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An eye for detail

An eye for detail

When art meets science

Who: Harro van Lente, professor of Philosophy occupying an endowed chair for Sustainable Development at ICIS

Book: Saturday, Ian McEwan (2005)

Target group: Students of ICIS

No, endowed professor of Philosophy of Sustainable Development Harro van Lente is not going to talk about Solar, another of Ian McEwan’s books about a Nobel Prize winner who deals with sustainable energy. “Although many people make that link with my field: after my inaugural lecture in 2010, I received three copies of the book as a gift.” But that would be too obvious, he thinks. So it’s to be Saturday, a book about a day in the life of a brain surgeon. “Everything is described meticulously. How he exercises, shops, has dinner with his adult children. In the meantime, there are images coming through on television about the Iraq War, which has just started. The wonderful thing is that everything that is going on in this man’s life, is touched upon in that one day.”

Van Lente feels that in order to write something like this, you have to be patient and observant. “You have to have an eye for detail. The writer takes you into the world as it appears to the main character. You read how he thinks about everything. That makes every small thing meaningful, there is a whole world behind everything.” He finds it an astonishing book. “The plot seems simple, but it is very rich. On the surface, it seems like a graceful book, but when I had finished it, I thought – although it may seem somewhat excessive – that this is how life is.”

According to Van Lente, this sensitivity and perceptivity are qualities that students at the International Centre for Integrated assessment and Sustainable development (ICIS) must have. “You don’t want students to just learn lists and facts off by heart. They must be very aware of how things are. It is important that they are open to that, in particular with sustainability, which is interwoven in everything. Before you know it, it has been compartmentalised: sustainability is environmental pollution, or sustainability is fair trade. But it can be in everything.”

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