Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie




Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is probably destined to be one of the least read best-sellers of all time. Its main claim to fame is the violent exception that Muslims of the yahoo variety have taken to seventy of its pages. In a thinly disguised parody of the life of the Prophet Mohammed, Mr. Rushdie implies what many critics have long suspected: that the Prophet's message was a little too worldly, and too subject to opportunistic policy adjustments, to have been divinely inspired. The mere suggestion has enraged some of the faithful, and led to book-burnings in England, bloody attacks on U.S. information centers overseas, and the Ayatollah Khomeini's generous offer of $1 million to whatever godly gunsel manages to rub out Mr. Rushdie
All of which makes both too much and too little of an impressive but uneven book by a major but erratic talent. Both the fascination and the principal flaw of The Satanic Verses are unwittingly summed up by its central character toward the end of this dazzling transcultural tour de force:0, the dissociations of which the humad mind is capable, marveled Saladin gloomily.0, the conflicting selves jostling within these bags of skin. No wonder we are unable to remain focused on anything for very long; no wonder we invent remote-control channel-hopping devices. If we turned these instruments upon ourselves we'd discover more channels than a cable or satellite mogul ever dreamed of . . .Indian-born and alien-evolved, Mr. Rushdie has a magic ear for acculturated English, the only modern language to rival Latin in the number of metamorphoses it has undergone in the course of natural evolution, conquest, and grafting. Contemporary Englishlike Mr. Rushdie and many other "cosmopolitan" Indians, Africans, North Americans, and Caribbeans-has been both the victim and the beneficiary of a cultural greenhouse effect. The language has emerged stronger and richer than ever; the people, always scarred, have had a harder time adjusting.

Even more than most other modern men and women, inhabitants of the acculturated English milieu consist of too many parts, too many "conflicting selves," to form a coherent whole. Politically speaking, they suffer ftom a kind of post-colonial depression, a condition, in its symptoms, not very different ftom post-coital depression, only longer lasting.

In earlier novels, Mr. Rushdie grappled with his conflicting emotions in brilliant
allegories set in India and Pakistan, the severed parts of his native subcontinent. Now he has attempted an even more ambitious undertaking: a single work in which personal, racial, political, and religious ambivalences clash in order to be reconciled. The clash comes off; the reconciliation, like most reconciliations,is more tenuous. In writing The Satanic Verses, Mr. Rushdie has said, he "tried to make a melange or hybridization of the different cultures from which I myself come -a novel drawing together the various component parts of myself." The problem is that the parts of the novel, if not of Mr. Rushdie, have trouble sticking together. There are at least four tiers to hiin 2:13 he will come upon these words: "But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ."Whatever his faults and failures, Charles is the kind of person to whom such a sentence will have grand meaning.
















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