Sunday, November 4, 2007

An Evening with the Torture Expert

Darius Rejali is a professor of political science at Reed College, an international expert on torture, and author of the forthcoming book "Torture and Democracy." (Princeton UP)

Also, he's one of my favorite academics to have dinner with. I'm lucky that Darius was my brother-in-law's thesis advisor, because that means when he visits Boston, we all get to sit around a table and chat about torture.

Talking with Darius is like simultaneously reading a great history book and watching a Wes Anderson movie. He's filled with knowledge, and he's trying to get it out of him in ways that are at turns hilarious, opaque, revelatory, complex, and/or shocking. I learn content from him, but even more than that, I learn about a way of being a scholar that truly appeals to me.

During his "Reed on the Road" lecture on Monday night, Darius dropped this in as an aside: "People ask me how can I study something so grim? And I tell them it makes the beauty in the world that much more beautiful."

Not squeamish, not afraid, not dismayed, but filled with curiosity and a longing to understand the processes by which human beings destroy each other, for the purpose of ceasing that destruction? Yes. Oh yes.

Thanks Rejali, for giving me context to the Kerry-stun-gun episode. Thanks for reminding me that all social processes are simultaneously miraculous and studiable. Thanks for caring enough about human rights to write a 900-page book on the history of how we've violated them.

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