Salman Rushdie has nothing to prove. Yet he finds himself out of fashion in the early 70s. Too old to seize a moment, too active to be rediscovered, he has been subjected to some unkind reviews over the last two decades that were ever given to talent of his magnitude.
The magazine Cahiers du Cinéma once had a rating system that included a black dot for “disgusting”. If critics could give these points to Rushdie, they would be. Have to sting.
The rap against Rushdie’s imagination is that it has become increasingly “magical,” full of surprises and airy, as if he were typing in turquoise and burnt Sienna. His novels are tricked with jinn and tarot cards and magic mirrors and references to rogue chicken entrels powder and things like witches and dragon ladies. These presentations feel forced: talkative, abusive and normal. They have no middle gear, and no real human wanders through them.
By reading these novels, one begins to feel like an English academic Hugo Dyson, when JRR Tolkien was reading aloud from an early draft of “The Lord of the Rings”, was heard to comment: “Oh [expletive omitted], Not another elf! “
In his new book, “Language of Truth: Essays 2003–2020”, Rushdie attempts to perform a defensive casting move. He suggests that his work has been misunderstood and abused as literary culture shifts from brio-filled imaginative writing to the humble complacency of “autofiction”, as does the work of Elena Ferrante and Carl Ove Knausgaard Is the example.
Rushdie fears that writers no longer trust his imaginations, and that the “imperative in class to write what you know has led to dullness, nervousness, and a dead end: cold and bony literary mumblecore.”
Nothing is normal in a normal life, writes Rushdie. Behind closed doors, family survival is “exaggerated and operative and monstrous and almost too much to bear; there are mad grandfathers, and wicked aunts and corrupt brothers and nymph sisters.” He praises “giant belchers” and “giant wind breakers”. He sees himself as a minimalist in a minimalist world; A wet writer in a dry; A lover of bric-a-brac in the era of Shaker Vinay.
Establishing his work with Italo Calvino, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Gunter Grass, Angela Carter, George Louis Borges, Jerzy Kosinski, Jean-Luc Goddard and Luis Buñuel as well as many other writers, he made a lot of names in his wagon train Keep it. film producer.
As Arthur M. Slessinger Jr. used to say, I read Rushdie’s arguments with great interest and little consensus. He is fencing with a poorly stuffed straw man. For one thing, autobiographical novels have been – “David Copperfield” is one – ever since the form was invented.
And if there is a boom in autofiction, it is certainly an attempt by writers to take back the breathing space from the culture-strangling jugglers that starred in the Marvel movies and JK Rowling’s Harry Potter universe and George RR Martin’s “Game of Thrones “. Fantasy has won over America in almost every region.
Also, unlike Rushdie, we are in a rough phase for deep and sustained inventions in literary fiction. Two examples: The most iconic and popular novels of the last decade are Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and George Saunders’s “Lincoln in the Bardo”.
In the first, the metaphor underground railroad becomes a de facto underground Railroad. The second is a ghostly tale, reality as seen through the eyes of people trapped in an intermediate position between death and rebirth. There is no lukewarm autobiography here.
The majority of the rest in “Languages of Truth” is lame and less interesting. The book includes many sleepwalking commencement speeches (“new beginnings, however exciting, also includes pitfalls”), semi-obligatory memorial lectures (“you leave your safe place to achieve your dream”) and books and Speeches include introductions. On behalf of PEN America, of which he was president from 2004 to 2006.
You no longer feel that Salman Rushdie is writing these things, but that “Salman Rushdie” is in a way reminiscent of John Updike’s observation that “celebrity is a mask that eats face.”
Rushdie introduced more humanity into the memories of his dead friends, including Harold Pinter, Carrie Fisher, and Christopher Hitchens. Christmas is a fond piece about changing from refusenic to frontier Christmas fanatic.
There is also a cautionary essay about the epidemic. Rushdie, who has asthma, soon came down with a frightening case of Kovid. People later mocked him that, avoiding the edict, the lockout should be a breeze. He did not like this joke at all.
It is interesting to compare “Language of Truth” with another book in Rushdie’s non-fiction, “Imaginary Homelands”, published in 1991. It is a powerful book – in my view one of his three or four best – a lover’s quarrel with the world of politics and novels and films.
Rushdie at the time wrote for non-fiction editors and not for foundations and colleges. He was not a leading critic but a strong critic, and he wrote accurately, and not always positively, about writers including John le Carré, Grace Paley and Julian Barnes.
He almost completely stopped writing reviews, he wrote “Joseph Anton,” His 2012 memoir, because, “If you love a book, the author did not consider your praise to be more than its proper possession, and if you didn’t like it, you made enemies.” He said: “It’s a mug game.”
He may be right. But irritable Rushdie felt like a real or at least wide awake. If his arguments about the state of imagination in the “language of truth” do not believe, then at least they are the real signs of life.