Words are a terrible gift given to humans. By using the power of words, we can destroy and build, create harmony or loneliness. We can increase happiness or create castles of illusions. It is fascinating how easily we can create new worlds and meaning with only the force of our written or spoken words. And even though most of my daily work has to do with words, especially written ones, I am still wondering and trying to understand the strong secret power of our letters.
Such a power can be used at different levels. In most cases, our words are meant to communicate and exchange basic information about daily life and activities. A word of appreciation or of gratitude, as well as bad words uttered in angry moments can produce tremendous effects on our interlocutors. Hence, it is our responsibility to carefully think at least twice before we say something that can annoy or affect another fellow human. In only a couple of seconds we can leave scars kept fresh for a long time to come. We may not be always aware of it, but the human mind works in mysterious ways. Even years after an unpleasant verbal incident, we can suddenly remember something discouraging that was told to us and our enthusiasm and happy mood are dramatically affected in a negative way.
And now, it is about time to return to my favourite scholarly topic by far: intellectuals and their responsibilities. As a master of words, the writer, a special category of intellectual, is automatically assigned a big responsibility by society: his or her stories are revered and their biographies can be considered a source of inspiration for the new generations, especially if they reach the literature handbooks. The popular wisdom equates the power of the writer with a power of a religious leader or healer – in most cultures, the healing process involves a big part of careful wording – and by extension, anyone with such a power is both revered and regarded with awe.
A couple of days ago, I attended a discussion with Salman Rushdie in Berlin on the occasion of the Festival of Literature, and the topic of the responsibility of the writer/intellectual was approached. One of the participants mentioned a previous confession made by the talented Sarajevo-born writer Alexander Hemon. He remembered how during his school years, his favourite teacher and intellectual model to a certain extent used to be a Shakespeare lover and British literature expert. Later on, he made the terrible discovery that in fact the same teacher used to be a close advisor of Radovan Karadzic, and he felt like his universe was broken into pieces. ‘Reading books does not make you a better person’, said Rushdie, and this wisdom is available for the writers themselves. But the fact that many good writers and intellectuals are not good people does not have to stop us reading books. The perfect combination would be, of course, to have good people writing good books, but a good person who can write a very well-written book is not easy to find. And partially, I agree with Rushdie that purposefully moral writings are not always good pieces of literature. On the other hand, I believe that quality literature is the result of talent and crafted skills that have the power to make appealing and interesting any possible and impossible topic.
Being gifted with the power of words encompasses responsibility, but the experienced reader is able to distinguish a difference between the rules of fiction and reality. Like in non-fictional life: the more experience we have, the more we can make good and inspired decisions in life, independently of external factors.
Ana Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.