We are the most complex thing known to exist. We are sensitive to an incredibly rich sensory environment. And we tend to give ourselves over to experience that distracts us with objectives that are not really worth our human time.
–– Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson, the great American essayist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gilead, joined us last week to explore ideas about American culture past and present – ideas she raises in her most recent collection of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books.
Robinson sees tremendous, built-in resilience in American culture – and though she believes our public conversation of recent years has significantly lost its way, she's extremely optimistic about the potential for positive change at this moment in history. In this vein, we talked about Occupy Wall Street, which she believes has significantly "changed the conversation" in her native Midwest. In responding to a question about the "ungenerous" nature of our current national discourse, Ms. Robinson said:
At this point things have deteriorated to the point where it is as if morally wrong to have an attitude of presumptive respect toward someone you disagree with. That's just bizarre – and it's obviously not a formula for a civilized society . . . I think we need to ask very, very fundamental questions [as a nation] about who we are and what we want.
Watch the (taped) live portion of our interview with Marilynne Robinson: