Paper: ‘Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown”: a Secularist Manifesto?’

My paper: ‘Salman Rushdie’s “Shalimar the Clown”: a Secularist Manifesto?’,  delivered at the international conference ‘Education and Secularism’, held on 30-31 May 2013 at the Université de Cergy-Pontoise, France, is now available on-line at:


Salman Rushdie’s commitment to secularism is a constant across his entire work, both fiction and non-fiction. Indeed, he may be described as a secular intellectual in the sense proposed by Edward Said in Representations of the Intellectual (1994). In his non-fiction, Rushdie has clearly and repeatedly affirmed secularist principles as he sees them, in a range of essays to be found in the volumes Imaginary Homelands (1991) and Step Across This Line (2002), and, most recently, in his memoir Joseph Anton (2012). This paper will endeavour to show how, in his novel of 2005 Shalimar the Clown (arguably the most secularist of all his fictional works), Rushdie puts forward the traditional culture and artisanal skills of Kashmir as embodying a kind of parallel or non-formal education, while also constituting a metonym for secularism in the Indian sense of neutrality between religious groups; and how this narrative, which, if centred on Kashmir, fans out in space and time to Nazi Europe, and to the contemporary US with its death penalty and its global interventionism, further implies a broader, transcultural vision of secularism as a libertarian world-view that is grounded in both the rational and the creative.

Note added 17 January 2014: The French-language version of this paper has now been published (see entry on this blog for 16 January 2014) as:

« ‘Shalimar the Clown’, de Salman Rushdie, récit laïque: une éducation séculaire et syncrétiste », in Evelyne Hanquart-Turner and Ludmila Volna (eds.), Éducation et Sécularisme: Perspectives africaines et asiatiques, Paris: Éditions Harmattan, 2013, pp. 197-210

Note added 15 May 2014: The English-language version of the paper has now been published (see entry on this blog for 15 May 2014) as:

“Salman Rushdie’s ‘Shalimar the Clown’: A Secularist Manifesto?’, in Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies (Baleswar, India), Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2014, pp. 106-116




Now out is the 2013 issue (Vol 3, Issue 1) of the Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies (ISSN 2249-6726), published in Baleswar, Odisha (Orissa), India and edited by Dr Santwana Haldar.

The journal’s 300 pages encompass a remarkably wide range of material. There are of course articles on Indian Writing in English (e.g. Yakaiah Kathy, « The Personal and the Public: History in [Rushdie’s] ‘Midnight’s Children’ » and N.K. Neb, « Intervention of Postmodern Perspectives and Manju Kapur’s Feminist Stance in ‘A Married Woman’ »), as well as on older Indian traditions (Rajeshwar Mittapalli, « Bhakti Literature and Recent Indian Fiction: the Politics and Poetics of Protest »). Featured too are other Asian literatures (Jalal Uddin Khan, « The Arabian Nights: A Modern Introduction »), while the mainstream English canon is not neglected (Azadeh Davoudi Far, « English Women and Patriarchy: Interrogating Victorian Morality in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’; Pulakesh Ghosh, “The Titles of Dickens’ ‘Hard Times’: Effect, Structure and Vision”).

Present too are Translation Studies (Rama Kundu, « Translation of Creative Works: Problems and Perspectives ») and contemporary sociological concerns (Fewzia Bedjaoui, « British and Immigrant Organisations’ Background Involvement into Social Cohesion). There is also a creative writing section, including, notably, several contributions by Odisha’s master poet, Jayanta Mahapatra, as well as a number of book reviews – inter alia of Hilary Mantel’s « Bring Up the Bodies » and Aravind Adiga’s « Last Man in Tower » – by the editor, Santwana Haldar.

Also included is my own paper: Christopher Rollason, « Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe: From ‘The Chimes’ to ‘The Bells’ »  (pp. 67-75), originally given at the international conference ‘Charles Dickens and His Time’ at the New University of Lisbon (Portugal), 18-20 June 2012 (cf. entry on this blog for 27 June 2012). This paper is also available on-line at:



The latest edition of the Edgar Allan Poe Review, from Penn State University Press (Vol. 14, No. 1 -Spring 2013), is now out.

Table of contents:

Articles include: Richard Kopley, “Adventures with Poe and Hawthorne” and

Jeffrey A. Savoye, “Discarding the Literary Emporium: An Unauthorized Reprint of The Raven.

