Littérature en cas de crise
Literatur im Krisenfall

Journées Littéraires de Soleure, 16 mai 2015, au Landhaussaal

Ausgangspunkt jeder Literatur sind Konflikte. Wären Menschen eins mit sich und der Welt, hätten sie vielleicht nie zu erzählen begonnen. Doch selten führt die Erzählung über den Konflikt hinaus oder vermag ihn gar zu lösen. Was leistet die Literatur im Krisenfall?

  

Acht Autorinnen und Autoren deutscher oder französischer Sprache wurden eingeladen, mit literarischen Mitteln einen «Vorstoss» zu formulieren, der sich auf einen politischen Konflikt bezieht.

Im Gespräch mit Cédric Wermuth, Nationalrat und Co-Präsident der SP Aargau, und unter der Leitung von Corina Caduff diskutierten die Autorinnen und Autoren über die Möglichkeit, politische Konflikte mit den Mitteln der Literatur erfassbar, mitteilbar, gestaltbar zu machen.

Eingeladen haben Adi Blum und Guy Krneta, Vorstandsmitglieder von «Kunst+Politik».
In Zusammenarbeit mit den Solothurner Literaturtagen.


John Ralston Saul

In the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo


There can be no doubt: within the community of writers there is solidarity. Giving offence or taking offence is not an excuse for violence, to say nothing of murder.

But there is also confusion over what strategy to follow. How are we to shape events, rather than be shaped by them. That is essential. Ideologues, political extremists, populists, racists always attempt to create Manequian situations – Either or. With us or against us. Extremists flourish on two things – the illusion of clarity. And fear. Their purpose is to deny the possibility of consideration. The possibility of thought. Of complexity. They attempt to replace the possibility of humanism with the certainty of conflict.

One things is clear: everywhere in the world we see violence against writers. And it is getting worse.

Second, there is the big idea of free expression. PEN defends it absolutely – untrammeled freedom of expression. Since 1921. But we also believe strongly that it’s important not to produce hatred amongst people. A complex balance. It lies at the core of our Charter. After 94 years of standing up to autocrats, ideologies, extremists of every sort, advocates of prejudice of every sort, we know that this balance cannot be attached to a rule. There is no possibility of effective laws that will resolve this complexity.

Our reality is that on our list there are about 850 writers in prison or in danger. And some 200 journalists killed this year.

Third, the vast majority are not killed by Islamic extremists or any other form of religious extremism.

Who then kills and imprisons writers? Mainly governments, police, armies, corporations, organized crime. There are often strong links between these groups. There is often an unholy trinity of corruption, violence and impunity. Some governments hide behind religion, but what we are dealing with is authoritarianism protecting itself. And then, of course, there are also the religious extremist killers.

Fourth, humour is perhaps the most powerful tool we have. Anyone with power hates being made fun of. Throughout history humour has been the creative weapon of choice in times of crisis.

Fifth, humour is almost always local. Even provincial. What makes each of us laugh is a reflection of our particular civilization, society, reality, experience. What leaves one society bent over in laughter may leave another indifferent or confused or insulted. None of which justifies violence.

There are other complicating factors today. While humour remains local, technology transports it everywhere in an instant, as if it were universal. It isn’t.

And then there is the intense migration and immigration of our era. This can only work if societies embrace plurality as an expression of humanism. There is no defensive solution. Plurality is all about kids learning how to disagree as part of living together. All kids. The 19th century European idea of the monolithic nation state is over. Or pluralism will fail, with all that that implies.

Sixth, there is always a gun aimed at writers, but the target moves over time and from country to country. Today it is fixed on journalists.

*     *     *

Seven, beware any declaration of war on Islamic extremism. Remember, we also declared war on organized crime about 20 years ago, which ended with organized crime running a lot of banks. Then we declared a war on drugs, which ended in high comedy. Then we declared a war on terrorism, after the terrible events in New York, which has resulted in disorder and more terrorism.

Declaring war is an old fashioned Maginot line idea. Most western governments have a vague understanding of how this works. They call in not only the armies, but more important, the security services. They fall back on the old pre-democratic tool of the absolute monarchies – police methodology applied not to fighting criminals, but to understanding and controlling society.

This leads to laws limiting free expression in the name of public security. Security services in turn demand large budgets and many new jobs.

The result over the last 14 years has been an attack on freedom of expression in the West. And it has been done by our own governments. Not by the people we are supposedly at war with. Our governments and their security agencies have enthusiastically set about doing the job of the enemies of free expression.

So, yes, we have to deal with the macabre collection of reasons for which writers are being killed. We have to be very calm, very very tough, very very sophisticated. We have to go at it in a very precise way, which may have to do as much with education in our own schools as anything else. We have to rethink why these things are happening in Paris and Copenhagen. But also in Russia, Mexico, Honduras, China. And we must address the betrayal of free expression by most western governments.

Our job is to stand firm and to hold people to account, whether the president of a country, a self-interested security official, a religious fanatic or a corrupt leader working with organized crime. Our job to ensure that our defence of free expression demonstrates the possibility of living with free expression.


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