I’ve been reading Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton again, and I keep finding poignant ironies and echoes de nos jours.
Like when he goes to Stockholm to receive the Kurt Tucholsky Prize, “given to writers resisting persecution.”
The Swedish Academy met in a beautiful rococo room on the upper floor of the old Stockholm Stock Exchange Building. Around a long table were nineteen chairs upholstered in pale blue silk. One was for the king, just in case he showed up; it stood empty if he did not, which was always. On the backs of the other chairs were Roman numerals from I to XVIII…He* had been granted permission to enter literature’s holy of holies, the room in which the Nobel Prize was awarded, to address a gravely friendly gathering of gray eminences. Lars Gyllenstein (XIV) and Kerstin Ekman (XV), the academicians who had withdrawn from this table to protest their colleagues’ pusillanimous lack of response to the fatwa, did not attend.
Their chairs were a vacant rebuke. That saddened him; he had hoped to bring about a reconciliation. The academy’s invitation had been offered as a way of compensating for their earlier silence. [pp 359-60]
See what I mean? Ironies, full of ironies.
Another passage, not ironic this time but eloquent and elucidating.
In the pages of a novel it was clear that the human self was heterogeneous not homogeneous, not one thing but many, multiple, fractured and contradictory…
This was what literature had always known. Literature tried to open the universe, to increase, even if only slightly, the sum total of what it was possible for human beings to perceive, understand, and so, finally, to be. Great literature went to the edges of the known and pushed against the boundaries of language, form, and possibility, to make the world feel larger, wider, than before. Yet this was an age in which men and women were being pushed into ever-narrower definitions of themselves, encouraged to call themselves just one thing, Serb or Croat or Israeli or Palestinian or Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Baha’i or Jew, and the narrower their identities became, the greater was the likelihood of conflict between them. [pp 627-8]
That’s why he gets the big bucks – writing like that.
*Rushdie uses “he” in this book the way Hilary Mantel does in Wolf Hall, and it’s just as apt to be confusing. He uses “he” to mean “I” but there’s often another he present, or several, so the result is confusion, which does not happen with “I.”