Also included is my theatre review,

“La Chute de la maison Usher: Poe Performed in Esch-sur-Alzette” (pp. 99-100)

– Stable URL:

The review is also on my website at:

and on this blog (entry for 2 December 2012).

« LIFE OF PI » – Yann Martel’s book, Ang Lee’s film and the globalisation of culture – « LIFE OF PI – VIDA DE PI / UNA AVENTURA EXTRAORDINARIA » – el libro de Yann Martel, la película de Ang Lee y la mundialización de la cultura

The icon of an Indian youth drifting on the ocean with a Bengal tiger for company has by now entered into popular consciousness at a global level, thanks to Yann Martel’s Booker-winning novel of 2002, ‘Life of Pi’, and, now, the internationally successful film of 2012, directed by Ang Lee.




‘International’ is, surely, the watchword for both book and film. Martel is a Canadian whose first language is French, not English, and who has spent time in India and Mexico; Ang Lee, born in Taiwan, has made his career in the US. The story’s youthful protagonist hails from Pondicherry, once one of France’s Indian possessions and now an enclave in Tamil Nadu state; the Japanese-owned ship that departs from Tamil Nadu’s capital, Madras/Chennai and  whose wreck leads to the loss of his family and his ordeal with Richard Parker the tiger should have taken them halfway across the world ‘to make a fresh start in Canada’ (‘Life Of Pi’, Edinburgh: Canongate, 2012, 117). Pi ends up on the Pacific coast of Mexico, ‘in Tomatlán .. a hundred kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco’ (390), and while in hospital there receives a pair of interrogatory visitors from Japan.


It is somewhat surprising to discover that Martel has no family connection with India: his research has been done with meticulous care, and Pi’s knowledge of phenomena such as South Indian cuisine gives him the feel of an authentic Indian. The sensation of Indianness is even stronger in the film, thanks to the subcontinental lilt of the protagonist’s voiceovers.


It is also striking in both book and film that what unites fragmented humanity and makes interaction between cultures possible is not communications technology (the date of the ill-fated voyage is 1977), nor air transport, but something far older, namely the sea. The sea  claims Pi’s family, offers him a difficult new companionship with Richard Parker, and finally returns him to land when he unexpectedly reaches Mexico. Its visual impact in the film makes its presence, if anything, even stronger than in the book. The ocean unites and sunders human beings as it has done for so many centuries, and Pi’s story recalls that globalisation is at one and the same time something that is both startlingly new and strangely familiar. Together, Yann Martel and Ang Lee have succeeded in reminding readers and spectators worldwide that even in the most extreme circumstances, the world which humanity inhabits is one.



El ícono de un adolescente indio a la deriva en el océano acompañado por un tigre de Bengala se ha fijado ya en la conciencia popular a nivel mundial, merced a la novela de Yann Martel (ganadora del premio Booker en 2002), ‘Life of Pi’ (‘Vida de Pi’), y, ahora, la taquillera película de éxito internacional de 2012 (en castellano, bajo el título ‘Una aventura extraordinaria’), realizada por Ang Lee.


‘Internacional’ es, seguramente, el término que mejor califica tanto el libro como la película. Martel es un canadiense cuyo primer idioma es el francés, no el inglés, y que ha pasado temporadas tanto en la India como en México; Ang Lee, nacido en Taiwán, ha hecho su carrera en EE UU. El joven protagonista de la historia es un indio originario de Pondicherry, antigua posesión francesa y hoy día un enclave en el estado de Tamil Nadu; el bajel japonés que zarpa de la capital de dicho estado, Madrás/Chennai, cuyo naufragio lleva a la pérdida de su familia y a su calvario con el tigre Richard Parker, hubiera debido transportar a todos a través de medio mundo ‘para hacer vida nueva en Canadá’ (‘to make a fresh start in Canada’- ‘Life Of Pi’, Edimburgo: Canongate, 2012, 117). Pi acaba su viaje en la costa pacífica de México, ‘en Tomatlán, un centenar de kilómetros al sur de Puerto Vallarta, en el estado de Jalisco’ (‘in Tomatlán .. a hundred kilometres south of Puerto Vallarta, in the state of Jalisco’ – 390), y mientras está hospitalizado allí acoge a dos japoneses que lo visitan para interrogarlo.


