failure and imagination

January 9, 2009

here’s a beautiful speech from J K Rowling on failure and imagination, given to Harvard students on their graduation. I love this text so much.

On failure, JK talks about the significance of hitting rock bottom for her – as she says, it became the solid foundation upon which she rebuilt her life. For her, finding that she was still alive, even though, to her mind, her worst fears had been realised, set her free to strip away everything but the essentials, and to stop pretending to be someone she wasn’t. Perhaps a little romanticised, and she is pretty candid about the fact it didn’t necessarily feel like that at the time, but there’s something in what she says that resonates for me.

However it’s what she says about imagination that I think is even more pertinent:

Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

Talking of her experiences of working at Amnesty during her 20s, she argues that it is imagination that enables humans to put themselves in other people’s places. As I watch with growing depression and horror about what’s happening in Gaza and Israel, her words ring particularly true: those who choose not to imagine risk enabling monsters. Denying our connection to the outside world, refusing to see the impact of our action on others, is in her view a form of collusion and denial that is potentially as significant as committing an act of evil in the first place.



  1. I really like what you wrote here. Like all talented writers, you say something that feels immediately and instantly true to the reader even though it might not have occured to them before (or at least not in the same way).

  2. God, I LOVE that quote from J K Rowling! Thanks for finding.

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