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PEN’s Freedom to Write director Larry Siems introducing the panel Life in the Panopticon: Thoughts on Freedom in an Era of Pervasive Surveillance. From left, Julian Sanchez (Research Fellow at the Cato Institute), Catherine Crump (ACLU attorney), Laura Wolfson (interpreter), Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russian novelist), Ken Macleod (UK science fiction author), Gabriela Adamesteanu (Romanian novelist), and Corina Suteu (translator and director of the Romanian Cultural Institute).
Deftly moderated by Julian Sanchez, who offered poignant introductory remarks on the interplay between fiction and surveillance, the panel covered wide ground, exploring the role of surveillance in the Soviet Union as well as imagined futures in the far-flung realm of science fiction. Catherine Crump identified the unexpected interplay between surveillance technologies and over-reach by the state into our lives. It became clear that the ACLU battles in the courts—in which PEN American Center is participating—lay at a critical juncture where well intentioned surveillance, such as tracking drug lords, can quickly slide towards the dystopian. As Sanchez observed, citing scholar Dan Solov, we tend to examine surveillance by reference to George Orwell and Big Brother, but it may be more appropriate to consider privacy issues with respect to Kafka—with headless bureaucracies that order our lives at whim. The government does not always peek into our lives in a coordinated fashion. And we are simultaneously inviting in social media networks and advertisers by the choices we make while walking under CCTV cameras or while surfing the net.
Becoming philosophical, Russian author and thinker Ludmila Ulitskaya stressed the role of the self in surveillance states. Whether or not surveillance increasingly pervades our lives, we can control our acceptance of it, and we must master our own paranoia. The implication is that the intrusion or lack of intrusion by a surveillance state does not remove our individual need to become at peace with ourselves.
There was, of course, a lot more discussed during this fascinating panel and I am paraphrasing irresponsibly. We hope to have Julian Sanchez’s introductory remarks available and there will be a video recording of this landmark discussion as well.
—Deji Olukotun

PEN’s Freedom to Write director Larry Siems introducing the panel Life in the Panopticon: Thoughts on Freedom in an Era of Pervasive Surveillance. From left, Julian Sanchez (Research Fellow at the Cato Institute), Catherine Crump (ACLU attorney), Laura Wolfson (interpreter), Ludmila Ulitskaya (Russian novelist), Ken Macleod (UK science fiction author), Gabriela Adamesteanu (Romanian novelist), and Corina Suteu (translator and director of the Romanian Cultural Institute).

Deftly moderated by Julian Sanchez, who offered poignant introductory remarks on the interplay between fiction and surveillance, the panel covered wide ground, exploring the role of surveillance in the Soviet Union as well as imagined futures in the far-flung realm of science fiction. Catherine Crump identified the unexpected interplay between surveillance technologies and over-reach by the state into our lives. It became clear that the ACLU battles in the courts—in which PEN American Center is participating—lay at a critical juncture where well intentioned surveillance, such as tracking drug lords, can quickly slide towards the dystopian. As Sanchez observed, citing scholar Dan Solov, we tend to examine surveillance by reference to George Orwell and Big Brother, but it may be more appropriate to consider privacy issues with respect to Kafka—with headless bureaucracies that order our lives at whim. The government does not always peek into our lives in a coordinated fashion. And we are simultaneously inviting in social media networks and advertisers by the choices we make while walking under CCTV cameras or while surfing the net.

Becoming philosophical, Russian author and thinker Ludmila Ulitskaya stressed the role of the self in surveillance states. Whether or not surveillance increasingly pervades our lives, we can control our acceptance of it, and we must master our own paranoia. The implication is that the intrusion or lack of intrusion by a surveillance state does not remove our individual need to become at peace with ourselves.

There was, of course, a lot more discussed during this fascinating panel and I am paraphrasing irresponsibly. We hope to have Julian Sanchez’s introductory remarks available and there will be a video recording of this landmark discussion as well.

—Deji Olukotun

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On Monday, October 22, PEN American Center’s Larry Siems will moderate a conversation between Yu Jie and Anna Funder before a screening of Silence or Exile. The event will take place from 7pm to 9pm at The Scandinavia House,38 Park Avenue.

Silence or Exile tells the stories of the lives and work of five exiled writers who, in their pursuit of freedom of expression, have been forced to escape their home countries. The writers portrayed are:  Philo Ikonya (Kenya/Oslo), Mana Neyestani (Iran/Paris), Horacio Castellanos-Moya (El Salvador/Iowa City), Svetlana Alexievitch (Belarus/Berlin), and Ma Jian (China/London).

Yu Jie is the recipient of the 2012 Civil Courage Prize. He is known as one of China’s most prominent essayists and critics. Following severe harassment and persecution he fled to the US with his family in January 2012. From his new point of exile, he sees “his lifelong goal as achieving democracy and freedom in China.”

Anna Funder explores, in her acclaimed novel All that I Am, the destinies of persecuted writers and intellectuals in the Weimar Era and during World War II. From that perspective, she will draw the lines up to our age, asking how solidarity and hospitality can be mobilized for persecuted writers of today.

The event is organized by ICORN, the International Cities of Refuge Network and its Shahrazad stories for life program, in close cooperation with PEN American Center and the Scandinavia House.