How are we to talk with each other? - A message from John Ralston Saul


How are we to talk with each other? Write to each other? Speak to each other? Ultimately, we do this through literature – our real language. Yet whatever we do in PEN we are pursued by these questions. And they are incredibly complicated questions because we use virtually every language in the world, and on top of that we are divided by a paucity of translations when it comes to our work as members of PEN.

Three official and international languages give us some tools to talk among ourselves. But if we do not develop a group of members who will regularly translate our messages to each other, then, Spanish, French and English will bring us no closer together. We volunteer to work for writers in prison, for peace, for linguistic rights. We volunteer to organize literary events. But we can only function as an international organization if we translate what we do. Only a small part of that can be done on a commercial basis or by using translation agencies which generously do pro-bono work for us. We rightly describe ourselves as a literary and freedom of expression organization. That reality is dependent on widespread translation, which in turn is dependent on members taking the lead.

And not just between our three official languages. They only touch the surface of our linguistic reality.

Our new website can grow to play a role in our multilingual complexity. What we are launching today begins as a child. It is capable of a great deal more than you see here. To expand it we need your comments and suggestions. It has been designed to be capable of expansion and change.

Perhaps most important, it has been designed to be capable of participation by you. That is an essential part of what it must develop into. I personally hope it will eventually be one part of a network of PEN websites around the world, each concentrated on some aspect of our interests.

Whether or not our new website takes on a real life will depend entirely on your participation. For a start, we need to know what we are doing. I mean, PEN International and each of our Centres need to know what each of us is up to.

I implore you, ask you, entreat you – anything that will get your attention! – to tell us what you are doing. If you are planning major events or campaigns, if something is happening, good or bad, PEN International wants to know. But so would other PEN Centres. This simple phenomenon of using the website as an international calendar is an obvious way to help us work together, supporting each other.

It has also been built in that the website will expand into a place of two way communication – of discussion among members. I am told that this is part of the second stage.

The first stage is to get it up and running. For this your participation is the key. As of Belgrade we need your comments and suggestions. A website is only partly technology. It lives or dies on its content and its participants.

Please use the new website. It is yours.