Why Imagination is Important in the Boston Marathon Case

If there is one thing you will read this Saturday, read this essay in The New Yorker. I will say just a couple of things about why it's important, and then I'll get out of your way so you can read it. 

It is difficult to admit at a time when the national imagination is gripped by fear that it is in this time, really, when propaganda works best. As this essay points out, most of us are seeing a fraction of the story, and news stories play out to patterns. Remember this: You will not get nuance in breaking news. Last night, I watched many experts interviewed on CNN. The ones that stuck to the script of 'good versus evil; USA against Islam' got major screen time. The single voice that rattled off a series of questions that the nation ought to be asking of its officials got a quick 'Thanks, but we'll cut to....' 

This is why, while my first love will always be journalism, and I will always teach it with passion, innovation and curiosity, I have another, newer love. Fiction. I get asked about this new love a lot. As Adam Gopnik's New Yorker essay points out, "Experts tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen; poets and novelists tell us the meaning of what they haven’t seen, either, but have somehow managed to fully imagine. Maybe the literature of terrorism, from Conrad to Updike (and let us not forget Tolstoy, fascinated by the Chechens) can now throw a little light on how apparently likable kids become cold-hearted killers. Acts of imagination are different from acts of projection: one kind terrifies; the other clarifies."
Exactly. Fiction helped me take the terrible, crushing news story of farmers' suicides across India, and imagine for it a plot where nuance and love could come together. Or so I hope.

But here's the thing. If we want to serve ourselves well and serve this country well, we needn't wait around for art to tell us the story of the story behind the Boston Marathon attacks. We need not be uncomfortable when our friends - American or 'foreign' - on social media say more than "Got the bastard" and, instead, express pain and horror or, gasp, skepticism. We could begin with a sense of wonder, inquiry, as to why college students rallied in the streets after the capture of the second suspect and chanted "U.S.A." Why did they see this as a national victory, and against whom? Wasn't it a victory of law enforcement and the Boston public? Why distract from that? And what does it mean for 'terrorism' from here on out, if the alleged 'terrorist' was a Caucasian American citizen? 

Imagine that.