Committee, there are the Atwoods, Doctorows, Mailers,nand others, contaminating any effort at genuine being.nWhen I drank a can of Guinness with Hugh Poulton in hisnrun-down London apartment I was fairly sure I’d never seenhim on a snapshot of anything glitzy. An Amnesty Internationalnresearcher, Poulton was interested in fine, graylyshadednthings, hard to scream out by a Sting, or a BrucenSpringsteen, during one of their AI fundraising concerts.nWhether in the East or the West, writers and other artistsndo create and choose sides. If the members of the SerbiannWriters’ Union said and did nothing in the Tito era,nthey—like Gabriel Garcia Marquez in poet ArmandonValladares’s case—were supporting a political agenda simplynby having chosen to become public figures. Publishing,nto me, entailed nothing less than an attempt to be a hero, atnleast in front of others.nThe mechanics of swarming, in Belgrade as well as NewnYork, produce predictable results. When Philip Roth saidnthat in contemporary Western culture “nothing matters andneverything goes,” while in the East “nothing goes andneverything matters,” he may have thought of Osip Mandelstamnand his wife’s Hope Against Hope. Writing, after all, isncommunication, as is gathering in a writers’ union. GerardnGodin, the separatist Quebecois poet-politician put it thisnway: “We had to communicate with the English [Canadians]nwith bombs, for them to realize just how we felt aboutnthe whole question of Quebec.”nWhat, unfortunately, binds names like Garcia Marquez’sn(or Nicaraguan Rosario Murillo’s) to Goebbels’s in annunholy, timeless, unconstituted Writers’ Alliance is annobsession with something more than the power of beauty:nlike novelist Mile Budak (the Minister of Cults of thenNazi-dominated Independent State of Croatia), Hitler, thendefunct artist, ended up watching his enemies die, theirnnecks stretched and lacerated by piano wire. And, fittingly, itnwas Milovan Djilas who said to me, as we walked down annempty Belgrade boulevard (he stopping from time to time ton. see if anyone was tailing us): “You, as I, are interested asnmuch in politics as in literature. The two are somewhatninseparable.”nIndeed. Every communist government knows this andnevery Western writer laments it. Politics also — as GerardnGodin never quite said—is communication: selling othersnon your own priorities, or, even worse, being sold on thenpriorities of others as your very own. The problem, if there isnone, is not in politics versus poetics, or in ideological writersnas opposed to I’art-pour-rartistes, but in men who write asnthey live (and live only so long as they write) and those who,nlike Vsevolod Kochetov of the Soviet Writers’ Union, use artnas a tool — or a weapon—to win. The issue is not innWriters’ Alliances, but in writers whose vanity and appetitendwarf their work.n”When I drive around upstate New York,” observednNadine Gordimer (a prominent member of PEN international),n”I drive past mobile homes and wonder: ‘Who arenthese people?’ I don’t meet them in American fiction.”nTrue communicators and politicos, even if unrevealed asnsuch to themselves, need to preen and strut among peers.n”Writers I admire, like Raymond Carver,” said SalmannRushdie, “write out of disgust with the corrosion of thisncountry [the US] and so write very small and circumscribednstories. There’s a suspicion of scale. These tiny fictions are anway of reconstructing values from the ground up.”nRushdie, like Doctorow, has chosen his side. I supposenthat reconstructing values (or upkeeping the honored ones)nis what Mary Lee Settle, Walker Percy, Wendell Berry, andnsome other Americans have been doing, while mostlynignored by the American literary establishment. Not contentnwith stitch work on the Gobelins of minor fiction, hermeticnpoetry, or hackwork, members of no movement, writers’nunion, or Bund, Garrett, Chappell, Lytle, and some of theirnstudents have made their choice. Taking their lumps as theyncome — as Canadians Margaret Atwood and Timothy Findleynsneeringly bask in the praise of New York—thesenarchetypal Americans work on, confident that no one willnhave to bail them out of any prison — velvet, concrete, orneven like Jack Abbott’s.nWilly-nilly, writers—by the choice of their professionn— are the seismographs of mankind. With truth andnpower directly proportional to their talent, honesty, andnhonor, they tell us, often to their own dismay, where the bignones are rolling from. As readers, we also have the freedomnof choice: to mind the beeps of Brodkeys, Mary Morrises, ornRosellen Browns, or to scramble to the true howls (notnGinsberg’s) of Babels, Keseys, or Bulgakovs, all screamingnwith thousands — even millions — of lives not entirely theirnown.nPEN international, PEN American Center (and theirnFreedom to Write Committee), US Helsinki Watch’s Committeenfor the Defense of Journalists, even New Yorkncongresses titled The Writer’s Imagination and the Imaginationnof the State; committees to free Mihajlo Mihajlov,nAdem Demaci, or Ivan Klima; Nobel Prizes for literaturengiven to Ivo Andric, Boris Pasternak (for his DT. Zhivago,nnot for his poems), and withheld from Jorge Luis Borges, ornEzra Pound—are all inescapable, at least as long as EastnEuropean secret policemen wear gold-rimmed glasses andndress like executives.n”Selic,” I was told by my UDBA interrogator, “why didnyou have to write your, whatever, this week, and make menmiss the closing of the Belgrade Film Festival?”nI, for one, am certainly more than grateful to MichaelnScammell and Mrs. Kathleen Simson of the InternationalnPEN for having helped me get out, and stay out, of thenZabela Punitive and Correctional Home in eastern Serbia.nA new PEN International Congress is scheduled for 1989 innCanada (will Godin attend?), to be equally subdividednbetween Toronto and Montreal, in answer to the bickeringnbetween the English- and French-speaking PEN’s. Even ifnPierre Elliot Trudeau does not address the distinguishednaudience — as he did in New York, in 1986 — MargaretnAtwood certainly will, to explain to everyone just howndevilish America is.nSo let her. Unless American writers disprove SvennDelblanc of Sweden (“You don’t have any truly greatnwriters,”) all the organizing—pro and con—will not helpnus any. Atwood and Delblanc will gain by default, with nonone to blame but the inchoate, unincorporated brotherhoodnof other authors unwilling, or unable, to offer themselves tontheir truth. If, ultimately, our age offers no great art, whichnone will, and to whom? “^nnnJANUARY 1989/25n