The accomplished writer, thinker and avocational adventurer (hey, a trek through the Ukrainian steppe!) Peter Savodnik is a serious man. He abhors vacuous, harmful distractions like political correctness, championing instead the simple and genuine alternative: reality-based dialogue and inquiry. The questions Savodnik wants answered require a respondent to have not just a phrase in the can but a philosophy. Here, for instance, are the two questions he hoped the American presidential candidates would answer during the 2012 debates: “What is capitalism?” and “What is your opinion of it?”
Had the candidates answered these (or had they even been asked), we’d have a far better idea of where we are (a strong preoccupation for Savodnik, this knowing business)–and perhaps where we’re headed. The fact that the debate never ventured near such meaty material could stand as a symbol of what might be called Savodnik’s Lament. (Not a bad title, btw, for a novel by Dostoyevski or one of the other great Russians Savodnik sometimes teaches at Middlebury College.) As he writes of the current mediocrity, meaninglessness and ignorance afflicting the body politic: “Instead of making decisions or having conversations about real things, we content ourselves with momentary crises and metaphors that entertain and distract and have very little to do with what’s really ailing us.” It’s not just those with presidential aspirations who should answer the better questions; so should we all. (And yes, you’re right if you smelled the University of Chicago. MA, 1999.) Savodnik has published everywhere, won awards, traveled and reported from Qatar, Egypt, Azerbajan for a start. And deeply from the former Soviet Union, where he lived for a time. His newest book, in fact, is about Lee Harvey Oswald’s interloping there.