||[Jun. 20th, 2007|10:00 am]
I don't mind it when an actor becomes a knight. Actors are for hire. (I first wrote "actors are whores"- and withdrew it. But which is it better to be- a whore or a hireling? Think on't.)|
Sportsmen and women too: no-one expects them to be deep thinkers or anything other than politically naive. Nice one, Sir Beefy; you've earned it.
Writers are different. Writers need to guard their independence. How do you speak truth to power when power is your friend and patron?
I'm thinking about Salman Rushdie of course. We believed he was one of us and it seems he is one of them. Browning said it best-
Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a riband to stick in his coat.
Browning was thinking of Wordsworth (though he always- politely- denied it). We love the young revolutionary Wordsworth of Tintern Abbey and Intimations of Immortality. The older Wordsworth with his government pension and his unread theological epics is a bit of a joke.
The least likely people have turned down knighthoods. Kipling for instance. Yes, he supported the Empire and all that- but always on his own terms.
Here's what Salman said in a press release: "I am thrilled and humbled to receive this great honour, and am very grateful that my work has been recognised in this way." O, good grief- you're the author of Midnight's Children, Salman; that's your glory.
The Islamic fundamentalists have always viewed Salman as the running dog of Western Imperialism. In the past we were able to say, no, he's a lone, brave voice- an honest man- answerable to no-one. But this latest development sort of undermines our case, doesn't it?
But this latest development sort of undermines our case, doesn't it?
It does, absolutely.
Inayat Bunglawala (in today's Guardian) calls Rushdie "pompous, heartless and self-regarding". I'm afraid I'm rather inclined to agree.
Western Imperialist lackey or not, I think when major Islamic figures suggest a suicide bombing is in order to "correct" England's error (and then slyly state they were misinterpreted when called on it) what it undermines more is the notion that Islam should be regarded as a religion of tolerance and peace.
There's too many Muslims in the world who need to evolve past the mentality that murder is an appropriate response to dissent against their faith.
The Pakistani minister's response was insufferable.
I'm not so sure that accepting a knighthood makes him an Imperialist lackey or answerable to anyone--a knighthood is just an honor, and carries no real obligations. Unlike poor old Wordsworth he's not dependent on the government for his pay, and he's not a laureate writer with an obligation to write for a country. It's not as if the Queen is going to bang on his door and demand he give his knighthood back if he ever wrote something critical of Britain.
If Kipling- widely perceived as an establishment figure- could understand how precious it was for a writer to remain a plain "Mister" I don't see why it escapes Rushdie (supposedly a man of the left).
But maybe Rushdie is happy to be identified with this particular establishment. He did, after all, support the invasion of Iraq.
As Browning said of his 19th century "Lost Leader"-
Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley, were with us,- they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen,
-He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves!"
Rushdie might also wish to show his gratitude to the country that took him in when his life was at stake, and supporting the Iraqi war was an error committed by quite a few Liberal hawks, not just Neo-cons. Accepting an honor from an establishment is not a binding agreement to mindlessly support that establishment. The worst that can happen to a writer who still speaks out is to be accused of ingratitude. The burden is on Rushdie to prove his independence.
As much as I like Browning, "us vs. them" thinking is bound to end up looking simplistic. Shakespeare was hardly for "us," whoever they are. He was afraid of the "mob" and made sure to accept the establishment's view of history.
Shakespeare is stretching it a bit. What his politics were is anybody's guess. But the other three were bona fide revolutionaries or revolutionary sympathisers.