who the heck knows anything, anyway

Monday, April 11, 2011

It took me a little while, but...

I finally finished The Satanic Verses this morning. Daniel asked if I was going to blog about it--a question which took me a few minutes to process because my brain had just been rendered useless by its encounter with what I like to call genius.

Salman Rushdie
I'm not going to summarize plot for you. I'm sure as heck not going to discuss THEMES, because Flannery O'Connor and I share similar views on that nonsense (and, appropriately, I would not do Rushdie's work any justice by trying to distill its importance--he did a smash-bang job of making story and ideas nigh inseparable). What I'm going to tell you is that this book was written impeccably by a person with great respect for (or at least sincere fascination with) history and religion/myth*, with wonderful command of various languages (which he worked together/played off each other seamlessly, though I wish I knew any Hindi at all), and who had a story worth telling. And yes, I did cry at one point.

Now I am not a critic--I plan never to be one, in the traditional sense. Critics give me the heebee jeebees, because they read your stories (or listen to your music or count your brush strokes or what have you) and then pass judgement upon them. GOOD. BAD. UNINSPIRED. Yes, I am going to tell you that The Satanic Verses is frigging amazing, but I have a feeling that many people** might not enjoy it as much as I did.

In some ways, it reminded me of other books that I would consider "brilliant" to an equal degree (One Hundred Years of Solitude springs to mind, for instance); the difference, though, was in tone. A trope of Magic Realism*** is the narrative's (and also the characters') lack of recognition that something fantastic is out of the ordinary. Rushdie's Verses does not quite follow this "rule" so much as it toys with it, and I believe it is all the better for it. Unlike Marquez, who paints a brilliant picture but whose narrative voice is impassive and reserved, Rushdie's narration is inquisitive in its omniscience. The voice of the story is a voice of simultaneous doubt and reassurance in your ear--a veritable Socratic Hydra****, answering one  question with a whole slew of others.

 My point being: I loved it like you wouldn't believe, but I could see it being incredibly frustrating for people who enjoy a straightforward story.

{And then, I reflected for a moment:}

As I mentioned at the beginning of this little tirade, there are stories that deserve telling and, my dears, this was one of them. Dash all the riffraff. Many professors, seasoned writers, and the like, tell young writers to read trash every once in a while, so as not to lose hope in their blossoming talent. But I believe this is where my little twinkle of subversiveness has taken root; I refuse to read trash. Even more than that, I refuse to elevate my own self-worth by comparison to such, because what is the actual worth in that? Pettiness? The worst sort of Pride? I am better than the worst is in no way similar to I could be equal to the best.

Little mystery serials are fun to write, no doubt about it, but they do not slake my creative hunger so much as aggravate it. So I keep my eyes open and try to remember (though sometimes it is difficult) that giving up is not an option; that I need to exercise my hands and heart with pen and keyboard on a daily basis; that my story will find me when it's ready to be told and I am ready to tell it.

That will be the mark of my legitimacy.

Thank you, Mr. Rushdie, for reminding me what I know I am capable of.

*I'm not implying that they are the same thing--there is just a lot of crossover that couples them together nicely.
**Not limited to people who disagree with the potentially-inflammatory religious suggestions--which, I would like to say, I take no sides on. Being Catholic is no doubt a point against me to a lot of people, but I am a lover of all faiths (seriously. I love them), and do not want my praise of Rushdie's writing to be misconstrued as any sort of religious indictment
***A vague and widely-argued term which I like to use ALL OF THE TIME
****If I knew Hindu mythology better, I would probably have gone for a metaphor of that flavor. FORTUNATELY, I want to spend hundreds of hours researching just such things. So next time, I won't fail you. Promissssse.