Sunday, April 29, 2007

PEN World Voices Events, Part 3

Mixing Art and Politics
With Dorothea Dieckmann, Almudena Grandes, Janne Teller, Saul Williams; moderated by Sam Tanenhaus

This was the most heated of the events that I attended. The question of where art ends and politics begins is a sticky one. It is always interesting to see artists and writers tackle this subject since the feelings about it vary so much. Some think that their work is totally political and others feel that they are complete individuals with no responsibility to politics at all. This panel was no different. The most outspoken was Saul Williams.

What was most interesting was the very last question from the back of the room from a Egyptian woman. It was more of a comment than a question. "How is it that PEN did not have a representative from the third world on a panel such as this? This is supposed to be PEN World Literature Festival." Actually, this was a good point. PEN does need to be more careful next year.

Reporting on Iraq, Living in Terror:
With Carolin Emcke & Mark Danner

This was the event that I looked forward to the most for this festival since I am such a fan of Mark Danner's work. What I got out of this event was a real surprise: the war came home to me. Before me sat two people who have been to Iraq and have seen firsthand the devastation that this war has brought to that country. Danner painted an image that I don't soon think will be out of my mind. It involves cell phones. Evidently after an explosion in Iraq many cell phones go off on the broken, blown apart bodies as families call loved ones to see if they are all right. Also the problem of the electricity being on for only 4 hours a day means that people have to go to the market constantly to get food since refrigeration is impossible. The market place is incredible dangerous as suicide bombers blow them up constantly. This happened again just two weeks ago and killed 160 people. Mark Danner also told a pretty jarring story of a mother searching through a makeshift outdoor morgue of body parts for the upper half of her son's body.

The problem for reporting in Iraq is that it is so dangerous. Reporters don't dare leave the hotels so the stories of the ordinary Iraqis just don't get out. Carolin Emcke tied it together with the theme of the festival by saying that the very sense of home is totally shattered there. There is no sense of safety or continuity. There is no sense of knowing what is going to happen from one day to another.


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