At Thursday evening’s launch for Columbia University’s Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life, Salmon Rushdie appeared at Low Memorial Library with Columbia English Professor Gauri Viswanathan for a discussion and Q&A session. As has been happening of late, the talk quickly turned to politics when Ms. Viswanathan asked Mr. Rushdie about his “outlook” on the world.
“It’s bleak,” Mr. Rushdie said. “But look at the world we live in–death and bombs and destruction and hatred.” He paused. “I’d hope something happened on Tuesday that could change that.” Small cheers erupted from the audience.
Ms. Viswanathan also asked if he believed in the concept of a perfect world. “No. I have no utopian tendencies,” Rushdie said. “If you are by nature satirical in your imagination, it’s very hard to see the things you like. Because this week, I do feel very optimistic, and it feels very odd. The last time I felt this way was after the election of Tony Blair and look what happened with that. … I don’t think that’s going to happen but …” He sat back in his chair.
Then came a question from an audience member about “oppression” and its positive effect on writing.
“I was doing just fine before,” Mr. Rushdie responded. “I would have been quite happy, thank you very much, to trot along with a thousand other things–like, you know, having my books translated into 40 languages and selling millions of copies. But you’re right, there was a spike in the tension that happened around 1989, but it’s long gone. I think if any of this stuff continues to be of interest, it will have to be of interest in the text itself.”
He continued: “The rest of it is a passing thing. … If you are asking me if I would rather it hadn’t happened, yes, I would rather it hadn’t happened. On the whole, if you could possibly avoid being sentenced to death by a tyrannical leader of a foreign power who then sends international mercenaries to carry out the sentence, if you could possibly avoid that, I would wholly recommend it.”