The Republic of Imagination
On May 8, nearly 100 booklovers crowded into the Paris Center for a discussion taking place within the Republic of the Imagination, the eponymous space defined in Azar Nafisi's latest book. Nafisi, author of the best-seller Reading Lolita in Tehran, wrote The Republic of Imagination as a "tribute to the vital importance of fiction in a democratic society." She was the first guest in the World Writers' Series, "La Bibliothèque Intime", a continuation of the World Writers' Festival featuring conversations with renowned authors.
The conversation with Thierry Grillet, director of cultural diffusion at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, and Loren Wolfe, program manager at Columbia Global Centers | Paris, ranged over a number of topics: innocence, ignorance, established literary canons, the experience of literature. The question of boredom raised a lively discussion, as the participants spoke about the necessity of being bored, and the ways that boredom can spark inspiration. Nafisi also brought up the importance of getting children to read, "conspiring to inspire them," and talked about the ways in which recent educational initivatives in the United States have given the humanities short shrift, in comparison to STEM subjects. But the humanities deserve their place; literature gives us a way to step into the body of another and find liberty in the way that characters are making their choices.
"If my students in Iran and millions of other brave souls like Malala and Ramin risked their lives in order to preserve their individual integrity, their accss to free thourght and education, what will we risk to preserve our access to this Republic of Imagination? To say that only repressive regimes require art and imagination is to belittle life itself. It is not pain and brutality that engender the need to write or the desire to read. If we believe in the first three words of the Constitution, "We the People," then we know that the task of defending the right to imagination and free thought is the responsibility not just writers and publishers but of readers, too. I am reminded of Nabokov's statement that 'readers are born free and ought to remain free." We have learned to protest when writers are imprisoned, or when their books are censored and banned. But what about readers? Who will protect us? What if a writer publishes a book and no one is there to read it?
'Until I feared I would lose it, I never loved to read. One does not love breathing." So says Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, expressing the feelings of millions. We must read, and we must continue to read the great subversive books, our own and others'. That right can be guaranteed only by the active participation of every one of us, citizen readers."
-The Republic of the Imagination