Deborah Orr: Apologies change nothing

Share
Related Topics

Unlike a huge list of others – from Prime Minister Gordon Brown to Haringey social services head Sharon Shoesmith, from disgraced banker Fred Goodwin to child-killer Sean Mercer – Bernard Madoff has at least apologised. "I'm deeply sorry and ashamed for my crimes," he said after pleading guilty to the biggest fraud in history this week. "I am painfully aware that I have hurt many people."

But who believes him? Not his victims, two of whom are not around to accept his words of contrition, because they have killed themselves. Anyway, who would accept the word of a man who has been lying through his teeth for years on end? Madoff, quite clearly, is sorry only that he got caught.

There's a world of difference between saying sorry and being sorry, and in the rush to demand apologies this is sometimes forgotten. However dreadful those who don't express sorrow when they ought to may seem, they don't compound their errors by mouthing the empty words that propriety demands and expecting people to be grateful.

When the eponymous anti-hero of Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray saw that his portrait was showing the signs of debauchery that were missing from his own face, he rushed out to do some charity work. Certain that he'd be able to discern the agreeable fruits of his new-found piety in his painted expression, he was horrified to observe instead the sneer of hypocrisy on his lips. Madoff is no different to Gray.

Madoff's apology came with a plea. He asked that he should be allowed to carry on living in his penthouse, on bail, until he was sentenced. But if he imagines that he will be treated more kindly because he has uttered the appropriate words for a man in his position, he is mistaken. Madoff's lack of regret is quite obvious to discern, because if he were truly sorry he would attempt to right some of his wrongs.

Instead, he is content to pretend that the $65bn he has taken from individuals and from charities has simply disappeared. Yet his wife took $15.5n from the accounts of his companies in the days before he was arrested, and his prosecutors also claim that he abused the conditions of his bail by trying to post $1m in watches and jewellery to relatives and associates. Full co-operation in recovering some of the assets he stole is the only sort of apology Madoff can reasonably make. But he is not willing to do that. Instead, perversely, he may even see some heroism in his present actions, as they protect the financial interests of the others who benefited from his crime along with him. What a creep.

The apotheosis of contrition is, of course, John Profumo, the Conservative MP who resigned in 1963 after lying to the House of Commons about his short affair a couple of years before with Christine Keeler. Details of the affair had been brought to the House in the first place, because it was trumped up, speciously, as a threat to national security.

Profumo lied only to protect an aspect of his private life that he was ashamed of. But he won respect because he never attempted to justify himself in that way, and dedicated himself to charitable work for the rest of his life. The catch is that Profumo reacted impeccably to his downfall because he was scrupulous in the first place in his understanding of right and wrong. Only that kind of person can make an apology and mean it. Mainly, demands for apologies are directed at people who are not, unfortunately, in the position to make them with sincerity.

Through art, a prisoner's humanity is restored

I'd been told by another artist, Jason Schulman, that Marc Quinn had made a sculpture based on one of the torture photographs released from Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Schulman had said it was an astounding piece. But seeing is believing, and the work that Quinn has created is shockingly moving and expressive.

Quinn calls the life-size bronze sculpture Mirage, pictured, and it is clear that the reference is to those who inflict torture, and their own delusions. In placing a hood over their victim's head, and cloaking his body, they had tried to obliterate his victim's humanity. But the humanity of this figure, his vulnerability, and his fragility, is so manifest and so plain. If humanity has been stripped, it is from the people who did this to him.

Quinn wanted to return the notorious image to three dimensions from the moment that he first saw it, and started making sketches from the blurred, abstracted image right away. Eventually, he started working with a model, perfecting the pose, adding the hood, the blanket, the wires, and casting a mould in fibreglass from life. He wanted the reproduction to be as close as possible to the original.

In the round, the perversity of the torture becomes clearer than it was in the photograph. By placing this man on a small box, and telling him that if he fell off it he would be electrocuted, his tormentors obliged him to stand tall and straight, with immense dignity, and to hold out his arms in a position that could not fail to summon the idea of supplication. His torturers, unwittingly, dictated that this man should adopt a Christ-like pose, and stand as the embodiment of acceptance or forgiveness, whatever else he may have felt in his head or his heart. The attempts for the torturers to dehumanise their victim became what should have been a rebuke to them – a reminder of the story of Christ, on whose teachings their own nation's value system is supposed to reside.

Quinn's work has always explored the vulnerability of the human body, and he hopes that his sculpture captures human vulnerability at a particularly dark and confused moment in history. "Torture doesn't even work," Quinn says with disgust, "and can only ever be prompted by the hatred of something in themselves that torturers feel."

Mirage will be shown in Salzburg in May. It is scheduled for display in London next March

What larks at Hitchcock's dinners

Dr Tom Stafford, a psychologist from Sheffield University, has found that a cup of tea or coffee really does taste better when you drink it from your favourite cup.

But this theory doesn't apply only to tea. The chef Heston Blumenthal did some experiments with Charles Spence, a multi-sensory-perception psychologist at Oxford, and found that oysters tasted better eaten from their shell than from other receptacles. Alfred Hitchcock used to like holding dinner parties and filtering the light during the early part of a meal. Some way through proceedings, the old jester would adjust the light, so that his guests could see that their omelette was blue and not the lemon colour they'd assumed it to be. If the revelation prompted vomiting, he'd enjoy himself all the more. But I think we can guess, despite the food-poisoning scare at his Fat Duck restaurant, that Blumenthal is no Hitchcock.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links