Poetry and People

by Ingrid Robeyns on October 26, 2011

Over the last two years, I’ve given a couple of interviews to journalists, mainly about my research on issues of justice, or, sometimes, about my reasons to swap economics for political philosophy, and my views on those fields. But now those same journalists are calling or e-mailing me back with questions where I really don’t have any expertise at all. They could ask any of us, really. Here’s one, that I thought is interesting to share.

A religiously-inspired progressively-leaning magazine is starting a new series, namely asking people which book “provides support, or is a book to which one often returns”. And the answer cannot be the Bible. I actually don’t think I can answer this question. Most fiction, with very few exceptions, I’ve only read once. Non-fiction I read is either informative (like King Leopold’s Ghost, or Joris Luyendijk’s book on the Middle East), or else it is scholarly, but then I don’t think I see it as providing (moral) support or as an inspirational book. Of course, I’ve opened A Theory of Justice or Inequality Reexamined or Justice, Gender and the Family many times, but that’s mostly because I want to return to the arguments to examine them. Moreover, most of the (non-professional) reading I do is on blogs and the internet.

So what, if anything, could be similar to an atheist as the Bible is to a Christian? I really don’t know. But if I’m forced to give an answer, I would say: I prefer talking to people over reading books if I need (moral) guidance or support, and if I need inspiration or some distance and non-analytical reflection, I turn to poetry. I still have, ripped from a student’s magazine when I was studying in Göttingen in 1994/5, a page with a Poem written by Nazim Hikmet, translated in German – a poem to which I have returned many, many times:

einzeln und frei
wie ein Baum
und brüderlich
wie ein Wald
ist unsere Sehnsucht.

So give me poetry and people if I need inspiration or support. And you?