Posts Tagged ‘Mort Janklow’

“We are nothing without our language.” Salman Rushdie and courageous footwear.

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Breyten Breytenbach, an unnamed editor, Philip Gourevitch, and the man himself (Photo: Zygmunt Malinowski)

This week, we posted about great literary slugfests.  But are they a thing of the past?  One prominent literary agent thinks so:

“The day of the writer as public character is greatly diminished,” said Mort Janklow, the veteran literary agent. “Writers are more professional. You don’t hear about feuds. You don’t see the most prolific writers out.”

“It’s hard to be a great social figure and a great writer.”

And that, apparently, means the end of feuds.

This comment came from a New York Times article about Salman Rushdie, that witty, brilliant, and increasingly banal figure on the public literary scene.

Just when you are about to give up on him entirely, just when you want to see no more of this leering, goateed, grizzled grandee with another grinning babe on his arm, just when you are about to conclude that he has descended on a smug, one-way trip into vulgarity and a cliché, he whips out with a crisp comment like this one:

“The human being, let’s remember, is essentially a language animal. We are a creature which has always used language to express our most profound feelings and we are nothing without our language. The attempt to silence our tongue is not only censorship. It’s also an existential crime about the kind of species that we are. We are a species which requires to speak, and we must not be silenced. Language itself is a liberty and please, do not let the battle for this liberty be lost.”

The comments are from The Guardian article about his “rousing address” in Delhi – read the whole thing here; I found it rather plodding and waspish, always ready for a jab at a foe.  I guess after what he’s been through he’s entitled to the jabs.  One just longs for … well, a little nobility, a little moral grandeur.

The fatwa thrust him unexpectedly to an international stage – potentially the foremost in a new generation of giants such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Joseph Brodsky, Vaclav Havel. So it’s dispiriting to see him living in a cheesy fantasy of celebrity; he’s shrinking before our very eyes.  Am I missing something?

My friend Zygmunt Malinowski, the photographer who provided the images for An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz, alerted me about the NYT article.  He’s a bit more cautiously optimistic than I am: “I don’t know what to think about a writer who is that popular in the celebrity business. It seems to me that he broke the mold of the isolated writer such as Salinger, Updike and of course Czeslaw Milosz. Good for him.”

He sent me this photo: “I photographed him a few years back by the  New York Public Library with the editor of Paris Review and with Breyten Breytenbach and his editor walking close by.  They just finished a talk about Ryszard Kapuściński.  S. Rushdie was very interesting to listen to.

“Their footwear is fun, sneakers and red shoes – that takes a bit of courage too!”