The Argentinean-born author Rodrigo Fresan spoke at a BenettonTalk Young Writers Series on Saturday, as part of the PEN World Voices Festival. His new novel, “Kensington Gardens,” is a paean to popular culture, including Peter Pan.

He told the story of an argument he had years ago with his girlfriend at the time. She slapped him, and he proceeded to run after her down the street. He turned a corner and banged into a man who went flying. It turned out to be the famed novelist Jorge Luis Borges, who lay on the street clutching his cane.”Oh my God!”he recalled thinking.”I killed Borges.”

In fact, Borges was just shaken up a bit. The audience laughed when Mr. Fresan said it didn’t matter if he wrote a book as great as Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past”; he would always be known as the person who killed Borges.

He said he was so shocked that he can’t even remember if he helped the writer get up or not. “Literary parricide,” writer Claudio Ivan Remeseira said at the event.


PAMUK QUIET A Knopf publicist told one reporter that the Turkish author Orhan Pamuk was not taking interviews. So it somewhat ironic that Mr. Pamuk was whisked out of a PEN World Voices panel – which is dedicated to freedom of speech and expression – on Saturday evening as several people wanted to speak with the noted writer. Mr. Pamuk bravely faced criminal charges (later dropped) for speaking about the Armenian genocide to a Swiss newspaper.

The Philadelphia Inquirer literary critic Carlin Romano observed that Mr. Pamuk is “now the Turkish Philip Roth,” and the newspapers seem to follow his every move.


I’M A BELIEVER (NOT) Faux intellectualism reigned as the Believer magazine co-hosted an evening program in conjunction with the PEN World Voices Festival. With deadpan humor, artist Matthew Ritchie offered a hodgepodge of theories and observations. Talk of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud led to Trotsky, Hitler, and Dali. It was as though he were teaching the Frankfurt School critique of modernity through the lyrics of The Monkees’ “Pleasant Valley Sunday.”

There were flashes of insight – such as juxtaposing several books about “the end” of various things – but his talk was a sort of history-by-Google. It was when Mr. Ritchie said Hitler had done some not nice or not-so-good things that the problem with postmodern playfulness was apparent.

The evening played so much with fact and fiction that one didn’t know surely where one stood. The feeling was similar to the moment when Edmund Morris introduced a fictional character in his biography of President Reagan. Humanist erudition was used as a tool to overwhelm the audience, who sat quietly, taking it all in.

Trouble is, the postmodernism of the Believer is not earned; the riffs tend to come not through wide knowledge of sources but rather as a lark.To the Believer’s credit, the magazine is introducing literature in a playful way to perhaps the first generation in America whose primary experience is with video and television rather than with the written word.

Host John Hodgman jokingly gave Mr. Ritchie a vaudeville-style hook at the end; the audience should have done so a lot earlier. The New York Sun’s book critic and associate editor Adam Kirsch praised the magazine’s confidence and sense of community, adding “But seriousness can’t just be asserted; it has to be demonstrated. And this the Believer has so far failed to do.”

But the Believer’s contribution to history may be to show how propagandists operate: with blurry, slippery presentations. The Knickerbocker was reminded of Walt Whitman’s poem in which a listener heard the learned astronomer lecturing to much applause:

How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

The Knickerbocker strolled down to hear a panel on dual citizenship cohosted by an online magazine, Words Without Borders, which was sublime.