Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To the Defenders of Torture

To the Defenders of Torture

During my many years of college teaching I would from time to time see students crossing the campus who, because they appeared different from the crowd (they were older or better dressed or, rarely, strikingly beautiful), made me wonder, “Who is that person?” And from time to time, one of those interesting persons would turn up in my English class and I, indeed, learned who that person was (alas, never one of the beauties though).

Mr. C. (as I shall call him) appeared in my composition class one summer session. I had spied him many times walking across campus with a sort of hop-limp, holding by its handles a stiff flower-decorated plastic shopping bag, the kind your grandmother might have taken to the corner grocer’s. He was at least ten years older than the majority of the other freshmen and spoke with a Middle-European accent. He was bright, but a difficult student. He wanted nothing to do with any writing that touched on feelings or emotions. Why, he wanted to know, couldn’t we just deal with the impersonal, the objective?

One day after class near the end of the summer session, I was discussing a paper with its writer when we were interrupted by another student, who insisted that I come immediately out into the hall, where he directed me to the stairway. There on the landing between flights was Mr. C., huddled in the corner, silently weeping. “He was tortured in prison in Czechoslovakia,” the second student whispered into my ear. I went over to the figure in the corner, a bumbling English teacher who had no words to console a man with a limp who wanted nothing to do with feelings or emotions.

(Originally published on my Telegraph UK blog)

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