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I’ve been slow to post about this one, both because so much has been going on and because of a feeling that the meeting was more influential for my project than I can quite articulate right now. But I will go ahead and post something because I’m thankful for the help and as a kind of placeholder for the stuff I’m processing.

Largely through the efforts of Ion Iacos, I visited the Rehabilitation and Research Centre for Torture Victims, RCT, and spoke with a few people, but I had an intense (for me, anyway) conversation with Ion and then with senior researcher Henrik Rønsbo as well.

Since I’ve started the project I’ve been very aware of how many people around the world are doing serious work around torture, in prevention, documentation, and rehabilitation, and I’ve often felt my project to be very small almost to the point of insignificance, or of another sort of work altogether. Going to the RCT didn’t change that, but the generosity and interest I was shown there was both helpful and encouraging. Ion is a master documentalist and pointed me to valuable resources in the library there that I otherwise would have missed. He also spoke forcefully from his own research and life experiences. Henrik works on a lot of things, many centered in Central America, and is both a “real” social scientist and the kind of anthropologist who can make himself understood by a performance studies person like myself. The two of them come across as young, hip and both intensely committed to their work and at the same time intellectually playful. While I certainly felt they listened carefully to my scenarios and questions, they also have the kind of energy that let them bounce off each other, so that I might just as productively asked to sit in on a long conversation between the two of them.

We covered a lot of areas, some more directly related to my academic project than to the Dark Room performance. The one thing I want to get down now is how impressed I was, repeatedly, by their efforts to understand torture contextually, locally, materially. Ion in particular spoke against understanding torture abstractly, arguing that individual circumstances of torture have to be seen as grains of sand and that knowing there’s a beach is not the same thing as understanding how its pieces came together. He also used language strikingly similar to some I’ve used to talk about torture: that it’s a relation between at least two people. This was a good opening for me to ask about the usefulness of performance as a lens for analyzing torture and we talked a lot about the related issue of metaphor as well.

Part of what was energizing for me about the conversation might seem irrelevant, but being on the road and trying to do this work is oddly exhausting and disorientating, and these two seemed to model a way of engaging with the issues in a centered, sane way.

I think the same is true of Steffen Jensen, a researcher who’s on temporary leave but who I caught up with later to talk about South Africa. It was a kind of disjointed evening, and I’m sure I could have wrung a lot more out of him, but he had some interesting things to say (including some provocative points about US popular media) and some leads for SA.

Anyway, I’m obviously very grateful to all concerned and trying hard to concretize some of these realizations.


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