The writer’s first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth…and refuse to be an accomplice of lies or misinformation. Literature is the expression of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers. The job of the writer is to help make us see the world as it is, which is to say, full of many different claims and parts and experiences.
It is the job of the writer to depict the realities, the foul realities, the realities of rapture. It is the essence of the wisdom furnished by literature (the plurality of literary achievement) to help us to understand that, whatever is happening, something else is always going on. I am haunted by that “something else.”
I am haunted by the conflict of rights and of values I cherish. For instance that—sometimes—telling the truth does not further justice. That—sometimes—the furthering of justice may entail suppressing a good part of the truth.
Many of the twentieth century’s most notable writers, in their activity as public voices, were accomplices in the suppression of truth to further what they understood to be (what were, in many cases) just causes.
My own view is, if I have to choose between truth and justice—of course, I don’t want to choose—I choose truth.
Of course, I believe in righteous action. But is it the writer who is performing it? These are three different things: speaking, which I am doing now; writing, which gives me whatever claim I have to this incomparable prize; and being, being a person who believes in righteous action, and solidarity with others. As Roland Barthes once observed: “Who speaks is not who writes, and who writes is not who is.”
And of course I have opinions, political opinions, some of them formed from reading and discussing and reflecting, but not from firsthand experience. Let me share with you two opinions of mine—quite predictable opinions, in the light of public positions I’ve taken on matters about which I have some direct knowledge.
I believe that the doctrine of collective responsibility, as a rationale for collective punishment, is never justified, militarily or ethically. I mean the use of disproportionate firepower against civilians, the demolition of their homes and destruction of their orchards and groves, the deprivation of their livelihood and their access to employment, schooling, medical services, free access to neighboring towns and communities…all as a punishment for hostile military activity which may or may not even be in the vicinity of these civilians.
I also believe that there can be no peace here until the planting of Israeli communities in the Territories is halted, followed by the eventual dismantling of these settlements.
I wager that these two opinions of mine are shared by many people here in this hall. I suspect that, to use an old American expression, I’m preaching …