The Slovenia Times

PEN meeting explores "the other" and reading among the young


The afternoon debate, entitled Representation of the Other: a Path Towards Peace or War, heard Elizabeth Csicsery-Ronay of the Hungarian PEN point to the capacity of fiction to boost empathy and understanding and thus contribute to peace.

Slovenia's Edvard Kovač stressed the importance of writing about a foreign culture or subject in a responsible fashion, meaning not reproducing cliches but allowing the depth of humanity to also be felt in "foreigners".

Echoing this, Tone Peršak, a former Slovenian culture minister, pointed out literature has long played a significant role both in fostering tolerance and in inciting hatred among nations and races.

Peršak however wonders what clout literature has in this sense today, with the number of readers constantly declining. He feels that even if everything being written now was extremely positive, literature would not even come close to offsetting the intolerance and hate being spread on social networks.

Abulmiti Reziya of the Uyghur PEN centre also painted a bleak picture of today's globalised world, saying it was suffering under the terrorism of individuals and groups and under the fascism of governments.

She said literature can help the public recognise that silence about fascism undermines freedom and destroys what is humane.

Meanwhile, the morning panel, entitled Imagination or Reality: Inviting Young Readers to Literature, suggested a reference point other than the internet is needed to help young people deal with the world in an emotionally sound way.

The president of the Slovenian PEN Centre Ifigenija Simonović warned against forcing children to read books they are not ready for, saying this meant abusing their trust and destroying their reading curiosity and joy.

Other participants noted the need to address the young in a language they are familiar with, meaning accepting their symbols, virtual heroes etc.

Also highlighted was the importance of serving as an example, as nothing inspires more curiosity than seeing somebody with a book, seeing somebody so absorbed by a book that they forget to eat, to sleep, to fight with the neighbour.


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