A man lies in a hospital bed, struck with a sudden fury in the cruellest way. An aged man, to be frank. Put all wider issues aside in this matter for now: pray for Sir Salman Rushdie and wish him the best care and a road to recovery.
He has already borne an intolerable burden: he has spent half of his life under threat and had not long since emerged from fear, only to have it descend upon him in the worst way.
The shock of the violence, the with murderous hatred, the outrage that anyone might attack a man old enough to be his grandfather. From outside we see it as the striking of a hero of literature for pursuing his bounden duty to enlighten and challenge. It is an attempt to murder free speech. Forgive me though if I can pass that by to remind myself that for all the symbolism of it, it was first of all an attempt to kill a man, a man who has a name and a family.
The fury of the attacker is predictable and familiar. Do not claim that the attacker was mad or that you do not understand him, because you do. An attempt at murder is so very Hobbesian that I must have written of it many times on this blog. The motive of power comes in the first place; then the need to claim a place above that of the common herd by an extraordinary act. Then it is just a question of picking an excuse from all those available, and so he did.
Raskolnikov struck his victims with this same fury, breathtakingly described in that novel. The fury was not out of zealous hatred but in order to shut his own mind up. All the lessons of being in society restrain a man, and he must fight his restraining instinct. Once the attack began, it had to be carried through to the end for fear of failure, each blow to come being restrained by the mind, but struck anyway by dint of shutting the mind by silent screams of rage and unrestrained action. It has not zealous fury and not aimed at the victim, but fury aimed at himself. Raskolnikov’s soft heart could not commit the deed, but he convinced himself that fate led him inevitably to it and even that he could do good by killing the woman, and then he let himself be led by that part of his mind which craved power by a trick that he had no choice. In the act, a subtle blow was not enough but the repeated, raging attack effectively on his own mind.
A hundred and fifty years later, not in St Petersburg but in New York, the identical story played itself out, but mercifully this time, the victim has survived.
The trouble came from a book, they say, but in truth it comes from the dark heart of man. I first read the book in question many years ago, and it led me on to reading more of his work. I have read mixed reviews of it, and I recognised from the first that it is not a book that will appeal to everyone, as we all have our tastes. The story is weird and it has been observed that there is no discernible plot, which is true – such plots as the book has are there to lead the reader into the main themes. The themes themselves are tangled. Rushdie is an immigrant who has been hurled into British high cultural circles, perhaps not knowing what he is or should be, and here the book mirrors the confusion, with two unwilling immigrants cast ashore in opposite guises, experiencing the displacement and half-cultures they find. Darker within it is the dreaming subplot which caused all the trouble, looking back at a man displaced in that moment in Arabia, where cynicism may be life-saving or deadly. For one so uncertain of his own cultural heritage, one must question the foundation of that fount of heritage.
Some do not like foundations being questioned. It will show there is no foundation at all. Better to enforce silence than to open the inevitable fall of the whole untenable edifice.
What happened in New York does not suppress the ideas of book (of which sales have climbed). Instead it reaffirms how right are the arguments and the ideas and the fears in the book. “From the beginning men used God to justify the unjustifiable.” wrote Rushdie. We certainly know that now.
I wish you well, Sir Salman, and I hope you will forgive a diversion into the mind. Our first thoughts should be for you.
- In fear of Jahannam
- Whom are you serving?
- Man to Man is an arrant Wolfe
- Moderation, in moderation
- Warre Of Every One Against Every One
- The Noble Savage, Caliban, and Hobbes
- Of the Natural Condition of Mankind (Hobbes)
- Art in the word