peteg's blog

Salman Rushdie: Joseph Anton

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Kindle. I got a bit sick of trying to find something new to read, and if there's one thing about Rushdie, it's that he's easy to plough through. Unfortunately I did more ploughing than enjoying in this overlong, overly repetitious and ultimately tedious memoir. Most of it is an account of the fatwa years, but Rushdie does not bother to provide much context for it; you are not going to learn anything about the larger issues of the day here. Indeed much of this I read recently, in Step Across This Line — that material has been lightly edited and emended for this vehicle.

Rushdie is a fine writer (becoming less so with time; call this a portrait of an artist in decline) but his claims to intellectualism are thin. His is often empty rhetoric; this is his argument that even if God did exist he'd be cool with it all:

However, even if You are Ghazali's God, reading the newspapers, watching TV, and taking sides in political and even literary disputes, I don't believe you could have a problem with The Satanic Verses or any other book, no matter how wretched.

... and of course his infatuation with Hitchens shows he's more in love with words than ideas. What did Clune say about Super Mario World? Rushdie is a long way from engaging with multifaceted identities ala Amartya Sen (et al), and his responses to Le Carré ("My position was that there is no law in life or nature that says great religions may be insulted with impunity") are almost entirely ad hominem. Often he sounds like his own worst enemy: as absolutist and unreasoned as an Ayatollah.

There are too many loose threads and incoherencies here. Are there safe houses or are there not? (Of course there are.) Did he incur large expenses for the public or did he not? (Of course he did.) Why did he convert to Islam after the fatwa? (How was that ever going to help anything?) His arguments for freedom of expression are typically vapid extremism and often sound equally like arguments against copyright; there is nothing as nuanced as Tim Parks on Charlie Hebdo here. I guess the final nail in the coffin is his surprise at how shallow and self-absorbed Padma Lakshmi is. It doesn't make a lot of sense to call her (or their relationship) "The Illusion" while maintaining that they were, in fact, madly in love at various times; if they felt it, it was real. There is no other objectivity on offer.

Pankaj Mishra at the Guardian. One of the more annoying things about this book is that Rushdie does not distinguish Sunni from Shia, which would have helped show how isolated Iran really is (as we all now know). Where were the Saudis in this fiasco? Zoë Heller argues that Rushdie has grown smaller with time.