Thursday, June 26, 2008

Imagination and Failure at Harvard

Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. 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.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.
Need a little inspiration this morning? Watch this video recording of J.K. Rowling deliverings her Commencement Address entitled The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination, at the Annual Meeting of the Harvard Alumni Association.

The Guardian meanwhile reports that sales of Rowling's books have sold 400m worldwide.


GUO SHAO-HUA said...

i fucking detest JK Rowling and her dissemination of rubbish pop culture to kids, but i must admit i am impressed by that photo of her. what chemical reaction caused her boobs to glow like that?

Yusuf/Martin said...

I'll no go so far as the previous commenter with the Bunuel/Dali still.

But can honestly say I find very little to like in Ms Rowling. I have never taken to her and found her books annoying to read, but maybe she might say the same about me, ho hum!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Guo, your maturity and Christian charity are both stunning. Blessed are they who objectify women, for theirs shall be the kingdom of the pinup calendar. Jesus himself would be proud that out of that whole speech you have gleaned only glowing boobs.

It's just to easy and boring to hate JK Rowling. Rubbish pop culture? Would you say the same about C.S. Lewis and Tolkien? If not, why not? And then we could get into the whole question of what makes pop culture reprehensible in and of itself. So the kids who read Harry Potter don't usually go on to read Dickens and Joyce. BIG surprise. At least they've read seven books at the end of it, probably increased their vocabulary by at least 20%, and exercised their imaginations.

I know elitists everywhere like to scoff at "pop culture," but it has its social relevance. If most of India is watching Bollywood movies instead of reading Amartya Sen, who is to say which is more "valuable"/"valid"/"useful"?

-- Preeta

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

Mr Yusuf/Martin,

i'm greatly impressed! Cocteau, Tati, Ang Lee and even Tampopo! and of course, the recognition of my avatar!

my favourite Tati is of course, the epic Playtime, almost a perfect piece of art, if ever there was one.

Amir said...

"Playtime", which I saw on the big screen in Paris this February, is bourgeois fluff: amusing but fatally smug in its petty precision. "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire," on the other hand, is great storytelling and an awesome moral vision.

GUO SHAO-HUA said...

by Jove! you are right, Amir! Playtime ruined and bankrupted Tati, but of course, Harry Potter & The Goblet Of Fire went on to become a money-spinner of mainstream cinema!

Karcy said...

Er, I'm not sure how to address you, Mr. Guo? Shao Hua?

You want to slam Harry Potter and pop culture trash, and you have the *Anime News Network* linked on your blog?

Anonymous said...

Personally I liked the first Harry Potter. There was magic in that one for sure. And then it all went downhill.

Anyway the problem with failure is that you can get addicted to it. Then you constantly seek to fail instead of succeed.

And JK Rowling is just peddling the failure fad. How many books did she write before HP anyway ?

animah said...

I've always enjoyed reading Harry Potter.

Anonymous said...

In the case of Rowling, her success may be her biggest problem. She's said that she's going to wrap up the Harry Potter series after Book Seven, but she doesn't seem to be moving on to anything else, and she seems a bit too attached to her world. Since then she's taken to suing some of her fans (admittedly unpleasant fans, but still), complained of writer's block, and writing one-shot (and not very remarkable) short stories, all related to the Harry Potter world.

If Rowling does write another book unrelated to the Harry Potter world, the world would expect it to be of the same level of phenomena as Harry Potter, and anything less than that would be a failure. Perhaps the speech to students about daring to fail might be a speech to herself.

Anonymous said...

Er, correction. If Rowling does write another book related to the Harry Potter world, the (real) world would expect it to be of the same level of phenomena as Harry Potter (is), etc.

gnute said...

Damn, the video link doesn't work.

bibliobibuli said...

fixed, gnute.