Fortunately for UCSB and the local literati, esteemed author Salman Rushdie graced Campbell Hall on Sunday afternoon, May 4. Rushdie was formally introduced and interviewed by Time contributor and fellow novelist, Pico Iyer.
Salman Rushdie is an internationally known writer that has helped shaped the literary world, starting with his debut novel Midnight’s Children in 1981. Rushdie’s notoriety would be sealed when Satanic Verses (1988) incited controversy throughout the international Muslim community. This book was considered so controversial that then-leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeni, declared an unsanctioned fatwa against Rushdie’s life. This edict essentially put a bounty on the writer’s life; he was forced to live under the protection of the British government for many years. But much time has passed and Rushdie’s once sporadic public appearances have increased, much to the delight of Sunday’s seat-filled hall.
As a writer, Rushdie’s work blends ideas together in a globalized, hodge-podge of characters, creativity and complexly stimulating sensory experiences. As a speaker, Rushdie’s ideas are the same – but better.
Rushdie’s lecture was a roller coaster of ideas – and was provocative, entertaining and sincere throughout. There wasn’t a subject that he didn’t at least peripherally touch on; however, the underlying theme was “culture wars.” Essentially, he typified this as the cultural wars between the worst of Western culture against the worst of Eastern culture.
He insisted that “culture is so mixed, it cannot be unmixed … cultural hygiene requires impurity.” He went on to talk about China and its interconnectedness with the battlegrounds for artistic freedom. He even said that the corporate dealings of Google and Yahoo in collusion with the Chinese government’s censorship were “reprehensible behavior.” The writer shared his witticisms on current events, but he peppered in examples with visual analogies, and fragments from his novels until the audience was dizzy with intellectual euphoria.
Rushdie was a personable speaker and more moderately paced than his usual velocity defying, wordy novels. His ideas flowed, intertwined, found themselves back to its original themes. Rushdie did not define himself as a “magic realist” as many critics have tried to characterize him, but rather claims that he is more concerned with the “magic understatement,” asserting that real life is so bizarrely wonderful and that “reality is beyond expression.” Although, it seems to at least this audience member, that he managed to express himself pretty well.