Podría sorprender el que Martel no tenga lazos familiares con la India: ha hecho su investigación de forma impecable, y el conocimiento que demuestra Pi de fenómenos como la gastronomía de la India del Sur comunica una fuerte sensación de indianidad. Esa dimensión se ve reforzada aún más en la película, debido a la fuerte entonación subcontinental de las frecuentes intervenciones vocales del protagonista.


También es llamativo, en el libro como en la película, el hecho de que lo que parece vincular a los humanos entre sí y superar la separación, haciendo posible la interacción entre culturas, no es la tecnología ni los medios de comunicación (el malhadado barco sale de Madrás en 1977), ni tampoco el transporte aéreo, sino algo de mucho mayor antigüedad: el mar. Es el mar que acaba con la familia de Pi, que le brinda una nueva y difícil relación de compañía con el tigre, y finalmente lo regresa a la tierra cuando inesperadamente llega a México. El impacto visual de las escenas marítimas en la película hace que la fuerza del mar se imponga incluso aún más que en la novela. El océano une y separa a la gente, así como viene haciendo a través de los siglos, y la historia de Pi recuerda que la mundialización es, a la vez, algo asustadoramente nuevo y extrañamente familiar. Si sumamos el resultado de sus trabajos, podemos concluir que Yann Martel y Ang Lee han conseguido hacer que sus lectores y espectadores planetarios recuerden que hasta en las circunstancias más extremas, el mundo que habita la humanidad es uno.


The Spanish newspaper ABC  reports:

‘Nueva York homenajea a Lorca’ (‘New York pays homage to Lorca’) – María G. Picatoste, 15 March 2013 –

 that an exhibition will be held in New York’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Library (5 April – 21 July 2013) honouring Federico García Lorca, whose famous collection of poems Poeta en Nueva York / Poet in New York (written in 1929 and 1930 and published posthumously in 1940) immortalised his stay in the city. The exhibition will showcase the manuscript of that volume, which has never been exhibited before. It will be backed up by musical events including a concert by rock singer Patti Smith, readings from the poems and a puppet theatre show.


 El periódico español ABC  informa:

(‘Nueva York homenajea a Lorca’ – María G. Picatoste, 15 marzo 2013 –

 que la biblioteca neoyorquina Stephen A. Schwarzman albergará, del 5 de abril al 21 de julio de 2013, una exposición homenajeando a Federico García Lorca, cuyo célebre poemario Poeta en Nueva York  (escrito en 1929 y 1930 y publicado de forma póstuma en 1940) legó a la posteridad las impresiones de su estancia en la metrópoli. La muestra tendrá como foco central el manuscrito del volume, hasta ahora nunca expuesto. Será complementada por varios eventos musicales, entre otros un concierto de la cantora rock Patti Smith, lecturas de poesías de Lorca, y un espectáculo de títeres.


Llamo a vuestra atención un artículo interesante sobre la actualidad del idioma español, publicado en el periódico madrileño ABC el 1-III-2013:

“El idioma es el ‘petróleo’ de España” (Fernando B. Lafuente)


 Entre los datos que señala este texto, destáquense los siguientes:

*más de 7 millones de escolares y universitarios estudian español en Estados Unidos como lengua extranjera, siendo el castellano de lejos el idioma foráneo más estudiado en las universidades norteamericanas;

*El español es hoy día la segunda lengua de comunicación internacional después del inglés, y es la segunda lengua en número de hablantes nativos, después del chino;

*En internet, el español ocupa el tercer puesto como idioma más utilizado, tras el inglés y el chino;

*En Brasil, ya son 6 millones los que estudian el castellano, y se prevé que pronto serán 11 millones;

*el 80% del léxico del idioma es común a todos los países que hablan español.

 El autor cita a dos grandes escritores mexicanos, Carlos Fuentes: ‘El español es un idioma de frontera’,

y Alfonso Reyes: ‘Si el orbe hispano de ambos mundos no llega a pesar sobre la Tierra en proporción con las dimensiones territoriales que cubre, si el hablar la lengua española no ha de representar nunca una ventaja en las letras como en el comercio, nuestro ejemplo será el ejemplo más vergonzoso de ineptitud que pueda ofrecer la raza humana’.

y, comparando el idioma al petróleo, concluye que, entre otras cosas merced a la labor de la Real Academia Española y  el Instituto Cervantes, “Ahora sí podemos contestar a Alfonso Reyes: «Estamos en ello», y de qué manera”.


