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In April 18 lecture, Jonathan Franzen reflects on environment, free speech, and current political climate

Author Jonathan Franzen delivered a rousing call for cultural introspection with his April 18 lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, entitled “So Do We Just Give Up on Nature?” In a rangy talk that covered free speech, social media, the 2016 Presidential Election, and climate change, Franzen questioned standard progressive dialogue on these and other issues.

On the topic at the heart of his lecture—climate change and the environment—Franzen minced no words. “When it comes to the environment, climate now has an absolute lock on the liberal imagination,” Franzen said. “Any attempt to change the subject, even if you are trying to change it to the epic extinction event that human beings are already creating without the help of climate change, is an offense against that religion.”

Known for novels including “The Corrections,” “Freedom,” and “Purity,” and many noteworthy works of nonfiction, Franzen read from and discussed reactions to his 2015 essay “Carbon Capture,” published in The New Yorker. As throughout his GSD talk, Franzen questioned whether a cultural obsession with climate change has clouded fundamental conversations on the environment and conservation.

Franzen’s lecture was part of the GSD’s Rouse Visiting Artist Program, which brings leading intellectuals from across creative and artistic fields to the School. He was introduced by Diane E. Davis, chair of the School’s Department of Urban Planning and Design, with whom Franzen shares St. Louis roots. Davis introduced Franzen as a “quintessentially urban writer, a man concerned not just with the dilemmas of modernity … but also deeply cognizant of the power of place, space, and territory in creating the context of human experience.”

The Harvard Gazette offers a complete rundown of Franzen’s GSD lecture.

Photo by Zara Tsanev