Tuesday, 22 June 2010


So we are talking, ostensibly, about The Education of the Imagination, some forty of us (I haven't counted) from all over the world, but this time particularly from India and South Africa and Australia sitting round the council chamber, with Vesna Goldsworthy and I forming the Central European section, and Rukmini Bhaya Nair is giving the first paper or 'provocation'.

Rukmini is not only a scholar but a proper poet - what is more she is rather brilliant and playful so when she provokes she sends hundreds of hares bounding over the fields. The UEA campus has rabbits galore but they are rather tame and I don't see them chasing ideas so much as slowly nibbling at them.

Not hundreds of hares perhaps but certainly five, each of which has hundreds of little provocations inside.She talks about new reading publics in the context of Elizabeth Blackburn's discovery of the telomerase enzyme, aka as the immortality enzyme because it counteracts ageing. So there's a little hare to start with. Let's call it Death or the Alternative.

Rukmini argues that language and the use of the imagination 'could aptly be describerd as the telomerase of culture', in that offers a kind of immortality - not one you personally will enjoy - but something your cultural contribution might. So we are dealing with serious business. A matter of life and death in fact. So that's a pretty big hare,really.

Riding the hare in her account is Mr Hu, a Chinese architect who talks through an interpreter and says something about villages being analog and cities digital, but that neither city nor village are natural as such. ('Natural' is a darn big hare that is already vanishing over the horizon). At this point Mr Hu is beginning to turn into another hare, one born out of translation and dialogue. And this then leads to the consideration of the potential readership of China and India - potential only because they are illiterate. But then Mr Hu and Rukmini couldn't speak each other's language yet they could understand each other. And so the real hare emerges which is the link between the imagination and democracy. I like that one, the real hare, that is, but I suspect we might spend more time on the imagination at some stage.

So that is at least three hares, like Russian dolls, one inside the other. They are Russian hares.

And I haven't even started Rukmini's provocation 2 which takes its cue from Martha Nussbaum and Amartya Sen, and their proposal that we should replace the ethics of impartial justice with an ethics of care. Rights mean nothing unless people can exercise them. Yes, but then what iis it they exercise? That's where we begin. The little hare inside this one is, again, language and we move on to Nussbaum's partial list of inconclusive capabilities as a foundation for conceptualising a 'language of rights'. Her index is as follows

1. Life
2. Bodily Health
3. Bodily Integrity
4. Senses, Imagination, Thought (you spotted Imagination hiding there?)
5. Emotions
6. Practical Reasion
7. Affiliation
8. Other Species
9. Play
10. Control over one's environment

I think I am counting ten good-sized hares there all set and raring to go.

That takes us on to the role of literary texts that can cross-culturally help realize human capabilities such as empathy.

I should mention that at the moment, waiting just outside my Facebook page (where, having gathered 1500 or so friends, I am thinking of organising an army), there is a person calling himself Empath Man who is represented by a drawing, who is not among the friends, but among those who'd like to be. I am generally friendly to drawings so I am trying to explain to myself why I have been avoiding him. It's my idiotic pride, I suppose. I'd like to make my own empathetic arrangements or leave them to God.

In any case, time hares on and I have only got through two of Rukmini's provocations and my mind is happily running along with all the hares, having a thoroughly exhilarating time, and once she stops I can't stop myself gabbing a little here and there.

And frankly I am very glad to be present because for some temperaments, and that includes mine, running with the hares is better than running with the hounds.

And after coffee break there is Graeme Harper with fewer hares, maybe just one big hare, but I suspect his too is more than one. I'm not there today as I am here, and then in London. And not sleping much - the hares get into my hair and run through my brain at night. It's just that I'm not sure I can tell a hare in the dark.

But now I have to go to London all over again and introduce Shanta Acharya at the Nehru Centre. Speech written, eyes a bit blurry.


Fragmentaries said...

I am thrilled to read this piece about Professor Nair here, George! I worked with her on a project on the flaneur as a beginning to my thesis last year and had to really work it to keep to her standards. It is inspiring listening to her, and the mind jumps from this to that possibility in a few minutes. Pleased to bits to see this!


Fragmentaries said...

Oops, not last year, last semester. ~P