It is easy to sit in your room, listening to the rain, and to forget the wars being fought in your name, with your tacit consent, by the state that you fund with your tax dollars. It is comfortable to ignore the torture techniques employed to get questionable information then used by law enforcement officials who structure sting operations using paid informants to entrap impressionable, disaffected young Muslim men into hypothetical terror plots. It is hard to believe that it has almost been a decade since this war on terror began (officially) and it is numbing to realize how little I've done to try to intervene in its execution--and even more numbing to realize there is likely little I could do.
Amitava Kumar's new book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb, is a touching collection of essays that capture what Raymond Williams might have called the "structure of feeling" of this moment--though in addition to looking at artists and authors reactions to torture and the GWOT, he looks closely at court documents and interviews suspects, convicts, and their families as living legacies of our twisted conjuncture. I'm still a few chapters shy of finishing it and would hate to oversell it to those already immersed in much of the material into which he immerses the reader, but it has been a profound reminder for me so far. As in all of his other non-fiction books--of which Passport Photos is still my favorite--an eloquent elaboration of what the humanities could look like today. At the very least, his book is an invaluable snapshot of this cultural moment that merits the time you will surely feel compelled to sit with it.