Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: Atonement, beauty, cruelty, fear, humanism, imagination, literature, me, novel, use
Here are the novelist Ian McEwan’s thoughts on the imagination from an interview with Ramona Koval on Radio National. They are talking about his book Atonement which was made into a picture last year. Although I haven’t read the book, I have a sneaking suspicion it’s miles better than the film.
I remember when I was studying literary criticism, we read an apologetic piece that claimed that literature’s use is to humanize us. It was late in my undergrad and I was pleasantly surprised by this new idea that, beside beauty and delight, literature was useful. It seemed to bring it all crashing down to the level of function as if literature were a machine, designed to meet some base social operation. Some people don’t trust beauty and want everything to be understood at its basest level. I do trust it, and somehow, the idea that literature, and by extension art, is beautiful and useful adds to its complexity – and desirability.
McEwan talks about this same idea in the quotation below. He says imagination helps us to have empathy with other people. Which is the same thing as saying literature humanizes. Helpfully, he tells us what we are like when not properly humanized: cruel and fearful.
Here is the quotation. Read the entire article here.
My mother dropped me at the beach on her way to work. I was in North Africa. It was early in the morning. It was the Mediterranean spring and I had the day to myself. No friends—I don’t know why, that day—and I had one of those little epiphanies of ‘I’m me,’ and at the same time thinking, well, everyone must feel this. Everyone must think, ‘I’m me.’ It’s a terrifying idea, I think, for a child, and yet that sense that other people exist is the basis of our morality. You cannot be cruel to someone, I think, if you are fully aware of what it’s like to be them. In other words, you could see cruelty as a failure of the imagination, as a failure of empathy. And to come back to the novel as a form, I think that’s where it is supreme in giving us that sense of other minds.
~from Books and Writing, Radio National with Ramona KovalSunday 22/9/2002
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