"Joseph Anton," He Told Himself, "You Must Live Till You Die."
The New Yorker has a fascinating extract from Joseph Anton, Salman Rushdie's memoirs of his days in hiding from Khomeini's fatwa. A short excerpt from that extract:
He needed a name, the police told him in Wales. His own name was useless; it was a name that could not be spoken, like Voldemort in the not yet written Harry Potter books. He could not rent a house with it, or register to vote, because to vote you needed to provide a home address and that, of course, was impossible. To protect his democratic right to free expression, he had to surrender his democratic right to choose his government...
“Probably better not to make it an Asian name,” Stan said. “People put two and two together sometimes.” So he was to give up his race as well. He would be an invisible man in whiteface.
He thought of writers he loved and tried combinations of their names. Vladimir Joyce. Marcel Beckett. Franz Sterne. He made lists of such combinations, but all of them sounded ridiculous. Then he found one that did not. He wrote down, side by side, the first names of Conrad and Chekhov, and there it was, his name for the next eleven years. Joseph Anton....
He had spent his life naming fictional characters. Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well. Conrad Chekhov wouldn’t have worked. But Joseph Anton was someone who might exist. Who now did exist. Conrad, the translingual creator of wanderers, of voyagers into the heart of darkness, of secret agents in a world of killers and bombs, and of at least one immortal coward, hiding from his shame; and Chekhov, the master of loneliness and of melancholy, of the beauty of an old world destroyed, like the trees in a cherry orchard, by the brutality of the new, Chekhov, whose “Three Sisters” believed that real life was elsewhere and yearned eternally for a Moscow to which they could not return: these were his godfathers now. It was Conrad who gave him the motto to which he clung, as if to a lifeline, in the long years that followed. In the now unacceptably titled “The Nigger of the Narcissus,” the hero, a sailor named James Wait, stricken with tuberculosis on a long sea voyage, is asked by a fellow-sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell. “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Wait replies.
In his present circumstances, the question felt like a command. “Joseph Anton,” he told himself, “you must live till you die.”
Read the full extract here
From the transcript of CNN-IBN's exclusive interview with Salman Rushdie:
Sagarika Ghose: And you also write very interestingly that there can't be two theories of Islam. That there is one true Islam of faith and love and that there is the bloody theocracies. Do you believe that that's wrong? That there is just one Islam and that Islam is in crisis.
Salman Rushdie: I think that something has gone seriously wrong. And I am just talking about in my lifetime. When I was a kid, many of these cities, in the Muslim world which are now in a state of such crisis Damascus, Tehran, Baghdad, you know... within our lifetime those cities were very different places. Tehran was a great cosmopolitan capital. Intellectual, artistic, cosmopolitan capital. Beirut, so much so that the people called it the Paris of the East with good reason. So the Muslim culture within our lifetime has been something much more open, more tolerant, much more interested in the world outside just Islam not so closed off, not so paranoid. I felt that that was a much richer way to live. I'm not being theological I am just talking about how human beings live their lives. Pakistan used to be a very different place from what exists now. It was never a place where people rammed religion down your throat. Everytime they were given a chance, Pakistanis would vote against the religious groups and for the secular parties. So as I say within my lifetime there has been this other Islam which was more attractive, but what has developed now is a harsher one partly because of the spread of the Wahabi ideas, you know with the help of colossal amount of Saudi oil money, partly because of the rise of the Ayotalollahs in Shia Iran. Different reasons in different places. There has spread this much harsher, more intolerant Islam.
Sagarika Ghose: And is it spreading, is it getting stronger?
Salman Rushdie: I don't know. You could argue that both ways. I think it is attractive particularly to a lot of young men. It is glamorous. Many of these countries are economically disadvantaged and the prospects for young people to make a life for themselves…marrying…raising a family, such things are very improbable. They can't do such things as they are very close to being destitute and the jihad seems to be giving them direction, some purpose, as it gives a sense of self importance which is alluring for many. But most of the people who have been oppressed by Islamic radicalism were Muslims. The people most oppressed by the Taliban were those from Afghanistan. The people most oppressed by the Ayatolllahs were those in Iran, in the end or even at the beginning there is rejection of that kind of Islam.
