Keeping people’s imaginations awake

Oooh yeah–this: When asked what role writing fiction plays in his activist work, Winton says it comes back to the idea of “keeping people’s imaginations awake”. “Imagination is the fundamental virtue of civilisation. If people can’t imagine then they can’t live an ethical life.” 

I love Tim Winton’s work and I have just finished his thoughtful and poetic memoir, Island Home. So good. (It reminds me of this quote from Ta-nehisi Coates’ Between The World And Me):

Like most kids I didn’t imagine places had pasts. Even when I saw landforms and habitats gradually scraped away I didn’t register the change for what it was. I didn’t understand how permanent the forfeits would be. Humans break in order to build. And of course loss is an inevitable part of making, creating, and surviving. But in exchange for what we surrender we surely have a right to expect something worthwhile, something good–developments that are mindful of their footprint, buildings that are sensitive to landscape, planning that considers the underlying cost and values change that’s sustainable. Business leaders love to rhapsodize about ‘a culture of excellence’ but if our cities are any indication of the fruits of their labours, they seem content to bulldoze beauty and replace it with crap. The gospel of perpetual economic growth carries in its train the salvation promise of a life bigger and better for everyone. But this greater good is often mythical. The actual experiences of believers rarely bear out the claims of their faith. Even so, many adherents cleave stubbornly, fearfully to orthodoxy. I guess it’s what they know. Challenging this mindset has traditionally been the work of loons, heretics and Luddites. William Lines, who identifies unashamedly with the last, writes: “Other people must surely have found these surroundings as distressing as I did. Yet they were silent. Likely opponents lacked the vocabulary to understand the transformation of the world in which they lived. Few words existed to describe destruction. The dominance of the language of economics shrank alternative vocabularies. The leading men of Australia applauded the whole, endless clutter … as growth and development. With their eyes on the future, most people were too busy to notice the spreading ugliness, and they unwittingly but irrevocably bequeathed ugliness to the future”.


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