunity, but he also attempts to stuff his fantasy life as Zembla’s King Charles the Beloved II into his critical apparatus. Morgan’s efforts mimic a similar imaginative flight of fancy: no amount of rhetoric will convince the reader to accede to her framing Lolita as a thinly-disguised incest-survivor’s account, nor will her paltry evidence on the question of Nabokov’s paedophilia sway even the most impressionable of readers.

Ultimately, Morgan’s fare is severely wanting in terms of its mode of expression, methodology, and its scholarly integrity. It is an unapologetically amateurish expedition that will infuriate serious Nabokov scholars and enthusiasts, misinform initiates, and contribute to the growing body of distorted and hysterical work that continues to circulate around Nabokov’s most famous novel. Morgan careens from Nabokov to child pornography to Calvin Klein commercials, paying scant regard to the serious nature of the allegations she levels along the way. Her conclusions, that ‘a new annotated version of the novel Lolita be issued…[with] carefully integrated footnotes to highlight how Nabokov generated gender and sexual preference conclusions’ (301), and that ‘we simply excise’ passages which ‘promot[e] paedophilic responses to children’ (214) demonstrate her profound naïveté and misplaced moral righteousness. Nabokov once called his readers ‘the most varied and gifted in the world’ (Boyd, Magic 12), but it is difficult to envisage Nabokov, as Morgan does, finding anything about her text ‘rather pleasing’ (306), particularly as she daringly calls Nabokov ‘woefully inadequate’ (185) at one point, and describes his readers’ activities as ‘floundering and flailing’ (148). It is supremely ironic that Nabokov, famed for his exacting precision, has been subjected to such a zealous display of critical buffoonery; however, it is not difficult to imagine the few choice remarks he might have made in response; perhaps something along the lines of his demolition of Edmund Wilson:

I do not believe in the old-fashioned, naïve, and musty method of human – interest criticism…that consists of removing the characters from an author’s imaginary world to the imaginary, but generally far less plausible, world of the critic who then proceeds to examine these displaced characters as if they were ‘real people.’ (SO 263)

Far more interesting than Morgan’s text is the manner in which Nabokov’s novel continues, much as it did in 1950’s McCarthyist America, to expose the hypocrisy of our contemporary society which simultaneously consigns sex ‘to a shadow existence,’ yet dedicates itself to ‘speaking of it ad infinitum, while exploiting it as the secret’ (Foucault, History 35). Foucault identified that the relatively recent medicalisation of sexuality has produced a fear that aberrant sexuality is both an illness in itself, yet also capable of ‘inducing illnesses without number’ (Power 191); consequently, in the discourse relating to Lolita‘s supposedly paedophilic content, there is a hysteria that can be associated with the fear of contagion. That very fear of contagion evokes the spectres of prohibition and censorship, which in turn gives rise to ‘inquisitiveness and transgression’ (Flint 318) on behalf of the public. This mechanism whereby censorship contributes to a work’s infamy and popularity is illustrated aptly by Lolita itself: Lolita‘s publication on September 15, 1955 went almost entirely unremarked until December 25, when, in a small column in the Sunday Times, Graham Greene selected it as one of the three best books of the year. Greene’s selection prompted John Gordon, the editor of the Sunday Express, to purchase and read it. Horrified, Gordon delivered this broadside to Lolita:

Without doubt…the filthiest book I have ever read. Sheer unrestrained pornography. Its central character is a pervert with a passion for debauching what he calls ‘nymphets.’ These, he explains, are girls aged from 12 to 14. The entire book is devoted to an exhaustive, uninhibited, and utterly disgusting description of his pursuits and successes. It is published in France. Anyone who published or sold it here would certainly go to prison (St Jorre 130).

