THE WRITER AND HUMAN RIGHTS by Toronto Arts Group for Human Rights--Ed.


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Gathered from oral presentations and written contributions to a conference held in Toronto in October 1981 in support of Amnesty International, this collection represents 38 of the 70 participants; the material is grouped under general headings like ""Journalism and Human Rights,"" ""Terrorism,"" ""Colonialism,"" ""The Writer's Role,"" etc. Though this sort of occasion doesn't necessarily produce much of substance, the Toronto group included some literary heavyweights: Nadine Gordimer, Allen Ginsburg, Jacobo Timerman, Margaret Atwood, Michel Tournier, and Susan Sontag are among those represented here. Poet Carolyn ForchÉ tells of the murder of Salvadoran poets she had met in El Salvador documenting human rights abuses; the Salvadoran security forces, she asserts, ""are now seeking to exterminate every trace of oppositional culture, every attempt to forge links between literacy, articulacy, and social justice."" But if literacy itself is seen to threaten Third World oppressors, some of the participants are no less critical of the more advanced forms of ""repressive tolerance"" they find in the developed nations. Margaret Atwood complains that Canadian audiences want art to be a ""Disneyland of the soul, containing Romanceland, Spyland, Pornoland, and all the other Escapelands."" Another Canadian, poet Gaston Miron, maintains that writers become ineffectual when they are not in rebellion--so the real enemy is the system's absorption of the writer. But Czech-Canadian novelist and filmmaker Josef Skvorecky has a hard time taking the concept of repressive tolerance seriously: where he comes from, he says, the repression is unsubtle but real. French novelist Michel Tournier expresses the opinion that Richard Nixon was forced from office by ""two journalists,"" which makes him feel optimistic about the traditional role of the writer as purveyor of disorder (against the politician's desire for order). Journalist John Fraser, Of the Toronto Globe and Mail, tells of the self-censorship exercised by foreign correspondents in China, who fear repercussions against Chinese friends. Nadine Gordimer, meanwhile, speaks of being an alien in her own country, South Africa, and of the inability of white writers to comprehend the experience of black South Africans. Other contributors discuss Latin America, Poland, and the United States. (Allen Ginsberg reviews the systematic suppression of the underground press in America in the 1960s.) The contributions are not often profound; but the diversity of experiences, and therefore of attitudes, is instructive. Nothing gets settled here, but the panorama is worth the view.

Pub Date: Jan. 13th, 1983
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday