Anthropology, Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News

The Sovereign Exception of Guantánamo (A Turkey Pardon)


This oldie but goodie by Magnus Fiskesjö from Prickly Paradigm Press definitely remains the singular anthropological text published on the relationship between the Thanksgiving turkey pardon and the War on Terror:

Each Thanksgiving, the president of the United States symbolically pardons one turkey from the fate of serving as a holiday dinner. In this pamphlet, anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö uncovers the hidden horrors of such rituals connected with the power of pardon, from the annual turkey to the pardoning of the original Teddy Bear. It is through these ritualized and perpetually remembered acts of mercy, Fiskesjö contends, that we might come to understand the exceptional—and troubling—status of the “War on Terror” prisoners being held by the United States at Guantánamo Bay.

“In The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon, Swedish anthropologist Magnus Fiskesjö, see in the annual presidential reprieve of an otherwise doomed turkey something much more than a lark. (Just ask a vegetarian; it’s no joke.) ‘It is really a symbolic pardoning act which, through public performance, establishes and manifests the sovereign’s position at the helm of the state by highlighting . . . his power to control matters of life and death.’ That observation leads Fiskesjö to some troubling thoughts on the exercise of U.S. sovereignty, from Teddy Roosevelt’s big-stick era to the holding of prisoners at Guantánamo.”—Jennifer Howard, Washington Post Book World

To read more about The Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon (Happy Thanksgiving!), click here.