Hmm…I’m not sure I’m buying what Pico Iyer is selling here…
Q: What is it about Graham Greene? If you put the Dalai Lama on one end of a continuum, Leonard Cohen would be somewhere nearby and Graham Greene would be way over on the other end.
A: An honest sinner. Many people are very shocked when I say that I see him in the same sense as the Dalai Lama. He’s someone who was straining for belief, failing to find it, but wanting to exercise kindness and conscience as much as possible in the world. Even though he failed you could see the respect he has for those qualities. He was a reluctant victim of his own hedonism. But I think deep down much more than most English writers of his time he was trying to make sense of the world and he was trying and failing to lead a better life.
I suppose his central question is … we’re on the streets in Haiti, a revolution has just broken out, somebody whom we’ve just met is asking for our help. He puts you right in the thick of a moral conundrum.
Huh. Is the Dalai Lama an “honest sinner”? Is he “straining for belief”? “[F]ailing to find it”?
You may have your own answers to those three questions. (Mine are not really, no, and not at all.)
Sorry, Pico! But the consolation prize: I think you nailed Greene, which is probably closer to what you were trying to do in the first place.
(And yes, I deliberately chose the word nailed there. Greene would have approved.)
Listen to our conversation about Graham Greene’s life and works or check out the other installments in the History of Literature podcast.