Andrew Solomon on Global Terrorism, Travel Writing, and Empathy
The Second Part of the PEN President's Conversation with Paul Holdengraber
In the second part of their conversation, Andrew Solomon and Paul Holdengraber discuss civilization’s battle with fundamentalism(s), free speech, old travel writing, and the role of literature in developing empathy. Listen to part one of their conversation here.
Andrew Solomon on the rise of global terror…
There’s no question that living in major world capitals makes one more vulnerable. I think statistically, one is still far more vulnerable to being hit by a taxi than being blown up by a terrorist attack. There’s no question that terrorism is on the rise, and as I said, it has this randomness that makes it particularly terrifying. Which is indeed the intent of the terrorists themselves.
The events are so sickening, they are so agonizing, and the idea that these things are perpetrated in the name of religion, under the banner of some kind of moral code, makes them particularly abhorrent. I think the important thing to understand is that we are not in a battle with Islam, We are not in a battle with a particular region. We are in a battle with fundamentalism. We are in a battle with Christian fundamentalism, Jewish fundamentalism, Hindu fundamentalism, in Myanmar, with Buddhist fundamentalism, and then of course Islamic fundamentalism.
Andrew Solomon on the importance of free speech…
PEN is a free speech organization, and we try to champion the rights of people all over the world to free speech. Now, free speech is always a complicated idea. There is some speech that is hate speech, and it should not be free and we recognize that. But many governments try to exercise control by silencing their opponents. And it is our belief that there can be no successful regime that doesn’t brook dissatisfaction and opposition—that poets and writers and those who create literature should be able to speak openly and freely without fear for their safety. And that people who are imprisoned or jailed or silenced because of what they’ve said make for a weaker society.
Andrew Solomon on reading to understand others…
Literature is a means of putting yourself in other, often uncomfortable shoes. You can’t, in any ordinary life, experience all of what the world has to offer. If you lived a thousand years you wouldn’t do it. But if you read, you can expand your education so hugely and so vastly, by thinking, Oh, well that’s a way of thinking about that. I can think of books that I’ve read in which I have moments of extraordinary recognition, and thought, that book expresses my inner self better than I can express my inner self myself. I remember feeling that when I read To the Lighthouse. I remember feeling that when I read Proust, and I thought, there’s the vocabulary for the feelings I’ve had that I could never articulate.