Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: Words of Wounded Self
"Welcome, O life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race."
"Yes! Yes! Yes! He would create proudly out of the freedom and power of his soul, as the great artificer whose name he bore, a living thing new and soaring and beautiful, impalpable, imperishable."
— Stephen Daedelus †
I begin with one of key-statements that sense a rebel tone, “Everything even holy writ, could be investigated and, just possibly improved”. So, Rushdie writes in his most recent book Joseph Anton: A Memoir published in September, 2012. ‘Dare’ requires dare to deny and deny accepting that which is/will be undeniable one. Rushdie develops this theme defending his proposition that writer requires eligibility to deny, freedom to write the rebel and this freedom or eligibility of the writer secures the art at its paramount state of existence and perennial impact. Salman Rushdie or Joe will be recognized as Joseph Anton onward. He is notorious for his radical writings. I must insist that rebel and freedom of an individual make a man artist. Yes, the same as Stephen felt after getting up from his youthful imaginings: “drifting amid life like the barren shell of the moon."(A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, p. 102)
After writing his eleventh novel, Luka and the Fire of Life, Rushdie offers the reality of experience by expressing his-self in the form of memoir.
As a memoirist Salman Rushdie expressed about his moralizer or demoralizer; supporter or condemner. He speaks and writes about all who played important role in making Ahamad Salman Rushdie a ‘Satan Rushdie’. He exposed realities of reactions against him, seen and heard, ‘Hang Satan Rushdy’. His opponents thought and sought him a rebel, condemned him by calling a recalcitrant. Salman Rushdie made us realize that he never liked when he was called ‘Joe’, a pseudonym used by well-wishers and officials during fatwa -years. But, in all circumstances he maintained his literary and art taste which finally result a coinage of his name, ‘Joseph Anton.’
The epigraph to Joseph Anton is enough to particularize the theme and substance of Joseph Anton which alludes to Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Act 2, Scene:
“And by that destiny, to perform an act
Whereof what's past is prologue; what to come In yours and my discharge”
It recalls Antonio rationalizing Sebastian about the past of life might be affected by fate and destiny but they can decide future on the basis of past or last play of fate. It reflects themes perspective of this memoir. Further, Rushdie make us aware how he started to take life after his societal death which was but a prologue to the real drama of newly-born-life in future. Rushdie’s future refers ‘Joseph Anton’ which, he thinks, is a second birth-name, an outcome of condemning days and nights of fatwa. ‘Joseph Anton’ differs from both the biological and social birth. It is a name of a literary intellectual body that lies within him, with him and beyond him.
Joseph Anton begins from an incident when he is informed of a mass-declaration: ‘put him to death,’ over the phone and ends with notes toward human nature, literature, art, artist and vertex of terrorism sprouted during and after the 11 September, 2001 —fall of the World Trade Centre and Pentagon in USA. Thus it recorded 13 years of Rushdie’s life in particular and enormous reminiscences sporadically collecting from native to immigrated places. It has characteristics of a fiction: narration, action and inclusion of letters-writings.
It is a text of literary references that expresses not only the title and its author but its impact on the mind of the reader. Sometimes, he refers living characters in the name of characters he has read somewhere or sometimes ago in books. He writes about the world-reaction during and after the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 against Rushdie’s fourth novel, The Satanic Verses, as a work of blasphemy against Islam, and protection given by the Government. This memoir tells all his inner and outer stigmatic experiences whether he felt once in the society or isolation.
In discussion I bring my notice toward etymological meaning of memoir -memory into the script. Its genesis thrusts into French word mémoire, refers to memory or reminiscence. It overrides chronological order of incidents of author’s life as we find in autobiography. Rushdie’s memoir contains recollection of scraps interwoven in such a way that reflects a life in a chain of incidents that affect life. When the writer enables the self yield words towards everything recollected in what Augustine terms, “an interior place, yet not a place” (Conf. 10.9.16), words become prismatic reflection of memory. In that sense writing the memory turns into memoir as a sub-genre of autobiography, being not autobiography in itself. When personal memory itself becomes writing and when writing jumps into that region of singularity, individuality, particularity which Augustine calls ‘yet not a place’; memoir gets its contents as scraps.
Memory is “a vast and unlimited inner chamber,” at which Augustine marvels, for he claims that he could not speak of the mountains, seas, rivers, ocean, and stars, “unless I saw within, in my memory, in such vast spaces as if I saw them outside, the mountains, waves, rivers, and stars which I have seen and that ocean which I believe to exist” (Conf. 20.8.15). To some extent, right to quote Gore Vidal “a memoir is how one remembers one's own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked."‡
Memoir or autobiography is imagined to write with first person narrative whether it is religious such as St. Augustine’s Confessions, or the first great romantic autobiography, Rousseau’s The Confessions, Thoreau’s Walden, Gore Vidal’s Palimpsest, Borrow’s Lavengro, Jung Chang’s Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China, ruthless exploitation of women of Pakistani patriarchy in Sara Suleri’s Meetless Days. If Rousseau’s Confessions remained popular from social and political point of view, Rushdie’s Joseph Anton will be the great advent of writing about the self—a unique self keeping engrained selves of cast, sect, society, nationality, internationality, humanity and thus sense of cosmopolitism.
* Editor-in-Chief, ‘Avant Garde Responses: Interdisciplinary Journal Of Humanities and Social Sciences’ www.ijhss.com
† Protagonist in James Joyce’s marvelous novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
‡ See A Palimpsest