Imagination and the Impossible

A few weeks ago, international bestselling author Salman Rushdie spoke at Duke University on “Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World.” Read a review here. Here’s a snippet:

Human beings are unique among the world’s creatures in telling stories, he said, and writers willing to tell those stories can change their world just as the works of Charles Dickens and Harriet Beecher Stowe prompted reform in their worlds.

“That’s what all great literature tries to do,” [Rushdie] said. “It tries to open the universe a little more. In order to push out the boundaries of the universe … you have to go to the frontiers and push … when writers do that, they find very powerful forces pushing back and the consequences can be significant … but you can bet that art will outlast tyranny.” (Read More…)

Pushing out the boundaries of the universe is akin to what Czech former president and playwright Václav Havel calls “the art of the impossible“: recognizing that ideals like freedom, democracy, and human rights can be realized only imperfectly, yet in the face of that knowledge, continuing to seek better ways to approach those ideals.

To do so is to combine pragmatism and idealism.

What is more, to do so demands an act of imagination.

(See also Rushdie speaks on role of the novelist).


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