It is now ten years since Swedish PEN started its international online publication PEN/Opp, which up until 2019 was called The Dissident Blog. The purpose of the publication is to offer publishing space for writers and journalists who are prohibited from publishing in their home countries.
As from today PEN/Opp will also be publishing texts in a continuous flow in the form of a thematic issue called “Writers in Exile.” The first text in this thematic issue is by the Syrian writer and thinker Yassin Al-Haj Saleh, who received Swedish PEN’s Tucholsky Prize in 2017. In his text " Crisis and unrepresentability" , translated here from the English by Sara Mannheimer and Eva Björkander Mannheimer, Al-Haj Saleh seeks to define a Syrian intellectual crisis where free speech is blocked, also by the intellectuals themselves. It is not self-censorship but rather an internal blockage where words are unable to describe the horrific. So, what forms of expression remain when the collective trauma has ground the language to a standstill?
The theme “Writers in Exile” will be an important complement to the four thematic issues each year that until now have focussed on geographic areas and specific concepts. With this added issue PEN/Opp is widening the opportunity to play an important role for writers in exile.
When an author or journalist, due to threat and persecution connected to their profession, is forced to leave their country and perhaps reinvent context, networks, forums and platforms, PEN/Opp offers the opportunity to reach out to an international audience with texts that in various ways address the freedom of expression and the conditions of exile.
Since the start in 2011 PEN/Opp has published more than 320 texts in their original language as well as in Swedish and English, texts by writers from 55 different countries. Here the reader encounters cultural debate, reportage, essays, prose, and poetry in a continuous flow. Swedish PEN wants to thank the writers who have contributed so far and welcome those who will be writing for PEN/Opp in the future. The world needs your texts.
Marit Kapla, writer, journalist, and member of the Board of Swedish PEN.