The second and final part of the interview with author Salman Rushdie of which the first part was published on the yesterday. Rushdie speaks of contemporary literature, the importance of art to society, personal favourites and about Sri Lanka and his association with it.
QHow do you view the importance of literature and art to society? What impact does it have on the evolution of a society?
If you look at history, it is the art of the past that defines it. We see Elizabethan England through the eyes of Shakespeare as much as from Queen Elizabeth the First. If we look at the early 20th century, we see in France the impressionists and the literary modernists and so on as being the thing that the world takes away from that period. Much more than the politicians, and the battles. Art is what in the end defines a culture, it defines a society. That is the most memorable part of that society. The paintings drawn, the books written, the films -- that is what endures. It’s the way in which we portray ourselves to ourselves which is most memorable.
QAnd in contemporary terms, how do you view it?
I think in terms of literature, it is quite a rich moment. In English literature, there has always been a tendency for the literature of England and of the United States to dominate. But what has happened during my lifetime as a writer is that the fact that the English language has spread so far, that the literature of the English language is kind of the literature of the world.
English changes everywhere. So, you have it in India, Pakistan or Sri Lanka or Australia or the Caribbean. Everywhere that English has spread. And you have a really rich literature, which is becoming the mainstream of those countries.
Much of the greatest world literature written in English is not written in England, but everywhere else. I find that to be an interesting development. It is something new in our times. And I think it is a time of really exceptional writers.
The problems in the literary fields are industrial. It has to do with economic recession, and publishing companies having financial difficulties, and so on. In terms of the quality of work that is being done, I think this is as richer a time as I can remember. It is not just in English either -- there was a great Latin American boom from the mid 50sto the mid70s.There is an enormous number of talented young African writers emerging now, many of whom are women.
Writers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. It is not only her, but there are many gifted young African women writers, and that is something new. One of the things I think that is interesting to see is that in the former Soviet Union -- at the time of the Soviet Union-there was this very rich underground literature that was smuggled outside, like the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
Somehow since the end of the Soviet Union, it seems as if literature lost to its enemy, and in a certain sense lost its impetus. Now, I am kind of waiting to see what happens next, in the literature of the former Soviet Union.
Czech literature -- Hungarian literature is having an enormous renaissance right now. Writers like Peter Nadas, Peter Esterhazy, who just passed away, Imre Kertész, who just won the Nobel Prize.
In Hungary there is a new rising of literature. Poland also has had a recent great tradition of poetry. Poets like Czeslaw Milosz, Zbigniew Herbert. So, there are great literary traditions in parts of the former Soviet Union, but Russian literature itself I think is not as rich as it used to be. But that will change. Everything goes in cycles.
QWhat is the most important work of literature that influenced you or impacted you the most?
It is very difficult to choose one. I started out being very influenced by the wonder tales of Eastern Literature like the Panchathanthra and the Kathasaritsagara, the Arabian Nights, the Ramayana and Mahabaratha and all of that. And then I think what happened is that my mind connected that with a Western Surrealist Tradition.
So, I became interested it writers like Kafka (Franz) and Gogol (Nicolai) and Bulgakov (Mikhail), Marquez (Gabriel Garcia).This tradition of Surrealist, Non-naturalist writing in Western literature, which to me connects to the non-naturalistic writing of the Eastern literature. And to me bringing those things together showed me what I wanted to do.
QFinally, you have made very few mentions of Sri Lanka. I remember there was one in ‘Midnight’s Children’. What are your impressions of Sri Lanka?
I have never been there, and I would love to go. I mean I know about its great beauty because we just made a film there.
We made the film of ‘Midnight’s Children’ there. I wasn’t there for the shooting, but I can see the incredible natural beauty of the place. And I know from the people who were making the film, what a pleasurable experience it was for them to be there in Sri Lanka making the film.
About how helpful the Sri Lankan people were. We found quite a few of the cast from there as well. So, it was a very good experience. I’d love to go. I have been invited a few times to be in Sri Lanka for literary events and so on.
It just hasn’t been convenient. I will come. There is no question because it’s a part of the world that I would love to see. Of that whole block of South Asia, it’s the bit that I’ve never seen.