Salman Rushdie and his wife, Padma Lakshmi are divorcing. He just got knighted amid the usual death threats, and she's back on Top Chef. She's his fourth wife, they've been married 3 years and they have no kids.
Last night, at Emory U.'s Glenn Memorial, Dar and I attended a lecture on Autobiography and the Novel by Salman Rushdie. Witty, charming, humorous, the bemused Rushdie began by mentioning Robinson Crusoe, Tristram Shandy, and Gulliver's Travels, none of which would have produced the question whether the characters of the novels were autobiographical. Rushdie remarked how looking for details of the author's life in his fiction has become an obsession in the 21st C. His solution? Just say, "yes, it's all true. Every detail is just what happened in my life." That shuts up the interviewers and helps them get on to what's interesting: the novel itself.
Shakespeare's works, he claimed, must be evaluated on their own merit, since Shakespeare wisely kept us in the dark about the details of his life. As I listened to what Rushdie described, a life in the dark and seamy side of London, I couldn't help thinking that the theory that Marlowe had a hand in writing the works of Shakespeare makes sense. But Rushdie's point is that great fictional characters take on a life independent of any basis in an author's experience and follow a logic of their own in the world of words.
To modify Berkeley, To be is to be perceived in the mind of the reader. Art is more real than nature.
Here's a summary (typos and all) from today's AJC:
Salman Rushdie defies expectations at Emory
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 02/10/08
You needn't have read his novels, or heard him speak, to have formed an impression of celebrated author Salman Rushdie.
"I guess on a superficial level I expected him to be stoic and severe," said Atlanta resident Jocelyn Kilbrin, one of about 1,100 people who on Sunday attended Rushdie's lecture, "Autobiography and the Novel," at Emory University.
Kilbrin was in elementary school when Iran's Ayatollah Khomeni — nearly 19 years ago to the day — called for the death of the "magical realist" after publication of his fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses."
Rushdie been a celebrity ever since, though it was attention he neither pursued nor welcomed.
But the author appears at peace with what will no doubt be the opening line of his obituary, embracing the wider audience it's provided while lamenting the anonymity enjoyed by such literary titans as Laurence Sterne and Daniel Defoe.
Save for their friends and family, no knew the identies of the authors of "Tristram Shady" and "Robinson Crusoe," said Rushdie, as both novels were published anonymously.
"Fiction was fiction, life was life, and 250 years ago, people knew this," said Rushdie in a expansive lecture that addressed literary and cultural trends that often overlap.
"We live in autobiographical times," he said, noting that Spice Girl Geri Halliwell published two autobiographies before her 30th birthday.
As Kilbrin observed after his speech, he defied her expectations, delivering a literary and cultural treatise well-informed by his own experience as a marked man.
While the fatwa against him was never lifted, Rushdie — named distinguished writer in residence at Emory University in the spring of 2007 — is no longer in hiding. Sunday's lecture featured a noticeable police presence, and all bags were checked by security personnel.
But the atmosphere inside Glenn Memorial Auditorium was anything but tense — less like a lecture and much more like a one-man salon.
Rushdie said he remains frustrated by the tendency of readers to associate a writer with his work and said he no longer will create characters that share similar personal traits.
"I learned my lesson," Rushdie said. "In my later works, you will find no trace of me."
That runs counter to a culture where "interminable blurts of revelation," as the author put it, are not only accepted but encouraged.
Shakespeare had it right, Rushdie said, when he left behind no diaries or letters that might lend a window into his inspirations.
Of course, Shakespeare didn't have to go on book tours to promote his work.
He may yearn for anonymity, but as Rushdie dryly noted, he's about to head out on a tour to publicize his forthcoming novel, "The Enchantress of Florence."
- Rushdie comes to grips with fame
- Rushdie to speak Sunday on 'Autobiography and the Novel'
- Rushdie to speak Sunday on autobiography and the novel
- Rushdie to give public lecture
- Emory sets rare public appearance for Rushdie
Rushdie as Rock Lobster:
Artists delve into failing love of Salman Rushdie, the purple lobster
AFTER hiding for more than a decade with a price on his head, the author Sir Salman Rushdie could be forgiven for objecting to a portrait that actually shows his face.
Instead of attending a conventional sitting, he submitted to a psychological test conducted at his New York apartment with a couple of Californian conceptual artists.
The result depicts Rushdie, 60, a slightly donnish, bearded figure, as a purple lobster floating before a fiery red planet, surrounded by snowflakes.
Alternatively, it provides a psychological profile of the novelist during the collapse of his marriage to his fourth wife, the model and food writer Padma Lakshmi, 37.
Rushdie faced death threats from Muslims after a fatwa was imposed on him by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s spiritual leader, in 1989, for his controversial book The Satanic Verses.
His knighthood, announced last June, prompted riots in Pakistan, and his separation from Lakshmi followed in July.
The artists, Eric and Heather ChanSchatz, had their first meeting with him early last year and they remained in contact through the spring and summer.
ChanSchatz, who work as a single artist from a studio that has the air of a scientific laboratory, ask their subjects to respond to a series of questions involving shape, colour and abstract statements.
Heather ChanSchatz described their meeting with Rushdie as “artist to artist”, and said the writer was “very intrigued by the intellectual process behind the works”.
The Rushdie picture may signal a new fashion in portraiture, particularly for celebrities grown weary of seeing their faces on billboards and in print.
The couple’s first solo exhibition in Britain is to be held in the Albion gallery in Battersea, south London, next month.
In interviews, Rushdie has shown awareness of the reluctance of the British public to warm to him. On emerging from the fatwa, he complained he was sick of being called arrogant, and added: “I don’t think this would have happened to [novelist] Beryl Bainbridge.
“In certain sectors of Britain there was a prejudice because I am an immigrant.”
He was not available for comment this weekend.
Of course he wasn't; he was lecturing at Emory!