Friday, September 09, 2005

Well, I never wondered: on Rushdie's style

I was so impressed with Marco Roth's review of Salman Rushdie's new novel that I looked up the This Week's Contributors notes in the back of the TLS. Turns out he's one of the 'founding editors' of n+1 magazine. So that's promising, for literary criticism if nothing else (but there is nothing else).

He himself is not impressed with Rushdie's "pursuit of a signature style" at the expense of the tragic story; a story buried by "satire, old-fashioned revenge romance and Hollywood action movie". This story would be the chronicle of "the distress of people who are too far away or too hidden from our everyday life"; a political dimension it seems only "willfully sympathetic" readers can make stand out (can you guess who he means?). Instead, Roth says Shalimar the Clown "seems to flaunt its determination to put as much padding as possible between readers and feelings."

And this is where my appreciation was confirmed: Roth compares such padding with the West's "camp culture of violence that seeks to rationalize our obsession by emphasizing its safe unreality: gangster rap, John Woo’s slow motion bullet ballets, action hero slogans like hasta la vista baby and mission accomplished." So, "rather than explore the crossing points between Western civilization which aestheticizes violence and Islamic civilizations which sanctify it, Rushdie writes himself in on the side of the aestheticizers."

Overall, the novel makes us "wonder if all Rushdie’s loud insistence on a no limits position for his own work is a mask for a world-weary conservatism".


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