By Matthew J. A. Green
[ Byron and the Politics of Freedom and Terror by way of ( writer ) May-2011 Hardcover
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Additional resources for Byron and the Politics of Freedom and Terror
22 The Giaour is one of Byron’s most violent and disruptive ﬁgures and his ability to strike decisively serves not to liberate but to render his suffering more acute and to transport him to the very limit of human experience. So too, the poem’s association of political liberty with sexual desire exposes the contradiction at the heart of freedom itself, which can only exist in an embodied form and yet continually revolts against the limitations of materiality. On the one hand, such freedom manifests itself through an experience of landlessness that is typiﬁed in the wandering of the Giaour whose liberty to roam threatens “That lifeless thing the living fear” 21 to overwhelm his identity entirely, while Leila’s exercise of sexual choice and the ensuing punishment points to an indissociable bond between freedom and vulnerability.
That the poem locates this assertion in the mouth of a Muslim speaker complicates the signiﬁcance of Leila’s death. One the one hand, Leila’s execution demonstrates the barbarity and baseness of those complicit with the Ottoman regime; on the other hand, however, it offers an occasion of dissension from within such that the text’s fragmentary form reinforces the heterogeneity of the Ottoman community itself. Rather than regarding it as something to be disavowed by those whose objectives extend beyond the preservation of the status quo, the body can perform a central function in the articulation of a coherent response to governmental, military and media discourses that invoke the threat to life as part of an argument in favor of an escalation of state violence.
Thus, Butler writes, “the boundary of the body never fully belongs to me. ”17 Leila’s loss of life highlights the sociality of the body both because it reafﬁrms the dominance of the patriarchal Ottoman order and also because, in so doing, it operates metonymically for the Greek loss of spirit. Nevertheless, The Giaour’s depiction of corporeal vulnerability calls into question the legitimacy of relating freedom to violence either in terms of retribution—on the personal level of the narrative in which the battle is motivated by the violation of Leila—or in terms of national liberation—in which the contest concerns the fate of Greece.