I draw to your attention an interesting article on the Spanish language today, published in the Madrid daily ‘ABC’ on 1 March 2013:

“El idioma es el ‘petróleo’ de España” (“Spain’s ‘oil’ is its language”) –  Fernando B. Lafuente


This article provides, inter alia, the following information:

*today in the US, over 7 million school or university students are learning Spanish, which is now by far the most widely-taught foreign language in American universities;

*Spanish is now the second most important language of international communication after English, and is the language with the second biggest number of native speakers after Chinese;

*On the Internet, Spanish is the third most used language, after English and Chinese;

*6 million Brazilians are now studying Spanish, a number likely to rise soon to 11 million;

*80% of the Spanish lexicon is common to all Spanish-speaking countries.

 The author quotes two of Mexico’s great writers – Carlos Fuentes: ‘Spanish is a language of frontiers’,

and Alfonso Reyes: ‘If the Spanish-speaking sphere of the Old and New Worlds does not pull its weight on earth in proportion to the territory it covers, if speaking Spanish never becomes an advantage in letters and trade, then we will have set the worst example of ineptitude the human race could come up with’,

and, likening the language to oil, concludes that, thanks among other things to the labours of the Royal Spanish Academy and the Cervantes Institute, ‘Now we can reply to Alfonso Reyes: “Yes, we’re doing it, and just look at us!”’ 


Now out is the latest issue (Fall 2012, Vol. XIII, No 2) of the Edgar Allan Poe Review, the official journal of the Poe Studies Association ( The bulk of this issue is given over to a series of articles on Poe’s relationship to German idealist philosophy. It also includes (pp. 135-138) my review of the following volume of conference proceedings from Mexico:

 Ana Elena González Treviño (ed.). El genio de lo perverso: Ensayos del coloquio en conmemoración del bicentenario del natalicio de Edgar Allan Poe. Mexico City: Samsara, 2011. 136 pp.

 The full text of the review is on-line on my website, with the journal’s agreement, at:

I also drew attention to the book on this blog on 6 March 2012 (see entry for that date).

EAPR 13-2


Acaba de salir el último número (Otoño de 2012, Vol. XIII, Núm. 2) de la Edgar Allan Poe Review, el órgano oficial de la Poe Studies Association ( La mayor parte de este número la ocupan una serie de artículos en el tema de los vínculos de Poe con la filosofía idealista alemana. También incluye (págs. 135-138) mi reseña del siguiente volumen de actas de congreso, de México:

 Ana Elena González Treviño (ed.). El genio de lo perverso: Ensayos del coloquio en conmemoración del bicentenario del natalicio de Edgar Allan Poe. Mexico D.F.: Samsara, 2011. 136 páginas.

 El texto completo de esta reseña se encuentra en línea en mi sitio personal, con la anuencia de la Edgar Allan Poe Review. Ubicación:

Noticié el mismo libro en esta bitácora el 6-III-2012 (véase entrada de esa fecha).


An extract follows / sigue un extracto:

 ‘In 2009, a [Poe] bicentennial conference was held by the Colegio de Letras Modernas in Mexico City under the title El genio de lo perverso (“The genius of the perverse”). The proceedings – edited (…) by Ana Elena González Treviño –  were published in 2011, in the volume that forms the subject of this review. The full title translates as: “The genius of the perverse: Essays from the colloquium commemorating the bicentennial of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe”. The volume (entirely in Spanish) consists of a brief editorial preface, fourteen critical essays (including one by the editor) and, at the end, a poem by Mario Murgia in the form of a pastiche of “The Raven”. All the contributors hail from Mexico: ten (including Ana González) are from the UNAM [Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México], three from other Mexican universities, and two from outside the academic world of the humanities, (…)  from the National Institute of Genomics and (…) the Mexico City police. The collection thus – and in contrast to others of the bicentennial conference proceedings that have appeared – stands or falls, without transnational support, entirely on the quality of the endogenous analyses it presents testifying to the local reception of the work of Edgar Allan Poe (…)’


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