Dwayne Betts on Ellison, Levi, and Human Suffering

In his memoir of his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi describes Jewish prisoners bathing in freezing water without soap–not because they thought it would make them cleaner, but because it helped them hold on to their dignity. For poet and author Dwayne Betts, Levi’s description of his fellow inmates’ suffering, much like the novelist Ralph Ellison’s portrayal of early twentieth-century black life in America, is much more than bearing witness to the darkest impulses of mankind. Rather, Betts tells EconTalk host Russ Roberts, both authors’ writing turns experiences of inhumanity into lessons on what it means to be a human being.