“We are the Gods we invented.” Jeanette Winterson explains how art fights isolation - and helped her to find a path back to peace and identity after her breakdown

“How do we connect to ourselves in this world? How do we feel like we are not isolated on a little raft of time? Only by feeling that we have a rope slung across time – something to hold onto, something which is a guide – something which makes us feel part of something much bigger than this moment in history.”

The imaginative leap of creative thought is freeing and powerful, she explained: “We live in a world looking for divisions, full of the politics of hate, where walls are becoming fashionable again.” She referred particularly to Donald Trump, calling him an ‘anti-value’, but saying she is optimistic: “Every creative person is an antidote to that kind of low-grade brutality.”

Winterson mourned that art is being restricted in its potential for change by its perception as something elite and inaccessible: “It is not a middle-class pursuit that people invented when it was raining. It’s the human condition. It’s not for somebody else, it’s for all of us... If art is a luxury, human beings are a luxury.”

She illustrated the redemptive power of language, telling the audience how she ran away from home at sixteen and lived in her car, and of her subsequent breakdown. She spoke about how art and creative voices helped her to return to her identity, showing her how profoundly it has been shaped by language and art.

“Language left me. It was like being back on a windy ledge before language where there was only fear. I would go up into my bathroom and taking a book of poetry or using poems I knew off by heart, and read them to myself looking in the mirror. I could see the panic drain from my eyes. When I had no language of my own, I use the language of others – strong committed language – to find a way, to find a path. And it brought me back.”

Winterson also presented her vision of the future of art and human identity, in a world soon to be shared with ‘nonbiological life forms’: artificial intelligence. Given the rapid acceleration of human development in the last twenty years, Winterson predicts that anything is possible: “We are here now – and the chance is glittering. We are holding a completely new future.” She referred particularly to new forms of human life - consciousness uploaded into machines and life iterated and reiterated at will.

“We are the Gods we invented. All those stories about gods creating world – it turned out to be us. We are telling the story backwards in many ways: every religious story you’ve ever heard turns out to be true.”