Enemy of the People and Media : David Croneberg Interviews Salman Rushdie
20 Dec, 2006
The phone call from Scotland Yard came late Friday afternoon. At first I thought it was room service, and so I didn't catch the name or the title-Inspector? Sergeant? MacLeish? "A man will meet you in the lobby of your hotel on Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. His name will be Sinclair. You will take a cab together. You will pay for the cab." God, I thought. What penny-pinching. You really are from Scotland Yard. But then I thought, why should the Yard pay for my rendezvous with Salman Rushdie?
Sinclair turns out to be an affable, good-looking young man in metal-rimmed shades and a suit who professes his affection for classless Canada. I ask him if he normally works the Rushdie detail. "I'm usually assigned to a Member of Parliament," he says, his North-Country accent tight and amused. "But it's not as exciting as this great cloak and dagger stuff." The London cab lurches through heavy traffic. No one seems to be following us.
"I don't like policemen listening to my conversations," says Rushdie. He gets up and closes the door. The two men from Scotland Yard who had brought Rushdie to meet me now have the bedroom of the Claridge's Hotel suite to themselves, and Rushdie and I have the sitting-room. Sinclair has left after a disappointingly perfunctory search of my equipment bag.
Rushdie continues. "I say to policemen, `There can't be too many left-wing writers who know as much about Police Special Branch procedure as I do.' And they laugh and say, `There aren't that many right-wing writers who know that much either.' Maybe it's time for me to do my Le Carre."
Salman is rumpled and distracted in a particular writerly way that I find appealing. He is also smaller than I had anticipated, and I suspect this is because of Richard Avedon's demonic-sure, maybe Satanic-portrait in the January 23, 1995 issue of The New Yorker.
With Rushdie fighting a media battle for the hearts and minds of his colleagues and the public, a picture of him as a towering demon becomes a political issue, not a mere matter of ego.
The day after I arrived in London, the papers all printed photos of Rushdie dancing at the book launch of Martin Amis's new novel, The Information. His partner was a very attractive journalist named Nigella Lawson. Every paper included comment of some kind expressing either veiled or unveiled anger that Salman Rushdie should be enjoying himself. "His dancing is so bad, he should go back into hiding," said one.
Petulant and irritable, the British media seem to have had it with Salman Rushdie, and as I sit opposite the man himself, I can't help but be overwhelmed by the perverseness of this.
Cronenberg meets Rushdie
By David Cronenberg
Photos: Jeffrey Cornell
The Enemy of the People and the Media
David Cronenberg: One of the
things I despise about journalism is the desperate need to make
connections at all costs.
Salman Rushdie: People are now much more interested in writers than in their writing.
DC: For a Canadian, for a colonial
boy to read the stuff here in the London press about you-with all
the bitchiness, and the nastiness- it's so twisted.
SR: One of the sad aspects of what happened to me was that there should be such a strong strain amongst English commentary which really wanted to make me the villain of the case.
I know a friend of mine stopped writing profile journalism because they were endlessly being told by editors that the things they were writing were not nasty enough. Make it nastier. There is a viciousness about it.
My only experience with that was
with John Landis, who is a friend, and the Twilight Zone thing. [On
July 23, 1982, a helicopter accident caused the death of actor Vic
Morrow and two Vietnamese child actors on the set of John Landis'
film Twilight Zone: The Movie.] He and his wife used to
worship The New York Times, and suddenly The Times was saying
that when the helicopter crashed the first thing John did was to run
to each of the cameras, rip the film out of them, and run off and
hide for three days. Now he phoned them and said, "The first thing I
did after the crash was to try to pull the victims out of the water.
There were witnesses to this. The next day I was in court, and the
film of the accident was already in custody."
The Times checked this and said, "Yes, you're right, we're wrong." And John said, "So you'll print a retraction?" And they said, "Absolutely not." And he said, "I'll sue you," and The Times said, "We'd welcome the lawsuit, goodbye."
I went to court once with him and his wife and it was like the O.J. Simpson trial. It was an absolute nightmare.
