Rebecca Solnit says the North Country is an extraordinary community

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Ellen Rocco and Chris Robinson co-hosted a conversation with Rebecca Solnit on NCPR, Friday, February 15. Solnit was in Canton as part of the St. Lawrence University Writers Series, and gave a public reading on Thursday, February 14 in Sykes Common Room.

Readers and Writers conversation with Rebecca Solnit

 

In a just world, Rebecca Solnit would be a household name. She would be recognized as a fine prose stylist, a thoughtful essayist on art and aesthetics, and a political writer guided by a finely attuned moral compass. Solnit’s books on walking are reflections on the art of slowness. They remind the reader of the joy in taking in the world around us; and, by contrast, the inhumane character of the pace of our everyday life.

A Paradise Built in Hell is an explicitly political work. Solnit counters the claim that humans are too selfish and profit-driven to sacrifice time and effort to democratic activities like dissent and community-building. She shows that we have a deep and abiding capacity to place the needs for others before our own. If we do not lead democratic lives today, it is because our natural proclivities are thwarted by an economic system that enforces greed and self-interest.

What is her evidence? Case studies of how humans responded following natural and human-made disasters. Among these studies that include the San Francisco earthquake, Hurricane Katrina and the attacks of 9/11, is our own North Country community following the ice storm of 1998. Solnit’s appreciation of how people, in the face of great loss of life and property, take care of one another is both moving and empowering.

I used Solnit’s A Paradise Built in Hell in a course on environmental political theory. To a person, the students in this class proclaimed Solnit’s book their favorite because it instilled a sense of hope founded in empirical reality. Out of the ashes of the kind of disasters that are becoming more prevalent as a result of global climate change, there emerges a compelling case for a more democratic and just future.

–Chris Robinson, Clarkson University

The above is a brief essay Chris wrote to explain why he was so excited about Solnit’s visit to the North Country.