Whatever happened in the Arab spring of the aftermath of it, much of the aftermath is disappointing but the big losers of that whole movement is the jihadis because one thing that all these movements showed that it could change your society in a different way.
Sagarika Ghose: But is that so? As you know the US Ambassador to Libya has been killed because of that documentary on the Prophet.
Salman Rushdie: I just don't want to do the Mitt Romney thing where I shoot off my mouth before you know what I am talking about because there seems to be some doubt as to why the attack took place. Today there is a story that it could be related to 9/11. A planned and professional attack rather than a response to this film. I mean obviously this film is a piece of garbage, but a piece of garbage cannot justify killing anyone.
Sagarika Ghose: Let's talk a little about you and religion. You write very often in the book about your atheism and your own humanism but you say you are fascinated by god and religion. In fact you say, it was curious that so avowedly a godless person should keep trying to write about faith. So why is that? If you are so irreligious why are you fascinated by religion?
Salman Rushdie: Because it surged back to the centre of the narrative of our times. I think I am a creature of the 60's, the stupid decade. One of the things that we all thought at that time was that religion was over, a dead subject, that was something in the past. We were talking about different things. The idea that religion would return to the centre of the stage would have seemed absurd if you had said that to someone in 1968 and we were all wrong...I don't think it is only Islam, there's also the rise of the Hindutva. I live in New York and this is the election year and you can see all around you the power of the Christian Right.
Sagarika Ghose: Why do you think religion is enjoying this kind of renaissance?
Salman Rushdie: I don't know. It is a mystery to me. I find it so difficult to join that club. Partly probably because the world is changing at a colossal and unpredictable speed and many of the old certainties dissolve in our hands. The way the world was yesterday is not the way it is going to be tomorrow. And often in times of such transformation there are people who clutch at certainty and the thing about religion is that it offers you this thing that is fixed in a world that is metamorphosing all around you. It offers you something that is more permanent, eternal.
Sagarika Ghose: But in your mind religion is wrong? Is it untrue? Are gods unnecessary and irrelevant?
Salman Rushdie: Yeah I think so. I think what has happened is religion has moved out of the private space. In a private sphere it is nobody's business, it's between you and your god. The moment it moves into the public sphere it becomes everybody's business. And I think that's what is happened and that's why I have taken this interest in it.
Sagarika Ghose: But at the same time when the Babri Masjid was demolished you say you were possessed by a complex grief, do you feel a part of the Muslim culture of the subcontinent.
Salman Rushdie: Of course I do but that Muslim culture is part of the Indian culture and that ridiculous attempt by the Hindu right to describe the Muslim part of Indian history as inauthentic is somewhat inauthentic.. That's inauthentic in itself. If India had a sense of its history it would have a protection of monuments law like most other countries.
Sagarika Ghose: But why were you sad when Babri Masjid was demolished if you're not a believing Muslim?
Salman Rushdie: Because it was beautiful and an important part of Indian history. I am trained as a historian. I am interested in beauty and architecture and it was one of the oldest buildings in the country. I would feel the same way if someone knocked down the Taj. India has a complicated old history...and by the way, everything is built on top of something else. When you have a country as old of this everything is built on something. Probably even under a Hindu temple, there are Buddhist temples.
Sagarika Ghose: So then you do see yourself as an Indian/ South Asian Muslim?
Salman Rushdie: I do not. I see myself as an Indian from a Muslim family. My own parents weren't very observant really except the 'no pigs' that was the extent of Islam at home. My father was very openly atheistic and communicated it to me as I did to my children.
From the transcript of NDTV's exclusive interview with Salman Rushdie:
Salman Rushdie: I'm not in favour of burning books of any kind. Actually, the famous line of Heinrich Heine that is often quoted, where they burn books, they will in the end also burn people, actually that comes from a play called Al Mansoor in which the book that is being burnt is the Koran. So what he is talking about in that play is the wrongness of burning the Koran because afterwards you will burn the followers of the Koran. Obviously, burning books is a terrible thing. When I saw my book being set on fire, it's just a kind of terrible rage came out of me because it's such an ugly act. The problem of liberty is that sometimes people do ugly things. People don't behave always well in a free society, but if you want a free society it includes the right of people to behave badly and also I think to respond to that with mayhem and murder, that's also a problem you know. I have to say yes, this stupid thing on YouTube that looks like the worst little clip ever made, it also now seems to be doubtful whether the full film actually even exists, it may be just a stupid clip on YouTube, the actors are saying they didn't know what they've been asked to participate in, I mean it's clearly a very highly manipulative incident, we don't even know who the filmmaker is because he is hiding behind a secret identity, so it's a disgusting little thing, but it's more disgusting to attack and murder people who have nothing to do with it. This idea that somehow America you know is responsible for the deeds of every American is a stupid mistake. In this case, it's a fatal mistake.
