Magazine article The Progressive

Salman Rushdie: 'Even This Colossal Threat Did Not Work. Life Goes on.'(Interview)

Magazine article The Progressive

Salman Rushdie: 'Even This Colossal Threat Did Not Work. Life Goes on.'(Interview)

Article excerpt

`Even this colossal threat did not work. Life goes on.'

If it were not for the threat of murder, and the fact that this murder has been solicited by a religious leadership, I believe that Salman Rushdie might now be the Nobel Laureate in literature. And, as time advances, it will seem more and more strange if he continues to be only a runner-up. He has raised a body of fiction that explores the world of the post-colonial multi-ethnic and the multi-identity exile or emigrant. He has done so, moreover (and most notably in his most recent novel, The Moor's Last Sigh), by making experiments in language that recall those of Joyce. The Satanic Verses raised the question: Can holy writ be employed for literary purposes? All of his works, even the ones written for children, are designed to show that there is no mastery of language unless it is conceded that language is master.

With the other half of his life, Salman Rushdie acts and speaks on behalf of threatened authors. He is chair of the International Parliament of Writers, based in Strasbourg, France. Among other activities, the International Parliament of Writers maintains a network of refuge cities for a few of the thousands of writers who face persecution, censorship, and even the threat of death in their home countries. Three years after its inception, the network has spread to twenty-four European cities. The city governments provide a two-bedroom apartment and a salary of just over $1,000 per month for a year in the case of a single person, and two years in the case of a family. (If you would like your city to become a city of refuge for writers, please contact the International Parliament of Writers, 10 Rue du 22 November, BP 13-67068, Strasbourg, France.)

This April, Rushdie came to the University of Pittsburgh, where I was then a visiting professor of English. The following is an edited transcript of our public conversation.

Q: Shall we get the unpleasantry out of the way?

Salman Rushdie: Alright-O. If you insist.

Q: Spoken like a true Brit. About eight years or so ago, Valentine's Day, I seem to remember, you received an extremely bad review of The Satanic Verses. And this review, unlike most bad reviews, came accompanied with a very large advance. Could you dilate a little upon the kind of relationship between the Ayatollah's review and the large cash value he placed on your writing? The advance has gone up, I think.

Rushdie: In fact, there's a remarkable correlation between the size of that advance and the size of my own. It's still there and, with any luck, if he keeps putting money up, I'll keep getting more for my books. It's kind of ugly and obscene and stupid. I remember something you said once when advising me about all this. You quoted an encounter with a British labor-union officer. Perhaps you'd like to tell that bit.

Q: He said about some proposal the boss had made, "I'm going to treat it with a complete ignoral."

Rushdie: Yes, I'm going to give it the ignoral it deserves. I think I'm trying to do that, really. What to tell you? It's still there. It hasn't changed, and it won't until somebody gets exercised about it, which they seem not, sufficiently, to be. In my view, the best one can do is to show, by writing books, by continuing, that it didn't work. That even this colossal threat did not work. The Satanic Verses was not suppressed, the author of The Satanic Verses went on writing. Life goes on. We can go on leading the life of literature: writing books, publishing them, selling them, reading them, and making up our own minds about them. They didn't do what they set out to do, so I think that's very good.

Q: As a result of your success, in a way you can become a victim of it. People can forget that something quite unprecedented happened and is still happening. Namely, the theocratic leader of a foreign state solicits murder in public, in his own name, for bounty, right? …

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