Testing the limits of understatement

Tonight at the Sydney Writers’ Festival launch I was inspired beyond words (and you know that’s not like me) by Andrew O’Hagan’s speech, particularly the idea that so many of the world’s problems – wars, famines, corruption, and the rest – are caused by a failure of imagination.

I believe it is a failure of the imagination that allows famine or terror to reign in the world. A man who throws half the contents of his fridge into the trash on a Monday morning fails to imagine, next time he visits the supermarket, that whole villages in Eritrea have children gasping for a droplet of milk. The politician or the general who orders a solider to release cruise missiles from 5000 feet does not imagine the innocent men playing cards in the teashop below. He does not imagine their loss or the grief of their loved ones. The terrorist at the controls of a plane cannot imagine the dreams of the secretary on the 102nd floor, planning her wedding and making a bid for life. Failures of the imagination are behind the conduct of our woes – and so we as we gather here to salute literature and the imagination we also come to denounce those failures of the imagination that harm and betray and destroy life.

A simple, but very powerful idea. Which, like all conspiracy theories and pat generalisations about state of the world, probably has gaping flaws somewhere. I’m just not sure what they are yet.

At the party afterwards, I was introduced to Sophie Gee, a rather gorgeous woman about my age who is an assistant professor at Princeton and just published her first novel. (She was also mentioned in a Paul Sheehan column, but I won’t hold that against her.) Upon being introduced, I shuffled a bit and mumbled a few uninteresting things.

I am a tad annoyed at myself about that.

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