The protracted and vehement debate which ensued between Greene and Gordon ensured Lolita achieved instantaneous mass celebrity and, by the time of its American publication by Putnam’s in 1958, most of the major American press were bracing themselves to review it (Dennison 188). Lolita swiftly became an ubiquitous cultural referent — the regular subject of celebrities like Steve Allen, Dean Martin and Milton Berle (Boyd, ‘Year’ 31) — and, as such, it played an important part in the renegotiation of sexual normality and abnormality in an America reeling with new insights into its own sexuality. The attempts to censor Lolita — to exert power over the text and to restrict the dissemination of its knowledge — would prove to be the very agents which popularised its allure, and today, Morgan’s work feeds right into that very double-bind. Foucault’s contention that censorship of sex is in reality an ‘apparatus for producing an even greater quantity of discourse’ (History 23) is evident in the Lolita phenomenon that continues unabated: rather than an injunction to silence, the various movements to ban Lolita become incitements to enter into discourses of sexuality. As Eric Larrabee states, ‘every disagreement over sex censorship is,’ by implication, ‘a discussion of the sexual state of the nation’ (682), and Lolita continues to provide us with the opportunity to redefine sexual deviance and normalcy.

Ultimately, the discourse that surrounds Lolita is replete with paradoxes: not only do its censors incite a explosion of discourse about sexuality, but by attempting to exert power over the text, they instead ascribe power to it. Nabokov’s text still operates as a condensation symbol for paedophilia and pornography — as recently as 1990, police in San Francisco seized a copy of Lolita as evidence of perversion in a case of alleged child pornography (Stanley 20). This brings into relief the manner in which ‘perversion is inscribed into the very act of censorship’ (žiek 182): with a text like Lolita that is devoid of profanities, the censor must determine what is intended to arouse the common reader — yet, as Elizabeth Janeway noted in her review, for most readers, nothing is ‘more likely to quench the flames of lust’ (25) than Humbert’s account. Morgan, however, stakes her unflinching conviction that Lolita ‘might even prompt men who have never previously been aroused by young girls (or boys) to begin a masturbatory fantasy life that has the potential to carry them down the road to hell’ (193). Despite the fact that pornography is an inadequate referential symbol as it means different things to different people (McConahay 32), Morgan argues comfortably in concrete terms about what is and isn’t pornography, which essentialises pornography, arousal, and the text itself. In the current climate of renewed hysteria over paedophilia, Lolita is invoked again and again as the seminal text which has made paedophilia more ‘thinkable,’ that ‘greater toleration’ now exists for what ‘had previously been regarded as…the most horrible of crimes’ (Podhoretz 17), yet, as per žiek, the question must be asked of the censor precisely why Nabokov’s text must shoulder the blame since, as to many readers, Humbert’s exploits seem a far cry from pornography. Regardless, Nabokov’s text has earned its place in the canon as a permanent ‘classic of contemporary literature’ (Appel 204); the inherent irony, of course, is that its censors today, much like those in the past, assure its continuing notoriety and popularity.

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The 10 Most Gruesome Torture Techniques From Medieval Europe

During the Middle Ages, torture was considered a legitimate way to extract confessions, punish offenders, and perform executions. Some methods were considerably crueler than others — these 10 being among the most barbaric and brutal.

Europe's Medieval period lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. During this time, torture was often used to extract confessions, or obtain the names of accomplices or other information about crimes. Laws and local customs did not impose limits on the treatment of prisoners or the extent to which torture could be inflicted. In fact, confessions were not considered genuine or sincere when so-called "light torture" was used (such as toe wedging and strappado).

Different types of torture were used depending on the victim's crime, gender, and social status. Skilled torturers would use methods, devices, and instruments to prolong life as long as possible while inflicting agonizing pain. Many prisoners were tortured prior to execution in order to obtain additional information; in many of these cases, the execution method was part of the torture endured by prisoners.

There are dozens upon dozens of different torture techniques and devices. I recently visited the Museum of Medieval Torture Instruments in Prague where these 10 caught my eye. But before you read any further, be warned that they are very graphic and disturbing.

1. The Judas Cradle

Also called the Judas Chair, this Italian invention was particularly cruel.

