coromandal


i’m me!
September 22, 2008, 4:00 am
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,


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



keeping it regular with the knickered and provincial

M. Fuentes again.  I can’t figure out where the prevailing cultural myth of innovation came from when you consider how prevalent the blanket of stifling regularity seems to be — it’s a malignancy and at an advanced stage.  Fuentes equates popularity with ignorance.  The ancient Greeks did too: to maintain vitality in their senate they ostracized the most popular members; here it is the opposite.

This is DC in the late 1930’s where the school yard is full of fear of outside people and ideas.  How does what must have been a veritable flood of outsiders and their outside ideas into the American capital – the world’s nation of outsiders – not temper and calm this proclivity for fear?  Baffling …

“I believed in the democratic simplicity of my teachers and chums, and above all I believed I was, naturally, in a totally unself-conscious way, a part of that world.  It is important, at all ages and in all occupations, to be ‘popular’ in the United States; I have known no other society where the values of ‘regularity’ are so highly prized. I was popular, I was ‘regular.’  Until the day in march – march 18, 1938.  On that day, a man from another world, the imaginary country of my childhood, the President of Mexico , nationalized the holdings of foreign oil companies.  The headlines in the North American press denounced the ‘communist’ government of Mexico and its ‘red’ president; they demanded the invasion of Mexico in the sacred name of private property, and Mexicans, under international boycott, were invited to drink their oil.

Instantly, surprisingly, I became a pariah in my school.  Cold shoulders, aggressive stares, epithets, and sometimes blows.  Children know how to be cruel, and the cruelty of their elders is the surest residue of the malaise the young feel toward things strange, things other, things that reveal our own ignorance or insufficiency.  This was not reserved for me or for Mexico:  at about the same time, an extremely brilliant boy of eleven arrived from Germany.  He was a Jew and his family had fled from the Nazis.  I shall always remember his face, dark and trembling, his aquiline nose and deepset, bright eyes with their great sadness; the sensitivity of his hands and the strangeness of it all to his American companions.  This young man, Hans Berlikner, had a brilliant mathematical mind, and he walked and saluted like a Central European; he wore short pants and high woven stockings, Tyrolean jackets and an air of displaced courtesy that infuriated the popular, regular, feisty, knickered, provincial, Depression-era little sons of bitches at Henry Cook Public School of the Thirteenth Street N.W.

~Carlos Fuentes from How I Started to Write