Salman Rushdie – Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World


I have a confession to make: I have not read any of Salman Rushdie’s books… yet. But this will be changing soon. Last night I went to see the author give a public lecture at the University or North Carolina – Asheville, and I have to say, he was one of the more inspiring writers I have had the privilege of hearing speak.

He touched on a lot of current issues regarding politics, social trends, and the role of literature in these changing times. He openly criticized Donald Trump, censorship, and the proliferation of misinformation, or “truthiness,” associated with the internet and the digital age. But there were two themes in his lecture that resonated with me on a deep level: the trend among students to attempt silencing ideas that challenge their established beliefs, and the role of the novel in bringing “news” to readers.

Regarding students silencing ideas, this is something about which I often think, particularly regarding the BDS movement (boycott, divestment, sanctions) directed against Israel. I have heard horrific stories about professors, speakers, artists, etc., being shouted down, threatened, and silenced on campuses for expressing their support for Israel, all under the guise of support for the oppressed Palestinians. What Rushdie asserted in his lecture is that this is essentially censorship, and it is censorship perpetrated by the group of people who should be most vehemently opposed to the censorship of ideas. Rushdie claims that it is the responsibility of artists and professors to challenge the established beliefs and to open for discussion ideas that are uncomfortable and sometimes contradictory to one’s personal beliefs. I’m paraphrasing here, but he basically said that students who claim they do not feel safe when forced to consider challenging ideas have no place in a university and should instead be in a pizza parlor, where they will be safely sheltered from having to listen to ideas that contradict their way of thinking.

The other part of his lecture I found fascinating concerned the role of the novel in presenting news to the modern reader. This puzzled me at first until Rushdie elaborated. He claimed that with the demise of print newspapers, the reading public no longer has access to legitimate news sources, that digital news sources have yet to be able to fill that gap. Instead, we get opinions as opposed to reporting. I would counter that print newspapers have historically been biased also, but I could accept that news media has become more opinion-centric as of late. Then Rushdie went on to explain how literature and the novel provide a side of the news that is lacking in usual coverage, which is the human side, the internal aspect of living in an increasingly smaller world. The way we can understand what it is like to be in situations is through literature. He used the example of The Kite Runner which provides a deeper insight into life in Afghanistan than any news story showing explosions and statistics of how many were killed. His words resonated with truth. My belief in the power of art and literature was validated and boosted.

I left the lecture excited to read, to write, and to discuss ideas. I also left with a newly bought copy of Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children tucked under my arm. And while the book has been temporarily placed on my sagging shelf, I suspect that I will be reading this one before the others that have been patiently waiting for me to open their covers.



Filed under Literature

14 responses to “Salman Rushdie – Public Events, Private Lives: Literature and Politics in the Modern World

  1. Jason was able to attend the lecture last night as well. He also came away energized and brimming with new ideas and thoughts to share. Too bad you didn’t run into each other.

    • Laura!! Gosh, I miss you all. I would have loved to see Jason. Please tell him I said hello. Hope all is well with you two. Please keep in touch. – Jeff

  2. Thanks for the summary of the lecture, Jeff. Very interesting. I loved Midnight Children but my favorite was Salimar the Clown.

  3. Good review. I was there and you wrote it up better than I.

    I agree with you that it is wrong for Palestinian supporters to shut down supporters of Israel, but think you is blind to the way that Palestinian supporters are shut down as well. Support for free speech shouldn’t be one-sided. What we need is both vigorous HONEST debate

    And dialog.

    • I appreciate and respect your thoughts, but I would counter that I am not blind to the silencing of Palestinian supporters, as you claim. I have witnessed people very close to me verbally slandered for their willingness to listen to the Palestinian side of the the debate, and I am as opposed to this as I am to any oppression of free speech or the expression of ideas. I only focused on BDS movement in my post because Rushdie focused on the attempts by students to silence professors on campuses, which as far as I understand have been predominantly Palestinian supporters wanting to shut down anyone they view as pro-Israel. Anyway, I pride myself on being open-minded, so your labeling me as blind is offensive. That said, you are still entitled to your opinion and I would never seek to silence you. Thanks.

  4. Jeff — Last year, Atlantic Magazine had a really interesting article about the coddling of the American mind on campuses. Here’s the link- cheers, Heather:

  5. I would have enjoyed attending this event, so thank you for sharing about it and stirring the interest anew. He’s quite amazing. I remember Haroun and the Sea of Stories, but haven’t read deeply of his other books. The Enchantress of Florence is on deck. ~ Jamie

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