John Ralston Saul: Opening speech at the 78th PEN International CongressThis is a remarkable city. I have been coming to Gyeongju for fifteen years. It is a city not only of history but of ideas; a city built on the idea of a humanist civilization, both Buddhist and Confucian. I think often, wherever I am in the world, of The Divine Bell of the Great King Seong Deok from the 8th Century, which sits a short distance from here. It is covered in script: the philosophy of the day. “The Absolute Truth”, it says, “embraces all of creation, here and beyond. We cannot see its real form, nor can we trace the path to its origin”. Here is a profoundly anti-ideological idea; an idea of doubt and of creativity, which writers can embrace today. And then this line: “The people [of the Silla Kingdom] admired literature and art over gold and jade”. Here is an idea which would mystify many of those who control policy around the world today – the belief that the imagination needs to trump mere self interest.PEN is stronger in its 91st year than is has ever been. Why? Because we function on the fundamental principle of the Divine Bell. Creativity, imagination, language may be forbidden, battered, turned into propaganda in the short term. But creativity, the imagination, prevail.
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