Declaration of independence for those without frontiers

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The Independent Online
This piece was written this month by Salman Rushdie to commemorate his acceptance of the inaugural presidency of the International Parliament of Writers, an organisation set up to respond to growing persecution of writers around the world. The 300 members include Toni Morrison, Susan Sontag and Gunter Grass.

WRITERS are citizens of many countries: the finite and frontiered country of observable reality and everyday life, the boundless kingdom of the imagination, the half-lost land of memory, the federations of the heart which are both hot and cold, the united states of the mind (calm and turbulent, broad and narrow, ordered and deranged), the celestial and infernal nations of desire, and - perhaps the most important of all our habitations - the unfettered republic of the tongue.

It is these countries that our Parliament of Writers can claim, truthfully and with both humility and pride, to represent. Together they comprise a territory far greater than that governed by any worldly power; yet their defences against that power can seem very weak.

The art of literature requires, as an essential condition, that the writer be free to move between his many countries as he chooses, needing no passport or visa, making what he will of them and of himself. We are miners and jewellers, truth-tellers and liars, jesters and commanders, mongrels and bastards, parents and lovers, architects and demolition men. The creative spirit, of its very nature, resists frontiers and limiting points, denies the authority of censors and taboos. For this reason it all too frequently is treated as an enemy by those mighty or petty potentates who resent the power of art to build pictures of the world which quarrel with, or undermine, their own simpler and less open-hearted views.

Yet it is not art that is weak, but artists who are vulnerable. The poetry of Ovid survives; the life of Ovid was made wretched by the powerful. The poetry of Mandelstam lives on; the poet was murdered by the tyrant he dared to name. Today, around the world, literature continues to confront tyranny - not polemically, but by denying its authority, by going its own way, by declaring its independence. The best of that literature will survive; but we cannot wait for the future to release it from the censor's chains. Many persecuted authors will also, somehow, survive; but we cannot wait silently for their persecutions to end.

Our Parliament of Writers exists to fight for oppressed writers and against all those who persecute them and their work, and to renew continually the declaration of independence without which writing is impossible; and not only writing, but dreaming; and not only dreaming, but thought; and not only thought, but liberty itself.

(Photograph omitted)