It is incomparably more precise and detailed than my day-by-day report of what was happening in Bled :o)
A. Della Rocca
The limits of the language: around the tree stem, sharing thoughts, experiences.
Note about the 44th International Writers’ Meeting
In Bled, (Slovenia), 16-20 of May 2012
The big lime tree in the centre of the Vrba, the Slovenian village where the poet France Prešeren (1800-1849) was born, is more than 200 years old, such as the discussions about the conditions of possibility of developing a culture of peace. During these days, ca. 60 writers from ca. 28 countries or PEN Centres exchanged ideas and experiences on the 3 proposed themes for the round tables: Transformation New Path or the Decline of Western rational Civilization – Perennial Modernity – Sharing with others, a Path to Peace.
Such a thematic organization might lead us to the hypothesis that the search for new peace paths should be preceded by a consequent reflection about the complexity of the political, economical, social and cultural factors that prepare the humus and set the ground where writers create and correspondingly share their written lines. In fact, if we draw the main theses and tendencies of the presented papers, we realize very soon how narrow such path can be, but nevertheless urgent. We all agree upon the diagnosis of the devastating action of neoliberalism, even with a mask of gentleness: “Le tyran néo-libéral, remplaçant le bruit des bottes par les chaussures de sport le week-end et le streetwear la semaine met l’emploi en vente” (Jean-Luc Despax, French PEN). The answer given by writers to such conditions should be therefore at least as energetic as their brutality: « Réinvestir l’espace privatisé du service public et prêter main-forte, symboliquement dans un premier temps, à tout agent qui n’aurait pas renoncé à penser et à agir, de la ruse à la grève ».
In a challenging paper about « The Art of Memetics, from Zurich Dada to recent culture-jamming », Sibila Petlevski (Croatian PEN Centre) stresses the urgency of reconsidering “the most toxic ideas in our own cultures”. But is it just a sign of modernity? Zvonimir Redeljkovič (Bosnia and Herzegovina PEN) sustains that “literature seems to have been in a crisis ever since it came into being”. The eternal question: How modern, how ancient are we, how effective with our own judgment, our own creation? Marjan Strojan (Slovene PEN Centre) reminds us about the definition of contemporariness as “something that does not primarly belong to one’s temporal limitations but rather something that includes them”.
Similar crossroad is the problem of sharing – knowledge, skills, ideas, words. All the languages we can find, among them the specific tools of the writer, all forms of expression of rationality and emotion, since they are so intrinsically interwoven, as we nowadays realize, could be not only, as Edvard Kovač (Chair of the Writers for Peace Committee – WfPC) put it, “a survival imperative”. We could go here a step further and ask a simple question: If one person already shares our messages and images simply due to his or her worldly condition, why not recall our fragile temporality in order to compensate one’s nature egoistic tendencies? In this sense, sharing could be a simple product of the sensible reason, the form of reason after recognizing the complexity of all relationships. There were voices among the authors reminding us problematic situations of violence and oppression, such as Mexico (Colin Canberry), Morocco (Rita El Khayat), as well as environment problems (Sylvestre Clancier, French PEN and International Board, and Zeki Ergas, Swiss-Romand PEN), Mariam Aref Qasim (Somali speaking PEN).
But there were also voices reading texts and singing poems, also in minority dialects as Prekmurje and Porabje (East Slovenia), which are endangered by the majority language. This was the theme of the opening session. During the debates, Carme Arenas (Catalan PEN) read a text from Josep_Maria Terricabras (Chair of the Tanslation and Linguistic Rights Committee): “When we translate we cannot give peace a guarantee, but we are giving it a chance”. The protection of endangered languages is a major Pen issue for us all.
We saw the documentary Nach der Stille (After the Silence) by Stefanie Bürger, Jule Ott and Manal Abdallah, the Palestinian co-director who played the difficult role as bridge and interpreter between the two worlds divided by occupation, war, conflict. The memory of Dov Chernobroda, the Israeli architect who stressed that there could be no peace in Middle East until the enemies start to talk, has been duly celebrated by this elegiac document on the necessity of starting a dialogue. Dov was killed in a suicide attack and his widow, Yael Armanet-Chernobroda, drives with close friends and family, with the film team as a kind of visual basso continuo, to the parents of that young man whose name began slowly and painly to replace the replace the epithet “terrorist”.
The film caused an intensive discussion, and the critical voices towards the occupation politics by Israel were reminded that there was no disagreement about the urgent need to put an end to the occupation and give Palestine a chance to become an independent state. The point was here yet how to deal with suffering and how to share this suffering by listening also to the others. This was stressed by Bluma Finkelstein (Israel and French PEN): no one has the monopoly of pain and no one should become violent out of religious convictions or ideologies.
How easy to say and how difficult to carry it out, this became clear during the meeting of the WfPC. Such issues as the need to become more effective on the level of communication and by formulating the next goals, as the urgency to rethink the role of literature and liberty of expression in a way that embeds both in the responsibility for the environment, since we all are fragile systems, made us come back to our founding texts, from the Lugano Declaration of 1987 against violence and terrorism, through the Linz statement on sustainability (2009), up to the Belgrade text of 2011, which reflects an attempt to link the aspects of citizenship, literature, and environment. We all accepted the challenge of elaborating a concentrate version of it, which might be used as a sort of specific Committee Charter.
Most important of all is keeping the exchange of ideas and texts between the meetings, so that the practicing of sharing and listening wins a solid ground that allows to take proper actions when required, and not just to react to the pressure of the moment problems. In this sense, I accepted to be elected for a second and last mandate.
We have the site blog
and, at least until the moment, we do not need a specific Facebook account, also because we can use the one of PEN International and by that give more visibility to the Committee work, including it in the aphoristic form of communication that can also become a useful tool, if we only can manage it.
In the 21st century, humanism has to be rethought in a sustainable way. This may (should?) become an almost evident daily practice by returning to our temporary condition and thus integrating it in the guidelines of our time. Staying by the word, crisis could yet bring great challenges that open a way of hardships and discoveries. As Franca Tiberto (Italian and Rheto-Romance PEN) put it into an image, writing is like a tree with paper roots and virtual fruits. But what about the stem? - we could ask. Looking at the tree of Vrba again, we see 16 stones placed around the trunk. That was a form of a village assembly, in order to talk about the problems that should be solved by debate and not by physical violence.
For the moment, we have just a draft idea of the stem that we want to develop together, also investing a part of our individual differences to help building a new Committee identity. This is made possible with the support of the International President, John Ralston Saul, who worked these days intensively with us, making important suggestions, as well as of the Pen International staff members Laura McVeigh and Frank Geary, also helping to consolidate the big Pen family. In the sense of a renewed process which is just taking off, this personal report can be seen as a mere first step.
The path will be long – and in our century, the engagement for the sake of literature, peace and human rights must always be considered within the needs of the environment and the correspondent issues, such as the struggle for keeping water an element to be shared by all. Just like the Slovenian poet Barbara Simoniti writes: “I am of water and my language is thirst, / no cell passes away, they all undulate / in simmering desire for something / greater”. The poetic words of most participants have been also spread in these days in literary sessions, carried out in several places in Slovenia, with a special reference to the American poet Sydney Lea with a literary evening in the castle of Ljubljana.
From the windows of a castle like this one we also can see – really and metaphorically – the beautiful city and mountain landscape. From that point it becomes perhaps easier to feel that it remains worth keeping the engagement for all the mentioned causes.