Using ropes, a prisoner would be lowered above the pyramid-shaped "seat" with the point inserted into the anus or vagina. Victims would be tortured by intense pressure and stretching of the orifice, resulting in permanent damage. In many cases, the victim would succumb to rips in the muscle tissue that would later become infected. Weights would be added to facilitate the effect, often resulting in death by impalement.

A similar device, called the Spanish Donkey (or wooden horse), achieved a similar effect. Victims straddled the triangular "horse" and were forced to place their full body weight on their crotch, which rested on the point of the angle.

2. Saw Torture

This was a form of execution in which a living person was sawed in half, either longitudinally or transversely, through the central body mass.

This was done either by sawing the individual in half across or along the body length.

3. Pear of Anguish

This heinous contraption was used during the Middle Ages as a way to torture women who were accused of facilitating a miscarriage. It was also used to punish liars, blasphemers, and homosexuals. The device was inserted into one of the prisoner's orifices — the vagina for women, the anus for homosexuals, and the mouth for liars and blasphemers (which is why it's also known as the Choke Pear).

The device featured four metal leaves that slowly separated from each other as the torturer turned the screw at the top. The torturer could use it to tear the skin, or expand it to its maximal size to mutilate the victim. It rarely caused death, but was often followed by other torture methods.

4. Breaking Wheel

Also known as the Catherine wheel, this torture device was used to torture and kill prisoners for public executions.

The device was typically a large wagon wheel with radial spokes. Offenders were were lashed to the wheel and their limbs beaten with a club or iron cudgel. The gaps in the wheel allowed the limbs to give way and break. Disturbingly, the survival time after being "broken" could be extensive, with some accounts of victims living for several days prior to succumbing to their mortal injuries.

5. Iron Chair

This torture device was used extensively during the Middle Ages. Victims would be placed onto the chair — which featured hundreds of sharp spikes — followed by the progressive tightening of iron restraints, forcing the spikes deep into the

This could go on for hours, sometimes days. The spikes did not penetrate vital organs and blood loss was minimized — at least until the person was released from the chair. Death often followed. The Iron Chair was often used as a psychological instrument of torture; victims would often confess after being forced to watch other prisoners being tortured by the device.

6. Head Crusher

Pretty self-explanatory.

The device, which is basically a vise for the head, slowly crushes the skull and facial bones. Even if the torturer stopped before death, permanent damage to the facial muscles and structure would occur.

7. Rat Torture

Rats have also been employed to perform torture. There were many variants, but a common technique was to force a starving rat through a victim's body (usually the intestines) as a way to escape.

To make it work, prisoners were completely restrained and tied to the ground or any horizontal surface. A rat was then placed on the stomach covered by a metallic container, which was gradually heated. The rat began to look for a way out, which inevitably meant through the victim's body. Digging through the body usually took a few hours, resulting in a painful and gruesome death.

8. Coffin Torture

This was one of the most dreaded forms of torture during the Medieval Period.

The accused were placed inside a caged coffin, rendering them completely immobile. The period of time was determined by the crime, with some infractions, like blasphemy, punishable by death. Victims were often put on public display, where they would be mocked and abused by angry locals.

9. Breast Ripper

This one's particularly nasty — not that the other items on this list aren't. Also known as the Iron Spider, it was mainly used on women who were accused of adultery, self-abortion, heresy, blasphemy, or accused of being witches. It was also used for interrogations.

The device, which was often heated during torture, contained four "claws" which were used to slowly and painfully rip off the breasts. The instrument would be latched onto a single breast of the woman. Blood sometimes splattered onto her children. If the woman did not die, she would be disfigured for the rest of her life. Image credit: Flominator.

Other variations of this torture also existed.

10. Knee Splitter

Popular during the Inquisition, this device consisted of two spiked wood blocks which were placed in front of and behind the knee.

The blocks, which were connected by two large screws, would be turned and made to close towards each other, destroying the knee underneath. The technique would render the knees useless. The number of spikes on the blocks varied from three to twenty, often depending on the nature of the crime and the status of the prisoner.

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