NDTV: You write about making the transition from this terrible mistake that you've made in a moment of weakness, trying to say things about being religious that you didn't clearly mean, to reaching that internal point where you have to ask yourself actually an existential question, is the freedom of speech, is the right for you as an author to write worth dying for? What was your answer?
Salman Rushdie: My answer was I was willing to fight even if it meant my life was in danger, because the freedom of speech is not just the right of writers to write, It's also the writer's readers to read, it is the freedom without which all the other freedoms disappear, you don't have freedom of assembly without freedom of speech, because if you assemble but you're not allowed to say what you want, what's the point? So freedom of speech is the bedrock, it's just about the absolute foundation of a free society, and I think actually it's something that we are, have, a danger of forgetting even in India because of the way in which people get assaulted for doing perfectly innocent things. I mean to do a cartoon which makes clay on the four lions and turns them into wolves, well I mean yes it's disrespectful, but when did you ever hear of a respectful political cartoon? You know the form itself requires disrespect and so, in India there's a long tradition...
NDTV: ....and for the Parliament to be depicted as a loo?
Salman Rushdie: .... yes so what? You know, deal with it
NDTV: But the laws of our country don't coincide with that interpretation that you are making
Salman Rushdie: Well there is the problem with the laws. Also India has a long tradition of very distinguished political cartooning, it's not like we just make this up, you know this has been happening ever since Independence and there were cartoons about Nehru and so on, which were very savage at the time and he never objected you know.
NDTV: Why do think India has become less tolerant? What do you make of it?
Salman Rushdie: I don't know, I just think power corrupts. I think there are people in power who have egos the size of the Ritz, who don't like to see, who are very thin-skinned and easily react wrongly to this stuff. Self-love is a terrible thing.
Salman Rushdie talks to Barkha Dutt on NDTV:
Salman Rushdie talks to Sagarika Ghose on CNN-IBN:
Writing in the Guardian, Pankaj Mishra is not very impressed with Joseph Anton
Yet the memoir, at 650 pages, often feels too long, over-dependent on Rushdie's journals, and unquickened by hindsight, or its prose. Ostensibly deployed as a distancing device, the third-person narration frequently makes for awkward self-regard ("The clouds thickened over his head. But he found that his sentences could still form … his imagination still spark"). A peevish righteousness comes to pervade the memoir as Rushdie routinely and often repetitively censures those who criticised or disagreed with him. The long list of betrayers, carpers and timorous publishers includes Robert Gottlieb, Peter Mayer, John le Carré, Sonny Mehta, the Independent (evidently the "house journal for British Islam"), Germaine Greer, John Berger and assorted policemen "who believed he had done nothing of value in his life". Small darts are also flung at James Wood, "the malevolent Procrustes of literary criticism", Arundhati Roy, Joseph Brodsky, Louis de Bernières and many others...
There are some exceptions to British mean-mindedness. After one "lovely evening" at Chequers, where the singer Mick Hucknall's "hot girlfriend" is distractingly present, Anton confesses to a "soft spot" for Tony Blair. "You set out sincerely to change my life for the better," he writes, and though this "may not quite cancel out the invasion of Iraq", it does weigh in his "personal scales". Oddly, Anton seems to require no such moral balancing for the Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is commended for resisting Iranian pressure and green-lighting the filming of Midnight's Children; the responsibility of this authoritarian president and his brother in the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil Hindus is passed over in silence. Nor does Anton record the piquant fact that the Hindu nationalists who noisily protested against the Indian decision to ban The Satanic Verses and, once in power, allowed him to visit India are implicated in the killings of thousands of Muslims in the previous two decades.
Read on at the Guardian: Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie - review
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