It is author George Saunders's convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013. I won't abstract the speech here. There are too many wonderful lines and it needs to be read in its entirety. It is a profound meditation on many of the themes that have preoccupied me and my writing here. The centrality of kindness. That sin in the form of selfishness and self-absorption is deeply ingrained. And that because of this kindness is very, very hard. And that immersion in a spiritual tradition can help with this struggle.
The address can be read here.
A recent NY Times profile of Saunders and his new book Tenth of December can be read here. In that profile Saunders is asked to reflect on the spiritual and redemptive aspects of his stories, the grace he often describes in relation to death. His answer:
I asked [Saunders] about the occasional dramatization in his stories of the moments after death, the way characters’ lives are sometimes suddenly reframed and redeemed. “In terms of dramatic structure, I don’t really buy the humanist verities anymore,” he said. “I mean, I buy them, they’re a subset of what’s true. But they’re not sufficient. They wouldn’t do much for me on my deathbed. Look at it another way. We’re here. We’re nice guys. We’re doing O.K. But we know that in X number of years, we won’t be here, and between now and then something unpleasant is gonna happen, or at least potentially unpleasant and scary. And when we turn to try and understand that, I don’t really think the humanist verities are quite enough. Because that would be crazy if they were. It would be so weird if we knew just as much as we needed to know to answer all the questions of the universe. Wouldn’t that be freaky? Whereas the probability is high that there is a vast reality that we have no way to perceive, that’s actually bearing down on us now and influencing everything. The idea of saying, ‘Well, we can’t see it, therefore we don’t need to see it,’ seems really weird to me.”