FRENCH MAGAZINE ‘AMERICA’ INTERVIEWS SALMAN RUSHDIE, AUTUMN 2020

In its autumn 2020 number, the French magazine AMERICA (devoted to literature and culture in the United States)  published a long interview with Salman Rushdie, conducted in New York by the magazine’s editor (‘Le grand enretien: Salman Rushdie, propos recueillis par François Busnel’ [‘The long interview: Salman Rushdie talks to François Busnel’, pp. 20-41]. The text is in French: I here provide English retro-translations.

 

Busnel introduces the interview with a clear statement of principle: ‘S’il y a un écrivain qui incarne le combat, inlassable, pour la liberté d’expression, c’est bien Salman Rushdie’ [‘If there is a writer who incarnates the unceasing struggle for freedom of expression, it is certainly Salman Rushdie’] – 21. The Indian-born author speaks on his latest novel, Quichotte, and on his acquisition in 2016 of US citizenship. He also touches on subjects including the (then upcoming) 2020 election, the merits of the Biden-Harris ticket (of whose victory Rushdie was, correctly, hopeful), race matters (recalling that ‘ce sont les immigrants qui ont fait ce pays’ [‘Immigrants made this country’] – 31), and social networks (he has all but given up Twitter).

Of particular interest are his views on the fashionable tendency to denounce ‘cultural appropriation’ in the literary context (i.e., approximately: writers should only write about people from the group they ‘belong to’ and not about anyone from any other group or culture), a notion which he roundly rejects. For Rushdie, such attitudes taken literally would end up eliminating literature: ‘Si vous devez etre une femme pour écrire sur les femmes ou si vous devez etre gay pour écrire sur les homosexuels, ou Noir pour écrire sur les Noirs, c’est la fin de la littérature’ [‘If you have to be a woman to write about women, or gay to write about gays, or Black to write about Black people, it’s the end of literature’] – 32. He nonetheless adds that to be credible, a work of literature needs to be properly researched and authors aiming to write about a particular group should do so duly informed. He cites as an example his own novel from 2017, The Golden House, which includes a male-to-female transexual character: ‘Je ne savais pas grand-chose de la vie d’un transexuel. J’ai donc rencontré plusieurs personnes qui ont fait cette transition .. puis .. j’ai fait de plus amples recherches sur le sujet’ [‘I didn’t know a great deal about the life of a transexual. So I met a number of people who had made the transition … and then I carried out wider research on the subject’] – 33. As a historic supporter of the left, Rushdie finds it worrying that today the attacks on literature come not only from the right, but also from ‘une certain gauche obsédée par l’idée de la pureté’ [‘a certain left obsessed with the idea of purity’] – 33.

Expressing himself on multiple subjects, Salman Rushdie minces no words, and this interview should prove highly valuable to anyone wishing to update their knowledge of one of our era’s most important literary figures.

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