Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie

A Chance of Lasting

"I feel very proud to be part of this resistance", says the acclaimed British writer Salman Rushdie reflecting on his book The Satanic Verses and the years of the fatwa. "Today people are much weaker. I wonder if such an act of collective solidarity would ever happen again."

"My parents used to say, that I always wanted to be a writer", this conversation with acclaimed British writer Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) begins. Rushdie talks about his early love for reading, his Indian childhood and his father, who told stories to him instead of reading them out loud.

Rushdie talks about his early attempts of writing, starting with commercials. Rushdie also reflects on his close relations to filmmakers and musicians in the Britain of the 1970's. Looking back, Rushdie is sure, why he became a writer, having a talent for language: "It needs some form of solitude in your nature. That you prefer doing something by yourself. A screenplay for example is only a step on the way to a film. I just thought, I like to do it by myself. But it took me a very long time to do find out how to do it."

Midnight's Children, published in 1981 and dealing with India's transition from British colonialism to independence and the partition of British India, changed Rushdie's life. The novel won the Booker Prize and later the Bookers Booker Prize and was added to the list of Great Books of the 20th century. "Writing the book took me five years. I am very proud of that young man who struggled to find out how to write without any guarantee, that the book would be published. I was pretty sure it was a good book. But I had no confidence in the fact, that anybody else would agree. Midnight's Children then told me, that I was the writer I could be."

"As an author of literary fiction you are writing books that you hope will endure. That will sit on the bookshelf and outlast the author. It's now 33 years since Midnight's Children was published. The fact that people still read it, the fact, that young people still read it and find, it has something to say to them, that's very satisfying."

This conversation with Rushdie then circles around The Satanic Verses and the debate after it's publication. "The fatwa wasn't only about me. It was a moment, when a line had to be held, when you could not concede the fight."

Rushdie talks about the years of hiding, his relationship to his son and how reading and literature helped him through those dark years. He reflects about the solidarity he received as well as about the fight to keep The Satanic Verses in print: "The reason why we managed to defend the book was that very widespread belief that it had to happen - not so much for the book itself, but for this old reason: the freedom of speech. People, whom I had never met, went to battle for me - booksellers, publishers, ordinary people, who bought the book as an act of support and solidarity. That was their way of saying: I am on your side."

"Mostly in those years, I was touched and impressed by the degree of solidarity, that there was. Mostly! There are always some people who fall short of what your expectation is. The great mass of writers and book-world-people understood, that something serious was at stake, in which they all were implicated. Politicans as often came very late to the party."

And Rushdie continues: "I feel very proud to be part of this resistance. Today people are much weaker. I wonder if such an act of collective solidarity would ever happen again. We have fallen a long way short of the strength that people collectively showed in the late 80's and early 90's."

Rushdie ends by reflecting about his autobiographical book Joseph Anton: A Memoir. "I finally reached the point, where I was able to write the book and look back at the things that have happend. It was clear to me, that it was me, who should write this story." Rushdie also speaks about the role of literature in a fearful world - a world of darkness. Literature, he says, has to challenge the narratives, we surround ourselfes with - the narrative of family, politics, whatever. As a writer, he says, I feel it is my responsibility to speak up and to give back some of the solidarity, I have received myself earlier.

Salman Rushdie (b. 1947) was born in Mumbay and is the author of worldwide bestellers like Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses. The latter caused fierce protests in the Muslim world. Death threats were made against Rushdie, including a fatwa issued by the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini on 14 February 1989. In his latest autobiographical novel, 'Joseph Anton: A Memoir', Rushdie reflects upon his decade of hiding.

Salman Rushdie was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014

Supported by Nordea Fonden

  • Yona Friedman

    Architecture of Trial and Error

    “Don't forget that very important cities today started by immigration.” Meet the 94-year-old architect behind 'L’Architecture Mobile', Yona Friedman. He here shares the story of how his years as a refugee sparked his desire to make architecture adaptable.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    'Mama Africa' is a Construct

    In this short interview Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito discusses his provocative video work, in which he through three blazing speeches addresses the legacy of the western logic of ownership and debt, not least regarding a construct like ‘Africa’.

  • Nástio Mosquito

    What are You Willing to Die for?

    Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito has been dubbed “the future star of the art world.” He here talks about his invigorating multidisciplinary practice, which investigates universally human characteristics in a teasing, polemic and humorous way.

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • 11 Artists

    on Photography

    “We are so oversaturated with images, so it’s about one question: Can I hold you - can I get you to look at an image for longer than a second?” Watch Catherine Opie, Wim Wenders, Jeff Wall and 8 other artists on the power and potential of photography.

  • The Story of Marina Abramović & Ulay

    Legendary couple in performance art – Marina Abramović and Ulay – lived together for 12 years and made pioneering work as a duo. In this extraordinary double interview the artists look back on their relationship – from their first meeting in 1975 until now.

  • Wang Shu

    Architecture is a Job for God

    The Chinese architect Wang Shu’s buildings – a crossover between traditional Chinese culture and large-scale modern architecture – have earned him prestigious awards. “Democracy means a really diverse society,” says the architect in this inspiring interview.

  • Margrethe Odgaard

    Colour Diary of New York

    Becoming more aware of your surroundings can “open a new dimension inside as well as outside yourself.” Meet award-winning Danish designer Margrethe Odgaard who has trained herself to register the world through colours.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Daniel Libeskind

    Tribute to New York

    “If you took the whole world and collapsed it into one little ball, you’d find it here, in this city.” Daniel Libeskind, world-renowned architect behind the new World Trade Center site, gives tribute to his city in this short and colourful video.

  • Marina Abramović

    Electricity Passing Through

    For more than 50 years trailblazing performance artist Marina Abramović has used her own body and energy as her main artistic material. In this powerful interview, the artist looks back on her radical practice: “It was like the first woman walking on the moon.”