The Role of P.E.N. in the Contemporary World

 It is an honor to be invited to address theJapan P.E.N. Club Founded in1935 on the eve of a tumultuous period in world affairs, Japan P.E.N.'s memberscommitted to the P.E.N. ideals of freedom of expression and "one humanityliving in peace in one world."These ideals have been sorely tested in the last century. Today theworld still strains to find peace in a time when conflicts are broadcast aroundthe globe in an instant.Duringthis time Japan P.E.N. has remained one of the strong centres of InternationalP.E.N.


 I was recently asked to consider the roleof P.E.N. in the contemporary world, a question which also raises the role ofliterature and of the writer in a world struggling for peace.


 Let me begin the answer with my firstmemory of a PEN meeting, sitting in someone's living room in Los Angeleswriting postcards to free Wei Jingsheng from prison in China. At the time inthe 1980's Wei had already been in prison several years of a 15-yearsentence.I had no idea who thiswriter was thousands of miles away; I barely knew the other writers in thatliving room. On the coffee table would have been PEN's Case List, which at thetime was white sheets of paper stapled together.


 We wrote and stamped our post cards for Wei and other writers that afternoon. I'm sure we were provided with background on his case. I pictured these cards fluttering into a jail somewhere in China and perhaps even into the cell of this stranger to let him know we had taken note of him and were concerned about his life.Looking back on that blue- sky afternoon as we sipped sodas and ate crackers and cheese, I see our act as a bitfleeting, an effort to imagine the fate of another writer who didn't have our freedom to write and speak.


 I have since learned of the many other actions PEN members take in support of their colleagues around the world. In considering PEN's role in the contemporary world, I start with this act of imagining someone else. It is at the heart of what we do. It is the journey we embark on as writers, and it is at the core of PEN's work.PEN's mission to promote literature, to defend freedom of expression and to advance a community of writers all depends on the freedom to imagine.Imagination is an individual and entirely revolutionary act, for it cannot be controlled.


 Literature is a vehicle for the imagination, transporting us through stories and language to experience different people and cultures.PEN's role is to protect the space for the writer to do the imagining and to share his/her works in a community of writers across cultures.


 A while ago I had the opportunity of going through an underground monastery in Kiev with the U.N. rapporteur on religious freedom. Our guide in the tunnels was absorbed by the stories she was telling about people who had martyred themselves for their beliefs hundreds of years ago. These stories clearly influenced her life in 21st century Ukraine. I asked my friend if she foundthe same true in the other societies she visited, and she said absolutely. Stories govern the present as well as the past of people. To understand a society, you need to understand its stories.


 PEN members are the story-tellers, the eyes and ears of their societies. Their role is to tell true stories--if creative writers, true to the heart and imagination; if historians, true to the history they uncover; if journalists, true to the facts as they find them; if dramatists, true to the drama of the human spirit. True stories help us to understand ourselves and each other. False stories, based on ideology and propaganda, inflame passions and fuel conflicts as we've seen in the past. Today we are in a dangerous environment when false stories and rumors shoot around the world in a few hours, and the clash of cultures is broadcast on 24-hour news channels.


 Imagination and stories may seem like soft power in a troubled world, but PEN members would argue that one bridges cultures with culture, especially with literature. We cross borders to each other first by imagining the crossing. When we no longer fear the other because we have been able to imagine the other, then we have begun our journey and recognize "the stubborn, underlying sameness of the human spirit whatever the variety of forms in which it is expressed," as International PEN President Arthur Miller once noted at a PEN Congress.


 Miller wrote years later during the war in the Balkans to a journalist in Belgrade whose friends and newspaper were under assault: "One can only hope that the artists can find a means of creating human rather than political characters, people not puppets, and thereby keep alive the concept, which wars always destroy, of immortal, universal humanity whose differences cannot obliterate their common desire to walk the earth and reach for the stars."


 PEN's role today as in the past is to defend that humanity and keep the literature it inspires alive by protecting the writer. PEN has been called the conscience of the world writing community. Founded in 1921 after the First World War, PEN grew out of the simple ideathat if writers from different nations engaged each other and literature crossed borders, the super nationalism that had brought on the war might be reduced.Clearly this idea resonated with the writers and intellectuals in Japan who formed Japan P.E.N. on the eve of World War Two. The writers understood that if ideas, especially competing ideas, were sucked out of society because of fear and intimidation, then the pressure among peoples would build and war could result. PEN hasn't been able to stop the onslaught of wars, but the idea of PEN has grown and spread over the last 86 years until now there are 144 centres in 101countries.


