It is a daunting task to write a synopsis of an event led by men with wit as sharp as Christopher Hitchens and Salman Rushdie. PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature 2010's final event, held in the auspicious Great Hall of Cooper Union, was supposed to be the site of a talk given by Sherman Alexie on the artistic, political and economic responsibilities of writers in the digital age but due to unforseen circumstances, he was unable to host the closing plenary.
A recent article in The Guardian, “Egypt’s government to restrict NGO vote monitoring,” probably came as no surprise to people familiar with Egyptian politics. Just as governments and people worldwide have come to accept democracy as the “correct” way to govern, so too have they come to view the independence of NGOs as central to ensuring democratic practice.
Sometimes PEN World Voices Festival offers sporting opportunities. After the critics finished being critical at the Austrian Cultural Forum, I had thirty minutes to complete a mad dash from 53rd and Fifth Avenue to 37th and Fifth Avenue, a.k.a. CUNY’s Graduate Center, for the Orwellian-sounding panel, “Utopia and Dystopia: Geographies of the Possible.” Along the way I had to suck down supplements: an iced coffee and granola bar. Aside the race against time (and hunger), PEN WVF also includes the Olympic feat of having to switch mental gears suddenly.
The title of this piece is ripped from Eric Alterman’s book of the same name (Basic, 2003), but it speaks to an issue that’s been gnawing at me for the past couple of weeks. And this is thanks to Danny Schechter, a.k.a., The News Dissector, and a recent discussion we had on his radio program (listen below). I wonder: where is the left, progressive media? Or, more acutely, what is the hydra-headed progressive media in this country, and how do liberals leverage its many assets and ambitions into a cohesive, message-making machine?
Another stunningly beautiful day in New York City. The NYC half-marathon is being run, and you would think Left Forum attendees are participants: with the café closed until 10am there’s nonstop sprinting back and forth to Starbucks for that morning jolt. With my giant iced coffee and crumb cake in hand, I head to the morning heavyweight panel, Critical Theory and Social Movements. Breakfast for my stomach and my mind.
Verso hosts this panel. Boris Groys and Todd May hold court. Simon Critchley, expected to be on the panel, is decidedly absent(!). Perhaps he’s still waiting in line for his coffee…
Audio interview with Hilary Wainwright, a leading researcher and writer on the emergence of new forms of democractic accountability within parties, movements and the state. She is also editor of Red Pepper, a British new left magazine. An updated edition of her book, Reclaim the State: Adventures in Popular Democracy was published in December of 2009.
Left Forum 2010 is off to an insanely, if not chaotic, positive start. It’s a beautiful day in downtown New York City. The bright sunshine outside is apparent in the bright ideas echoing through the halls of Pace University, and on the bright and cheery attidues of the many attendees.
I haven’t done a count, but the heft of the printed program indicates there are dozens upon dozens of panels happening throughout the weekend, stacked with hundreds of panelists, as well as a book fair, exhibition hall, art show, theater performances and the requisite motley crew of pamphleteers.
One of my earliest memories of foreign affairs from my childhood was the brief war between Argentina and Great Britain over the small, wind-swept Falkland Islands in 1982. In response to the Argentine seizure of the islands, which they call Islas Malvinas and claim as their own, the British sent a naval flotilla halfway around the world to retake them. Without GPS, YouTube, broadband satellite uplinks or any of the other tools of modern journalism, I remember watching the progress of the British fleet on the nightly news as a red dot on a map slowly, very slowly, making its way down the length of the Atlantic Ocean towards the Falklands.