Dana Gioia is a poet and critic. Formerly the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, he currently directs arts and culture programs at the Aspen Institute.
Date: October 27, 2008
Dana Gioia: Reading awakens you to a higher sense of your own destiny. It makes you recognize that, you know, “I’m Dana. I’m not my mom. I’m not my dad. I’m not Sven.” Sven goes, “I’m Sven. Thank God, I’m not Dana.” And you start to get a sense of who you are.
The other thing it does -- and this is the miracle of fiction. This is why those nations in which the novel was first developed, which created a large, middle class and upper middle class readership for the novels were, not coincidentally, those countries which first developed what we think of as liberal democracy.
The other thing that fiction does is make you understand that other people have existence as real and as complicated as yours. The habit of daily reading, which this country is now in the process of losing … Think of this, of imagining the lives of other people and the daily-ness of existence, psychologically, socially, economically, people that may be a different gender from you, a different race from you, a different age from you, different economic circumstances from you. The daily meditation of those people’s existence in the minutia of their daily existence breeds a kind of empathy and sympathetic imagination which allows you to understand a complicated society, a diverse and complicated society.
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