 PEN's role is lodged in its Charter, which is more relevant now than ever. The framers of the Charter understood the dangers of national prejudice and rabid nationalism and the danger of sacrificing the individual to the collective. Fired in that crucible between World Wars, PEN's Charter contains one of the dialectics upon which free societies operate.


 PEN members pledge to "use what influence they have in favor of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds..." At the same time "PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within nations and between nations" and opposes "any form of suppression of freedom of expression."


 The explosion last year over the publication of cartoons in a Danish newspaper of the Prophet Mohammed brings the seeming contradiction in these values to the fore. While some PEN members might oppose an offense against religious sensibilities, at the same time PEN defends the right of the artist to express himself freely, even if he offends.


 The ability to abide contradictory ideas and a plurality of views is at the heart of free societies and undermines those who tolerate only one voice and one vision.Advocating for the individual creative voice and for a multiplicity of voices, PEN inevitably challenges fundamentalism and authoritarianism.


 In its 86th year International PEN still represents that longing for a world in which people communicate and respect differences, share culture and literature, and battle ideas but not each other. PEN's founding preceded the United Nations. When U.N. members were drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, they consulted the Charter of PEN.


 In this time of globalization, PEN is one of the first truly global organizations. Whether in Tokyo, Istanbul, Cairo, Moscow or Paris, whether in the mountains of Nepal or the deltas of Nigeria, from the Arctic Circle to the tip of Cape Town, from India and Pakistan to Columbia, South America, PEN members belong to a community of writers connected by the values in PEN's Charter.


 Today through its Exile Network and new partnership with the International Cities of Refuge Network, PEN helps writers who are displaced because of political upheavals find new communities. Through its Writers in Prison Committee PEN defends writers subject to imprisonment or threat because of their ideas. Through the members of its other standing committees-Translation and Linguistic Rights, Peace Committee, and Women Writers Committee-International PEN works to connect, translate and advocate on behalf of writers and literature.


 PEN's challenge today is not to change its mission or its role, but for its members to live by the values in PEN's Charter, to keep nationalism out of our forums, to see each other and relate to each other as writers, not representatives of our countries.PEN members protest political actions by countries that impinge on the writers' freedom, but PEN itself is and should remain nonpolitical.


 I often tell audiences that PEN is a place where cultures don't clash, but communicate. Even when we don't agree, we are talking, translating, and listening to each other.PEN's forums provide space for those conversations to take place and stories to be exchanged.


 Literature takes us outside of ourselves.When young women in Tehran restricted by dress and behavior codes read and identify with the 19th century heroines of Jane Austen, who themselves were constrained and stifled by society's rules, then literature is crossing borders of time and place and cultures.


 In preparation for this trip I have been living in Japan....at least in my imagination as I'm reading the literature.In Rouse Up O Young Men of the NewAge

Kenzaburo Oe confirms the link between literature and life and the journey literature takes us on to understanding one another. The poetry of William Blake guides his narrator, who is struggling with his eldest son. The relationship in the novel between the father and son is both particular and universal as the father tries to define the world for his son.As with all great literature, we are taken on a voyage whichdelivers us to territory where the human heart and spirit dwell. Here we recognize ourselves and one another. Surely this is an important way station on the road to peace.


 PEN is not a peace organization, however, though its members dare to believe that the free exchange of ideas can elevate understanding and reduce conflict.Fear of the other dissolves when we recognize in the face of the other: ourselves.


 Many years after my first PEN meeting in that Los Angeles living room, I met Wei Jingsheng and shared a meal with him. How effective PEN's post cards and letters and those of people all over the world had been in eventually securing his freedom is difficult to assess.We met in a restaurant in Washington, D.C.Sitting in a green velvet booth, I saw him struggling to imagine me, not me personally, but to imagine the whole strange country he had arrived in.His was a lonely journey in many ways, and freedom would require unending imagination.





















































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This page was created on 2007/05/21



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ジョアン・リーダム=アッカーマン 作家 ジャーナリスト。国際ペン事務局長兼副会長。人権問題を専門とする。国際ペン獄中作家委員長、国際ペン財団の理事を歴任。クリスチャン・サイエンス・モニター紙の元レポーター。雑誌などに小説、随筆を発表、ノンフィクションの著作により多くの賞を受賞。「No Marble Angels(大理石の天使はいない)」「The Dark Path to River(川への暗いみち)」などがある。

掲載作は2007年2月6日、東京・日本プレスセンターホールにて開かれた、第6回日本ペンクラブ「いま、戦争と平和を考える」集会における講演「The Role of P.E.N. in the Contemporary World」である。現代社会における国際ペンの役割、ペン憲章の意義を訴え、文学者の役割についても熱く語りかけたものである。高橋茅香子会員の訳で、原文、日本文とあわせ掲載する。