Rendition

Rendition. Such an intriguing word.

Rendition is a legal term meaning “surrender” or “turn over”, particularly from one jurisdiction to another, and applies to property as well as persons. For criminal suspects, extradition is the most common type of rendition. Rendition can also be seen as the act of handing over, after the request for extradition has taken place.Rendition can also mean the act of rendering, i.e. delivering, a judicial decision, or of explaining a series of events, as a defendant or witness. It can also mean the execution of a judicial order by the directed parties.

Wikipedia, “Rendition”

[A] performance of a musical composition or a dramatic role … an explanation of something that is not immediately obvious … the act of interpreting something as expressed in an artistic performance

WordNet Search 2.1, “rendition”

Rendition was infamously used to recapture fugitive slaves, who under the Constitution and various federal laws had virtually no human rights. As the movement for abolition grew, Northern states increasingly refused to comply or cooperate with rendition of escaped slaves, leading to the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850.

Wikipedia, op.cit.

[T]he processing and manipulation of information in order to represent it, for instance, on screen or on paper. Not to be confused with conversion. Rendering is, for instance, carried out by a Web browser in order to display an HTML file on screen. Conversion or formatting refers to the preparation of a file so that the browser can display it.

Factory3x5 Glossary of Terms, “Rendition”

The CIA was granted permission to use rendition in a presidential directive that dates to the Clinton administration, although very few uses were documented during that time. The practice has grown sharply since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and now includes a form where suspects are taken into US custody but delivered to a third-party state, often without ever being on American soil. Because such cases do not involve the rendering country’s judiciary, they have been termed extraordinary rendition.

Wikipedia, op.cit.

Instance of a record rendered into another software format by a process entirely within the control of the ERM/EDM system, without loss of content. The content and most of the metadata (i.e. all except the relational linking back to the native format record and details of the software format) are identical. Renditions may be required for preservation or access / viewing purposes.

DataCore Technology, Inc. – Glossary of Terms, “Rendition”

Human rights groups charge that extraordinary rendition is a violation of the United Nations Convention on Torture, because suspects are taken to countries where torture during interrogation remains legal, thus circumventing the protections the captives would enjoy in the United States or other nations in the West. Its legality remains highly controversial, as the United States outlaws the use of torture, and the U.S. Constitution guarantees due process. Rendered suspects are denied due process because they are arrested without charges and deprived of legal counsel.

Wikipedia, op.cit.

Rendition may also refer to the culinary process of rendering, “to heat a piece of fat, or fat meat, slowly in a pan to convert it to liquid form,” as one on-line glossary of cooking terms puts it. (This is also referred to as trying the fat or lard.) The unifying meaning-element for all these definitions would seem to be translation from one state or context to another. As one of the above definitions reminds us, rendition is not to be confused with conversion, which is generally conceived of as somehow altering the fundamental make-up of the thing or person converted. In rendition, as in translation, there is a general presumption that the object of rendering remains largely unchanged and unimpaired in some essential way. Extraordinary rendition is extraordinary precisely because it violates this norm.

Translation, though, is also famously problematic in its own right. Given the somewhat dubious attempts to justify torture as a way to obtain vital information, I think it’s important to consider what happens to thought and language when they undergo translation into simple, binary terms – i.e., into information. What are we to make of tortured words? What happens to a people whose public vocabulary of human rights and freedoms is rendered – boiled down – into the slippery fuel for a war with no concrete enemy and no identifiable end?

No one has pondered the nature of translation more deeply than the literary critic and philosopher George Steiner. According to Steiner, “To understand is to decipher. To hear significance is to translate.” Quoting almost at random from his magisterial study, After Babel:

[E]very act of human communication is based on a complex, divided fabric which may, fairly, be compared to the image of a plant deeply and invisibly rooted or an iceberg largely under water. Active inside the ‘public’ vocabulary and conventions of grammar are pressures of vital association, of latent and realized content. Much of this content is irreducibly individual and, in the common sense of the term, private. When we speak to others we speak ‘at the surface’ of ourselves. We normally use a shorthand beneath which there lies a wealth of subconscious, deliberately concealed or declared associations so extensive and intricate that they probably equal the sum and uniqueness of our status as an individual person. It was from this central fact of the dual or subsurface phenomenology of speech that Humboldt derived his well-known axiom: ‘All understanding is at the same time a misunderstanding, all agreement on thought and feeling is also a parting of the ways.’ …But this opaqueness, this part of illusion in all public speech-acts is probably essential to the equilibrium of the psyche. Articulated or internalized, language is the principal component and validation of our self-awareness. It is the constantly tested carapace of individual identity. Yet at the phonological, grammatical, and, in significant measure, semantic levels it is also among the most ubiquitous and common of human properties. There is a sense in which our own skin belongs to every man. This apparent contradiction is resolved by the individuation of associative content. Without that individuation, in the absence of a decided private component in all but the most perfunctory, unreflecting of our speech-acts, language would possess only a surface. Lacking roots in the irreducible singularity of personal remembrance, in the uniqueness of the ‘association-net’ of personal consciousness and sub-consciousness, a purely public, common speech would severely impair our sense of self.

No wonder that so many of us who, to all appearances, have nothing to hide, still instinctively reject the proposition that anyone has the right to watch our every move, read our every e-mail and get our every word down on tape. And no wonder that those who assert that right tend to be the very same people defending the use of torture, or the right to invade sovereign nations under any pretext. But those who seek merely to colonize our imaginations with mass-produced fantasies are guilty of a subtler and more insidious violation, as a consequence of which the loss of freedom may be greeted with relief, and sensory deprivation or even torture may be actively sought as a respite from constant over-stimulation. If no thoughts are ever truly our own, how do we differ from slaves? Here’s Steiner again:

A diffuse rationalism, the levelling impress of the mass media, the increasing monochrome of the technological milieu, are crowding on the private components of speech. Under stress of radio and television, it may be that even our dreams will be standardized and made synchronic with those of our neighbours.

Welcome to the nightmare world of extraordinary rendition.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

2 Comments


  1. 2017 would shock 2005 but wouldn’t surprise these words from 2005:

    “No wonder that so many of us who, to all appearances, have nothing to hide, still instinctively reject the proposition that anyone has the right to watch our every move, read our every e-mail and get our every word down on tape. And no wonder that those who assert that right tend to be the very same people defending the use of torture, or the right to invade sovereign nations under any pretext. But those who seek merely to colonize our imaginations with mass-produced fantasies are guilty of a subtler and more insidious violation, as a consequence of which the loss of freedom may be greeted with relief, and sensory deprivation or even torture may be actively sought as a respite from constant over-stimulation.”

    Reply

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