The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Literatures in English

By Brian McHale; Randall Stevenson | Go to book overview

Chapter 18
1989, Berlin and Bradford: Out
of the Cold, Into the Fire

Andrew Teverson

Give me a line drawn across the world and I’ll give you an argument.

(Rushdie 2002: 423)

In a 1990 interview with Blake Morrison, Salman Rushdie recalls 1989 with mixed emotions – as a source of lament and a source of celebration. His lament is for his personal situation, which prevented him from enjoying a dance on a crumbling wall. ‘In normal circumstances I’d have been on the first plane to Berlin’, he told Morrison:

I envied my friends who did go … those images of people dancing on the Wall were quite
extraordinary. And to miss the chance of being on it! I felt I’d missed out on one of the great
moments of our time. (Reder 2000: 13)

His cause for celebration is a year that, personal affairs aside, might be regarded as an annus mirabilis:

Those of us who were young in 1968 used to talk of 1968 as the moment when some great shift
in power towards the people took place. But actually, nothing happened in 1968: a few kids
ran down a street chased by the police. This time it actually happened. Eighty-nine does it again:
1689, 1789, and now 1989, the greatest year in European history since the end of the Second
World War. (Reder 2000: 13)

The Czechs have a similar conceit, though it is expressed in more cryptic terms. ‘89’, they point out, is ‘68’ turned upside-down (Tismaneanu 1999: 120). Each party is dismissive of 1968 for quite different reasons. For the Czechs, 1968 was a failed year, due for inversion, because the ‘Prague Spring’, Alexander Dubcek’s experiment in ‘Socialism with a human face’, was prevented from blooming into a ‘Prague Summer’ when Warsaw Pact tanks arrived to forcibly re-impose Soviet-style Communism. For Rushdie, 1968 was unsuccessful because the leftist student revolt against bourgeois ‘authority’ on the streets of Paris (and arguably, the whole utopian venture of 1960s activism) had failed to live up to expectations. Both Rushdie and the Czechs, however, are united in their reasons for lauding the achievements of 1989, for this was a year that, unlike its earlier, paler, upside-down shadow year, saw some real and enduring revolutions.

Given this, it seems extraordinary that even as late as the end of the summer of 1989, few commentators would have described the year as epochal in the terms Rushdie is able

-229-

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