PEN

PEN is not an acronym; it is a society of writers.

I found among papers an article about the 1986 PEN convention by Salmon Rushdie, published by the New York Times Book Review in 2005. It is a poor account of the meeting. There is an account to compare it to: The Prevention of Literature, Polemic, January 2, 1946, George Orwell.

Faults within Rushdie’s account: He was a new, mostly unknown writer. He dropped every name in one long column. He was overly impressed by all writers he saw, mostly foreigners, but he was more likely impressed by the size of their bank accounts and the scope of their marketing operations. There is not much to suggest that Rushdie was inspired by anyone’s facility of writing, the ponderous and combination of thoughts and visions and use of words and impressions formed by expression.

Indeed, Rushdie truncates speakers’ comments to uninformative sentences:

After Bellow made a speech containing a familiar Bellovian
riff about how the success of American materialism had
damaged the spiritual life of Americans, Grass…pointed out
that many people routinely fell through the holes in the
American dream, and offered to show Bellow some real
American poverty in… the South Bronx. Bellow, irritated,
spoke sharply in return…Grass returned to his seat, next to
me,… trembling with anger: “Say something,” he ordered.
…[Rusndie did as asked.] …why many American writers had
avoided …the task of taking on the subject of America’s
immense power in the world….
Enjoyable as such recollections are, the real significance of
the congress…

The tidbits recounted what Rushdie memorialized were noteworthy, unintentionally. Bellow raised the point that materialism diminishes the spirit and art, especially in the United States. He did not expand his comments to the world, among a meeting of international writers. Apparently there were no takers. Did anyone understand what Bellow was taking about? Gunter Grass was a blithering, ignorant idiot. He conceded the point that materialism (riches) are essential for advancement, which cannot happen from impoverished bases where people do not experience the American dream. The American experience demonstrates Grass is full of beans. The blues, jazz, rock and roll and nearly the whole twentieth century musical experience has come from foundations provided by African-American music of more than 120 years ago. Politically, the Civil Rights movement of mostly African-Americans of the South was successful under strong, low-income leaders.

Rushdie’s own participation in this petty PEN fiasco suggested insularity. America has too much power and influence; the world should be left to itself. Rushdie hardly speaks of a new world order, where people ought to communicate freely with one another, an American wish. I wonder if he approves of the Internet crossing borders (except where governments interfere with it). PEN and its members know what he thought in 1986. I wonder if he maintained his provincial thoughts in 2005? What about today, 2018?

Rushdie article supports on a foundation of quicksand his quoting Shelley: Writers are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. In 2018 is any nation, other than America, spending as much time and money on entertainment, albeit most of it is short of literature but some of it passes for short stories? Great Britain and some British commonwealth countries are competitors because they have both the language and the heritage. But other countries? What writing goes on therein, and what media comes from those places? Perhaps those countries are too materialistic.