Sunday, June 8, 2008

failure and imagination

J.K. Rowling gave the commencement speech at Harvard this year. (text available here if you scroll down past the NPR article about how not everyone thought she was "A-List" enough for Harvard) .

Her topic? Failure and imagination.
On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

I think she made some good points. Certainly, she is a good and interesting writer/communicator! I think she left the most important thing out, though. She assumed the existence of overarching and archetypical values that ultimately will direct our paths, if only we can get out of the way.

Thus, she extolls the benefits of failure in her own life, because it "cleared the way" for her to focus on what was really important. She recommends imagination, because we might thereby imagine a better life, and - having otherwise 'cleared the way' to focus on what's most important - we might achieve it.

All that is well and good. But the question of good and evil - a question she grapples with certainly through her Harry Potter character - remains. How do we reconcile conflicting notions of what's most important? What if what I imagine as a better life involves my neighbor moving out of town or at least shutting up his incessantly yapping lap dogs and banning the inexorable dribbling of his 8-year old's basketball?

More to come. . . .

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