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Anthony Close THE EMPIRICAL AUTHOR: SALMAN RUSHDIE'S THE SATANIC VERSES HOBBES, comparing the author ofan action to the owner ofgoods, asserts, "And as the right of possession, is called dominion; so the right of doing any action, is called authority" (Leviathan, Book I, chap. 16). My purpose in this essay is to apply this Hobbesian maxim to the relation Author/Text, expanding somewhat Hobbes's notion of authority . I presuppose that in our day-to-day dealings with our fellow men, we envisage each others' acts as exhibiting purpose and commitment , which make them ours in more than the platitudinous sense that we performed them. By virtue of that, they confer on us a privileged, though clearly not unchallengeable, authority in saying what they are and what they are for. Such, in effect, is the position reached by Austin in How to Do Things with Words, and it broadly corresponds to that of various philosophical writings on human action—by Anscombe, Davidson , and Melden.1 To be sure, we may legitimately consider human behavior from other viewpoints (e.g., structuralist, anthropological, psychoanalytical , Marxist) trained on its unconscious presuppositions. Yet, insofar as such theorizing fails to acknowledge the priority of the Hobbesian perspective, it will seem perverse for a reason that has been well put by Charles Taylor. Precisely because history is made up of purposeful activity, Taylor argues, we need to explain historical patterns in a way that is "intelligible in relation to conscious action" even though they may not "issue from conscious action."2 By this criterion much of our modern literary theory is defective. A vivid measure of the deficiency is provided by the furor over Salman Rushdie's TL· Satanic Verses, culminatingin thefatwa pronounced against Philosophy and Literature, © 1990, 14: 248-267 Anthony Close249 him by the Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989. I take it that for anyone vocationally committed to the practice or study ofliterature and to the cause of freedom of expression, the defense of Rushdie cannot be a matter of indifference. Nor can one be indifferent to the chasm of misunderstanding that separates Rushdie and his apologists from the novel's Muslim opponents. I believe that these two causes—defending Rushdie and bridging the chasm—can be reconciled by offering better explanations ofhis novel in place ofcrude denunciations or, from some non-Muslim quarters, smug and knowing dismissals. Yet, as we shall see, the task of explanation could be considered hamstrung by our modern poetics. I was reminded ofHobbes's textby Rushdie's lucid and cogent defense of his novel in TL· Independent (London, February 4, 1990). Against the accusations that he had deliberately reviled the Islamic faith, he argued as follows. Though TL· Satanic Verses, like many novels that Rushdie esteems, is a work of radical dissent, questioning, and reimagining, it is motivated by a spirit of serious inquiry rather than debunking derision. More particularly, it reflects a determination that underlies all Rushdie's work: "to create a literary language and literary forms in which the experience offormerly-colonised, still-disadvantaged peoples might find full expression." He continues: "It is written from the very experience of uprooting, disjuncture and metamorphosis . . . that is the migrant condition, and from which, I believe, can be derived a metaphor for all humanity. . . . [It] celebrates hybridity, impurity, intermingling , the transformation that comes of new and unexpected combinations of human beings, cultures, ideas, politics, movies, songs. It rejoices in mongrelisation and fears the absolutism of the Pure." Note the insistence on how these themes flow direcdy from Rushdie's own experience. Two days after the publication of this article, Harold Pinter gave on Rushdie's behalf a lecture on the relationship of literature to religion and society at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. In this lecture, Rushdie articulated a Bakhtinian view of the novelist's function: to dramatize ironically and noncommittally the clash of voices, languages , and ideologies in a world without gods and without traditionsanctioned truth. Rushdie referred specifically, I think, to a species of postmodernist novel which we may dub "palimpsest history";3 the species includes Rushdie's works, García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, Carlos Fuentes's Terra Nostra...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 248-267
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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