Seven Questions for Pico Iyer: Globalism of the Heart, the Imagination, and the Conscience


This summer, we are greatly excited to have an amazing travel writer and philosopher at the Chicago conference. While Pico Iyer may not seem a typical choice for the dance field, over the next seven days, we will unveil a little about his thought process, and why he is exceptionally relevant to us as we move toward the next decade. Members of the Dance/USA Board formulated seven questions for Iyer to ruminate on. His responses over the next week are truly thought-provoking and inspiring. We hope you will join us in Chicago to continue this conversation.

In addition, we have asked several members of Dance/USA and the Board to provide their personal take on our four program envelopes at the conference: Management, Artistry, Technology and Audience Engagement. In coming weeks these articles will help get you ready for our conference.

Q:  What is on the horizon for communication through art in the global community?

A. I love the fact that we live now in places and states of passage—in rainbow combinations—that humans have seldom known before. Turn on your radio on your way home from work today, and you may hear a sitar player collaborating with a singer from Mali, say, or an oud and guitar duet—in a form (world music) that barely existed 30 years ago. Stop off for dinner and you may well find yourself eating green tea crème brule, or French-Mexican food, say, as the mingling of cultures has brought us fusion cuisine never tasted before. Pick up a book once you get home, and it’s likely to be written by Jhumpa Lahiri or Amy Tan or Isabel Allende, whose themes are those of movement and mixtures and the expanded sense of home that so many in the world can enjoy these days.

A whole new tribe of people is arising in the fresh young century who define themselves in ways much more complex and fluid than in our grandparents’ days. Young people today are likely to have one home identified with their parents, and another associated with their partners, and a third connected with where they happen to be right now (Queens, Toronto, San Francisco, Chicago)—as well as a fourth connected with their secret homes, the places they dream of but haven't seen yet. And my sense is that every time a half-Korean, half-German woman—in Paris, perhaps—meets a half-Thai, half-Canadian young man, they realize that they have more in common than apart; their questions are the same, their possibilities are the same, and they belong to the same tribe, in effect (a tribe whose metaphor—and vehicle—now is cyberspace).

Quite often, they’ll fall in love—and maybe move to New York City. And when they do, the little girl who arises from their union will be even more international than they are, partly French and partly Korean and partly German and partly Thai and partly Canadian, and much more. Everything about the way she sees the world, the way she speaks and thinks and dreams and dances, will be different from most of the ways we’ve seen before.

I savor the globalism of the heart, the imagination, and the conscience that we see all around us today, and that to me are much more important than the global markets and global communications we hear so much about. Humans are defining themselves in more spacious and imaginative ways than ever before, and the result is that our cultures are exploding all around us; what used to be somewhat monochrome is now much more vibrantly colored. The safest city in North America, Toronto, is also the most multi-national city in the world, according to the U.N., and the first major metropolis where the majority of citizens were born abroad, often far away. And the London that was so grey, dull, and even xenophobic when I was growing up is now one of the youngest, fizziest, most open, and most international places around, as people from everywhere stream into it and create new fusions (and confusions).

This isn’t always a good thing—it raises complex questions about identity and belonging—and the more internationalism there is in the world, the more nationalism there will be, too. Humans seem to have a need for tribes, and even for divisions But compared with the world of 50 years ago, it’s very much a step forward. The more we see of the Other, the harder it is to fear or demonize him or her; and the Other is now in our neighborhood, our backyard, sometimes even in our bed and in ourselves. The global community arising all around us has forged whole new forms of art and creation, and they in turn have helped to sign into being a new sense of community. Watch the kids of Osaka dance salsa (as they love to do), listen to Norah Jones or see how the girls of Beijing are dancing Swan Lake, and you see people literally going places they haven’t gone before. And though the numbers that belong to this tribe may still be small, they’re rising with each interaction across cultures, so that soon it may be the person who belongs only to one nationality, religion, or race who is the exception. The horizon, which once looked so uniform, is now changing with each new moment, invigoratingly.

Born in Oxford, England, to parents from India,
Pico Iyer was educated at Eton, Oxford, and Harvard, while officially growing up in Southern California. He is the author of seven works of non-fiction, including Video Night in Kathmandu (cited on many lists of the best travel books ever), The Lady and the Monk (finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in the category of Current Interest) and The Global Soul (subject of websites and theatrical productions around the world). He has also written the novels Cuba and the Night and Abandon. For a quarter of a century, he has been an essayist for Time magazine, while also writing constantly on literature for The New York Review of Books, on globalism for Harper’s, and on many other topics for venues from The New York Times to National Geographic. His most recent book, The Open Road, describing more than 30 years of talking and traveling with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, came out in a dozen countries, and was a best-seller across the U.S. He has been based for the past 20 years near Nara, in rural Japan, though he is still often to be found making stops everywhere from North Korea to Ethiopia, and from Bolivia to Easter Island.
Photo: Pico Iyer at the Dalai Lama's temple in Dharamsala

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