in Marginalia

Rushdie on the power of the novel

Rushdie at 2008 dinner honoring writer Amos Oz (David Shankbone/Wikipedia)

“There are other reasons, too, for proposing the novel as the crucial art form of what I can no longer avoid calling the post-modern age. For one thing, literature is the art least subject to external control, because it is made in private. The act of making it requires only one person, one pen, one room, some paper. (Even the room is not absolutely essential). Literature is the most low-technology of the art forms. It requires neither a stage nor a screen. It calls for no interpreters, no actors, producers, camera crews, costumiers, musicians. It does not even require the traditional apparatus of publishing, as the long running success of samizdat literature demonstrates. The [Michel] Foucault essay [What is an author?] suggests that literature is as much at risk from the enveloping, smothering forces of the market economy, which reduces books to mere products. The danger is real, and I do not want to seem to be minimizing it. But the truth is that of all the forms, literature can still be the most free. The more money a piece of work costs, the easier it is to control. Film, the most expensive of art forms, is also the least subversive. This is why, although Carlos Fuentes cites the work of film-makers like [Luis] Buñuel, [Ingmar] Bergman, and [Federico] Fellini as instances of successful secular revolts into the territory of the sacred, I continue to believe in the greater possibilities of the novel. Its singularity is its best protection.”

— From “Is Nothing Sacred?” written by Salman Rushdie and delivered by Harold Pinter as part of the Herbert Read Memorial Lecture at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in February 1990 and published by Granta both as a pamphlet that carried the same title and in its 31st issue.

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