June 5, 2024

Knife by Salman Rushdie “Language was my knife.”


We would not be who we are today without the calamities of our yesterdays. (p.38) 

Knife, by Salman Rushdie, was surprisingly accessible to me because Midnight’s Children was somewhat of a challenge. I am neither a writer, nor a victim, but I have been greatly intrigued by his account of being stabbed on August 12, 2022, in Chautauqua, New York. Rushdie’s life was irrevocably changed; for one thing,  he has not been able to see out of his right eye since.

But, that doesn’t mean he has lost his insight. Using his fondness for free association, he draws connections that are not readily apparent. Take, for example, the description of his attacker:

My Assailant, my would-be Assassin, the Asinine man who made Assumptions about me, and with whom I had a near lethal Assignation…I have found myself thinking of him, perhaps unforgivably, as an Ass. However, for the purposes of this text, I will refer to him more decorously as “the A.” What I call him in the privacy of my home is my business. 

This is such beautiful alliteration, sentences that I would love to show the students in my class if I was still teaching. There are many more passages throughout this book which made me pause and stick a flag onto the page I was reading.

Taking us back in time, before the knife attack, but after the coronavirus onslaught in 2020, he and his new wife, Eliza, go to Italy.

Italy felt like a miracle, wrapping us in an old friend’s warm embrace. 

“Of course!” I say in my heart. “That’s exactly what Italy does!” 

And, I’m intrigued by the way he extrapolates on the usage of a knife. A wedding knife, he writes, is part of a ritual which joins people together. A kitchen knife is an essential part of cooking, and a Swiss Army Knife is a helper. 

Language, too, was a knife. It could cut open the world and reveal its meaning, its inner workings, its secrets, its truths. It could cut through from one reality to another. It could call bullshit, open people’s eyes, create beauty. Language was my knife.  

As he slowly begins to recover from the brutal stabbing, Salman Rushdie contemplates the meaning of freedom. 

I was in no state to talk about freedom. It was a word that had become a minefield. Ever since conservatives started laying claim to it (Freedom Tower, freedom fries), liberals and progressives had started backing away from it toward new definitions of the social good according to which people would no longer be entitled to dispute the new norms. Protecting the rights and sensibilities of groups perceived as vulnerable would take precedence over freedom of speech, which the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti had called “the tongue set free.” …The First Amendment was now what allowed conservatives to lie, abuse, to denigrate. 

It is hard for me not to take offense at Rushdie’s intense scorn for those who don’t adhere to his political persuasion. I have thought a lot about the paragraph above, gaining a fresh perspective towards what Rushdie calls the “perceived vulnerable,” and resentment that he believes conservatives “lie, abuse, and denigrate.” 

I cannot imagine a more appropriate city for Salman Rushdie to admire than New York. He described himself as a city boy, and where else, besides Los Angeles, could such a liberal person be content? He explains the joy of coming home, watching the World Cup on television, and finding the “news better in many ways. (Not the real news, which was full of insane gun violence and equally insane Trump and Trumpublicans, as usual.)”

He feels free to criticize conservatives, which he does liberally throughout the book, as any man without a strong faith would do. But, I don’t call him a Demonrat. I read his book, open to his ideas and compassionate about his suffering. Many of his observations I found powerful and brilliant. Yet I close the book knowing that I could never recommend it to my book club. There is too much political fodder to be thrown about, which is not nearly as interesting, to me, as recovering from an attempt on his life.

“Words are the only victors,” he writes. It is a lovely thought for writers and readers, alike. But, words are what Rushdie believes in, whereas I believe in the Lord. And therein lies our ideological difference, like a knife which divides.

June 2, 2024

Sunday Salon: Looking forward to Summer

Tomorrow is the first day of aquatics at Centennial Beach. It is my favorite day of Summer, because the water is never fresher, never cooler, than on this day. It is before the bus loads of campers come, jumping into the water with skin that has last been bathed who knows when. But, let’s not think of that…let’s think of the quarry-turned-pool that my brother and I have been swimming in since we were wee ones. It is glorious! 

Speaking of wee ones…that would not have been a normal part of my vocabulary had I not just finished Tana French’s book, The Hunter. Now I have an Irish dialect going pleasantly through my mind. I feel that I have been living in the small, fictional town in which her latest book is set, Ardnakelty; if it weren’t for the community of villagers, it would be great. Only a few are noble; the rest seem like small minded, malicious, gossipers. It is the perfect setting for a murder, and more complicated issues regarding relationships, written as only Tana French can. The Hunter is the second book set in Ardnakelty, with ex-policeman Cal Hooper, following The Searcher. It is the first book of my 20 Books of Summer. 

I am currently reading Salman Rushdie’s Knife, thoroughly transfixed by his tale of being stabbed in New York just before giving a speech on the safety of writers. In an America which is unlike any I have known before, I do not take our freedoms lightly. I do not even assume we have any of the rights we always did.

But, as Readerbuzz does in her own post, it is better to share three happy things of the week:

1. The low, steady thrum of the cicadas has a surprisingly calming effect on me.

2. My Canadian mother loved her Chicago-style hot dog which we ate on Memorial Day, which was an utter surprise to me. (She doesn’t like most American food.)

3. I have finally determined, once and for all, which journal system is the one I am most content with. More on that in an upcoming post.

May your new week be filled with joyous wonders, and Summer surprises.

 Sunday Salon posts are hosted by Readerbuzz here.