Tuesday, May 6, 2008

PEN World Voices: Bookforum: Political Engagemen

The participants in this panel were Elias Khoury and Nurddin Farah (Asli Erdogan, a Turkish writer, couldn't make it to the festival because of illness) and the moderator was Albert Mobilio. The goal of the event was to consider questions of fiction's role in political life. The answers from the two authors on the panel were quite interesting. Nurddin Farah said, "Most human activities are political ... the point of [the novel] is to reach people" and Elias Khoury said, "novels must be novels. Literature is not only a statement...every novel is a struggle to widen the sense of humanity."

Essentially, this is the whole point of the work that I've been doing as a bookseller. I have a deep belief that politics and art cannot be separate. It was good to hear authors just coming out and saying this. I think the idea of the two disciplines need to be apart is an wholly American one. Part of the many attempts to dumb down the American public.

Khoury said, "[The] search for human dignity and human life is the struggle for freedom and liberty" and Farah said, "[The] writer gives power to people who cannot speak for themselves ... [the writer] imagines himself as the person ... [the writer] must take sides."

Gee, I don't know about the taking sides part but everything else I think I agree with. I think that as a writer if you take sides in a story you can sometimes end up with a one-sided tale that can loose sympathy for different characters. This is all very general, I know, and that this all depends on how a story is constructed. But even an evil character can have some areas open for empathy.

Anyway, this was a very interesting and stimulating event. It gave me much to think about in terms of literary writing and the political overtones both overt and subtle.


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