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Rushdie vs. Eagleton

July 10, 2007


These days, as I might have complained to you already, I have a diminishing tolerance for literary studies. The empiricist in me suckles and grows, as the hand waver takes a backseat.

That said, I am usually a fan of everything Terry Eagleton writes. Mr. Eagleton, arguably Britain’s finest literary critic, has become as famous for his incisive OpEds as he is for his short yet exceedingly useful Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983, rev 1996).

Read here Terry Eagleton’s latest, as he laments the fast disappearing tradition of politically engaged writers. In the process, Mr. Eagleton takes a stab at newly knighted (and newly divorced) Sir Salman Rushdie.

For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life. One might make an honourable exception of Harold Pinter, who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all; but his most explicitly political work is also his most artistically dreary.

The knighting of Salman Rushdie is the establishment’s reward for a man who moved from being a remorseless satirist of the west to cheering on its criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan [Emphasis mine]. David Hare caved in to the blandishments of Buckingham Palace some years ago, moving from radical to reformist. Christopher Hitchens, who looked set to become the George Orwell de nos jours, is likely to be remembered as our Evelyn Waugh, having thrown in his lot with Washington’s neocons. Martin Amis has written of the need to prevent Muslims travelling and to strip-search people “who look like they’re from the Middle East or from Pakistan”. Deportation, he considers, may be essential further down the road.

Rushdie fights back, here:

In the past weeks I have had to endure an astonishing quantity of vitriolic attacks. It has been quite like old times. I find myself quite  unable to respond to the many attacks on my character, my integrity, the quality of my writing, my courage or lack of it, my alleged weaknesses as a husband and even my choice of home address. I have learned the hard way that public opinion, once formed, simply exists, and even if it is utterly detached from the truth it acquires, by repetition and credulity, a truth of its own. So be it. I am grateful to those who have spoken up on my behalf, at a time when I have felt too shocked and hurt to do so myself. But allow me, rashly, perhaps, to take issue with Terry Eagleton’s description of me as someone who has been “cheering on [the west’s] criminal adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Comment, July 7).

9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2007 7:24 pm

    DAMN!! Eagleton beat me to it!!! This is why you don’t just sit on blog posts but publish them:D.

    Here’s hoping that you come back to the dark side of cultural studies in your jajaboresque ways! Ok, fine I admit I too prefer empirical methods, but still quoting Spivak now and then gives me a rush as you know :).

  2. July 11, 2007 5:00 am

    So after Spivak was awarded the title, “University Professor” a few months ago, Columbia had her address the University and larger NYC community in a very well-attended lecture.

    The title of University Professor is apparently Columbia’s highest. The last two recipients to my knowledge are Jeffrey Sachs and Edward Said (two literary types in a few years, shocking).

    In any case, Spivak, labeled these days as a Marxist-Deconstructionist-Feminist scholar, started on a biographical note and went on to quote her mother, in her crisp Bengali.

    “Gaya, thumi Marxist hol’e Deconstructionist kibhab’e hob’e?”

    Needless to say, before she started to translate for the audience, the Bengalis in the crowd laughed out loud.

  3. July 11, 2007 5:50 am

    Ahhh, knowing the Columbia student is finally paying off! Thank you JJ!

  4. Sajid permalink
    July 11, 2007 6:42 am

    Welcome. What’s with your Spivak philia btw? Do you understand what she writes?

  5. Sajid permalink
    July 11, 2007 6:43 am

    I ask b/c I never do…

  6. Nabilah permalink
    July 11, 2007 6:55 am

    i dont either

  7. July 11, 2007 9:24 am

    Ahhh sorry… sometimes I forget which ones my inside jokes are. Spivak’s dense prose has been the source of much amusement between me and my ex-roommate, as has been “post-coloniality” in general. It really is too much to explain here in a few sentences.

    However, I did quote her the other day in every seriousness because now and then some light shines through the concrete facade that is her writing. The quote above is pretty cool too.

    So please allow me to count myself as one of your. I too have asked “Can Spivak really speak?” and the answer has been, “Yes. But not with laymen.”

  8. July 11, 2007 9:27 am

    The one sentence I left out in the comment above:

    “Or as Spivak would say” followed by some gibberish was one of our favourite ways to end any serious discussions about imperialism/colonialism and its legacies.

  9. December 1, 2007 8:13 pm

    Why is Eagleton mugging these celebrity authors…Rushdie, Dawkins, Amis? Perhaps because by doing so he gets to share their spotlight, sate a sad need for attention. Maybe it’s simply a ploy to sell more books. Either way he’s making an asshole of himself.

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