On Salman Rushdie

By Alecs Kakon-Grundman on November 19, 2017

Having recently completed “A Sketch of the Past” from Virgina Woolf’s Moments of Being, I walked away from the recent talk by Salman Rushdie at the Jewish Public Library inspired. He was enigmatic, charming and incredibly funny. His staggering playfulness interspersed with witticisms about everything from Saul Bellow and Heraclitus to Trump and the challenges of journalism today were enlightening to say the least. He spoke of the intersection of the public arena with private life and how that plays a role in fiction writing and journalism, as well as politics and social responsibility. However, it was not those reflections that inspired nor touched me. It was not his gaze outward that allowed me to get to know him a little better, rather it was the moments between his speech, the moments when he glanced inward that opened a porthole into who the man behind the work truly is. So, who is Salman Rushdie? 

Woolf states in her quasi-memoir (and these are my words) that to know a person is to know him or her in moments of non-being. Being are the active moments in life when one is doing, acting, engaging; the moments of extraordinary quality that stand out in our memory. But, to catch even the slightest glimpse into the real self is to know the moments of non-being; who the person truly is at the core. Who is Salman Rushdie when he is not a messengerof his work? I know how he feels about political issues both from his books as well as from his talk. What I want to know is who he is in his moments of non-being; the everyday man when he is not acting consciously, not living or being, but simply non-being. 

Rushdie stood amongst the gathering crowd before he was introduced. He did not make a grand entrance nor did he demand the Royal procession as he took to the stage. He mused, he joked, he was unrelentlessly opinionated and politically charged in his stance and views against Trump, against veiled women, against our “information age” where complete garbage and legitimate news coexist with the same level of authority; he even quipped about a few famous authors like Atwood and Bellow, and (for a book nerd like myself) handed out book recommendations like free lunch! He was unabashedly firm on his beliefs and did not turn a phrase to spare anyone’s offense. I was able to confirm from his talk, that the man behind the work does not simply write for writings sake. He, as a writer, is at the mercy of his gift and has a responsibility to get his message out. He creates worlds in his fiction that reflect characters and moments of real life in a way that allows readers to see what other parts of the world are like, both from a personal and public perspective. A moment in time for one human; a truth that ever ceases to exist within larger truths in the public sphere can become politicized when other figures question or deny your truth—these are just some of the highly intelligent positions he took with great conviction. Rushdie made his point clear as day as he repeatedly stated that the value of literature is that fiction attempts to give form to chaos. In the volatile times we live in, where the people we are meant to get our truth from, tell lies, and lies seem like truths but are untruths, fiction can lift the veil and show us what reality cannot. The social responsibility of telling one’s story is not solely that of a writer, we as people must continue to tell our stories not only so that our identities can develop,but so as to open up the universe a little bit more, one true story at a time. That is Rushdie the writer we all know and read.

What I was hoping to get out of his appearance, and what I caught glimpses of here and there was who Salman Rushdie truly is outside of the public sphere. Who is Rushdie in his moments of non-being? Perhaps his talk was not about the man but rather the work. On that premise he succeeded greatly. But he cannot simply be a reflection of his work at all times; he must be a man of experiential and personal cause; a person who has had quiet moments of unconsciousness which effected and affected his being.

I didn’t get much of that, perhaps one day a memoir he will write, but for the time being I can relay one moment, a moment when Mrs. Margles (the sponsor of the evening) stood up to thank Sir Salman for joining his beloved readers. He stood still, behind her, watching and listening attentively, respectfully as she (quite impressively) spoke to Rushdie’s greatness. A glimpse of Rushdie came through. No quick retorts, no sharp quips, no opinions, no consciousness. The moment was hers and he stood by. A quiet and simple gesture—his body language gave him away. He is an ordinary and humble man; one of great mind, but yet still one of us. He listened attentively, respectfully, showing a woman great kindness. No pomp, no circumstance, just Salman.


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