Thursday, 13 March 1997, 8:13 am, Vancouver, BC
I heard and met Slavenka Drakulic yesterday evening. I found her talk of considerable interest, even though, unfortunately her command of extempore English is insufficient to make her a good speaker. She is a year younger than I. She contends that man is capable both of good and evil, of creation and destruction. Milosevic, for example, is a poet. And that men do not learn from history; for the words and the stories have no impact on the essence of our nature. This is, alas, true. We are an abjectly flawed species with intimations of divinity.
She suggested, too, that writers write to define themselves; and that there is no other purpose. I find this not only intriguing but also valid. It is is line with what Maugham contends, and removes that burden of writing which is placed there by the sense of mission or responsibility to the public, to the nation. Writers are just like everyone else. I found this not only acceptable, but also sensible.
I found the audience reaction, during the question period, the most interesting and the most frightening. She was attacked. By academics and intellectuals who felt she feared to speak as she did in her homeland; although she had mentioned twice that as recently as two weeks ago she had been in Croatia. By Serbians who claimed she had vilified the Serbians by presenting slanted and one-sided propaganda; which she hadn’t. By individuals who felt it was she who ought to be able to explain the whole phenomenon of genocide. She replied, in essence, that the impulse was intrinsic; which, although that is unsatisfactory to a protected sense of morality, is nonetheless a realistic observation.