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April 23, 2024

Literature and the Global Imaginary

Event Series: Ways Forward in a Divided World

Showing the Literature and the Global Imaginary Video

As the ferocity of political antagonism grows around the world, and societies splinter into a bedlam of individuals holding up their own versions of the truth, many traditional modes of reportage and commentary are struggling. Reason is deployed too frequently for sophistical argument, and knowledge seems to many people little more than a function of power that is therefore suspect. In order to overcome our deep divides we need to move beyond what Mohsin Hamid calls “a dangerous and decadent tyranny of binaries.”

Can literature help us out of this impasse? How can its unique capacity to describe the complex states of consciousness of different peoples at different times and different places broaden our understanding of truth? Do its innate virtues of ambiguity and irony, and commitment to paradox and contradiction, help us extend human sympathies across hardened walls and boundaries, beyond the local and national to the global level? Mohsin Hamid, Ece Temelkuran, and Parul Sehgal explored these questions in a conversation moderated by Aminatta Forna.

This event was part of the Georgetown Global Dialogues, which feature leading intellectuals from the Global South in forward-looking conversations with U.S.-based thinkers across a range of topics. It was co-sponsored by the Department of English, Georgetown Humanities Initiative, Georgetown University Library, and Lannan Center at Georgetown University.


Headshot of Mohsin Hamid.

Mohsin Hamid

Mohsin Hamid is an acclaimed British Pakistani author known for creative fiction and commentary that address contemporary global issues. His recent novels include The Last White Man (2022) and Exit West (2017), which received the 2017 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction. His book The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and later adapted into a successful film. Hamid’s engagement with themes of political turmoil, cultural displacement, and shifting individual and collective identities informs his influential essays on contemporary affairs in leading outlets including The GuardianThe New York Times, and The Paris Review.

Headshot of Ece Temelkuran.

Ece Temelkuran

Ece Temelkuran is a Turkish novelist, a political thinker, and a leading analyst of the erosion of democracy and the challenge of populism on a global scale. She is the author of Together: 10 Choices for a Better Now (2021) as well as the acclaimed How to Lose a Country: The Seven Steps from Democracy to Dictatorship (2019). Her novels are published in several languages. A frequent contributor to The GuardianThe New York TimesLe Monde, and other leading outlets, she is the recipient of the PEN Translates Award and the Freedom of Thought Award from the Human Rights Association of Turkey. In 2023 she received the El Mundo Award for her body of work.

Headshot of Parul Sehgal.

Parul Sehgal

Parul Sehgal is a staff writer at The New Yorker. Previously, she was a book critic at The New York Times, where she also worked as a senior editor and columnist. She has won awards for her criticism from the New York Press Club, the National Book Critics Circle, and the Robert B. Silvers Foundation. She teaches in the graduate creative-writing program at New York University.

Headshot of Aminatta Forna.

Aminatta Forna

Aminatta Forna is an award-winning author and director of the Lannan Center at Georgetown University. Her books—the novels Happiness (2018), The Hired Man (2013), The Memory of Love (2010), and Ancestor Stones (2006); a memoir, The Devil that Danced on the Water (2002); and an essay collection, The Window Seat (2021)—have been translated into 22 languages. A fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, she has received the Windham Campbell Award from Yale University and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Best Book Award 2011, among many other accolades. Her essays have appeared in The Guardian, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and more.