Oz on Literature

Amos Oz delivers an impassioned plea for literature in this L.A. Times op-ed:

If you are a mere tourist, you might stand on a street and look up at an old house, in the old part of town, and see a woman staring out of her window. Then you will walk on.

But if you are a reader, you can see that woman staring out of her window, but you are there with her, inside her room, inside her head.

As you read a foreign novel, you are actually invited into other people’s living rooms, into their nurseries and studies, into their bedrooms. You are invited into their secret sorrows, into their family joys, into their dreams.

Which is why I believe in literature as a bridge between peoples. I believe curiosity can be a moral quality. I believe imagining the other can be an antidote to fanaticism. Imagining the other will make you not only a better businessperson or a better lover but even a better person.

Part of the tragedy between Jew and Arab is the inability of so many of us, Jews and Arabs, to imagine each other. Really imagine each other: the loves, the terrible fears, the anger, the passion. There is too much hostility between us, too little curiosity.

By the by, Gil Hochberg’s book, In Spite of Partition: Jews, Arabs, and the Limits of Separatist Imagination deals with the problem that Oz lays out in this piece. Hochberg contends that, in literature at least, Jews and Arabs have always met, always mixed, always found the self within the other. At a reading sponsored by the Levantine Center last week, Hochberg cited numerous examples, though the one that stuck in my mind and aroused my curiosity most was the work of (Moroccan) Israeli novelist Albert Suissa.