Saturday, September 28, 2002

A bit of a pushy Houellebecq defense from Salman Rushdie in the Guardian, although I did laugh at the "first Rushdie in space" joke. He's right overall, eventhough he falls into grossly overpraising the writer by way of making a sympathetic case. The piece is at its strongest when it comes to attacking the autobiographical criticism that cases such as these bring about:

Houellebecq's novel Platform has also been cited in the case. In the novel, the central character, also called Michel, learns that his father has been murdered by a Muslim man and, through the course of the book, makes a number of harsh and derogatory remarks about Muslims. It has been suggested that in these diatribes the author is getting even for difficulties in his private life. Michel Houellebecq's real name is Michel Thomas. He took his grandmother's surname after his mother married a Muslim and converted to Islam. In our personality-cultist age, in which a writer's biography is firmly believed to hold the key to the meaning of his novels, in which the fictionality of fiction is routinely called into question and novels are thought of as real life in disguise, this detail of Houellebecq's life will prompt, has prompted, many a loud "ah-ha!"

But, and again but. Anyone who cares about literature should, when such ah-has are heard, at once defend the autonomy of the literary text, its right to be considered on its own terms, as if the author were as anonymous as, well, the authors of the sacred texts. And within a literary text, it must be possible to create characters of every sort. If novelists can't depict Nazis or bigots without being accused of being Nazis or bigots, then they can't do their work properly.

And one recalls, a bit dimly over the years, an offending character named Salman in Rushdie's own Satanic Verses.

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