SR: I've heard people who I was shocked to hear saying things. For instance, Al Alvarez, the poet and critic, was quoted saying, "Oh, Rushdie always wanted to be the most famous writer and now he's the most famous writer in the world and it serves him right."
When the threat was first declared, the then foreign secretary of England said, "Oh, the British people have no love for this book. It compares England to Hitler's Germany." And I thought, "Where? Will you just show me where in the novel I do that?"
Do you think he had read it and
that it was his own decision to say that?
SR: Of course not. The person who is now the foreign secretary, who I have to deal with in this matter, was once asked what had been his most unpleasant task in politics. He answered, "Reading The Satanic Verses." There're endless comments about how arrogant and personally unpleasant I am. Invariably written by people I have never met in my life.
People who don't have a persona
that exists in the media, don't really believe you when you say
this. And me, with what small measure of fame I have, there's a "me"
out there that's living a life completely apart from me. When I talk
to Mel Gibson, I'm talking to Mel Gibson and I'm reading that he's
shacked up with some woman in Santa Monica, but I'm talking to him
and his wife. There's a Mel Gibson that does a lot of stuff that Mel
doesn't know anything about.
SR: There were one or two things where I have actually gone to court and got apologies. For instance, there was a story published about me in the American Esquire, which was picked up here in the tabloids, which said my friends ran a pimping service to provide me with women.
But that's the tabloids. I guess
it's their art. It's like writing a novel. You say, well if I were
in that situation I would want women. How would I get them? I'd ask
my friends. And then suddenly it becomes a reality.
SR: There is a strong segment of the British media community which thinks that every penny spent on protecting me is wasted. Therefore, the more that's spent on me, the more wastage there is. And if it's spent on me to-heaven forbid-have fun, that is really hideous. A segment of the Conservative party thinks that. There is a sort of sound byte which goes, "He's a bastard, he's a dreadful writer, unreadable, arrogant, he knew what he was doing, he got himself in trouble with `his own people' and now the political party that he's always criticized and the police force that he has always been critical of have to save his ass. And why should we do this? Plus, he's an immigrant!"
All these are dreadful things. Heaven forbid that a writer should ever be arrogant. It's never happened. All writers are complete pussy-cats.
Anybody who gets involved in a
circus like this is not acceptable. It wasn't for John Landis, it
isn't for O.J. Simpson.
SR: Unfortunately there is this sea of bile that we have to swim in. There's no way out.
That's one of the strange prices
of any kind of fame. It's the Chinese curse: you get what you wish
for, but not quite exactly.
SR:I guess that's what Alvarez was saying. I was fame hungry beforehand, but I don't think more than averagely so. And certainly it's of no pleasure to me that the thing I should be famous for is not my writing.
I thought that myself coming here.
Would I be coming here if it were just you as a writer? The answer
is, probably not. I would have met you sometime, but Shift
magazine wouldn't have sent me.
SR: No, this would not be happening.
And their interest is in media,
and the effect of media on culture and all of that. And this dilemma
makes you something more than a novelist.
SR: The strange thing is that this was one of the major themes of The Satanic Verses. It's all about the media, and the globalization and the instant messages-both the characters are actors. I remember I gave an interview just after the book came out-before the trouble-where I talked about the function of angels in the ancient world. In the world of prophecy, angels bring you messages, they bring you the news. And now I suggested that what we have instead of angels is television. Television occupies the position in our culture that the angels had. We watch television to get the message.
Then killing the messenger suddenly means something else. And of course, it means killing an angel.
Two Frustrated Careers and One Audition
Cronenberg: Have you ever written
Rushdie: Let me just say that I'm completely obsessed with movies. I've always said that movies had more impact on me than novels in a formational way. So the answer is yes, I've twice tried to write a screenplay and what happened on each occasion is that it turned into a part of a novel I was writing.
For instance, I actually wrote a draft screenplay of an honour-killing which took place in England that I read about in the paper. You know, where a father kills his daughter because she's consorting with a white boy and she's brought shame on the family so he kills her. I wrote a draft of a screenplay for that and then I realized that I was actually writing this novel about honour and shame. It was quite obviously an English variation on the theme that I was exploring over there, so, in the end, I made it into a chapter in the novel, Shame.
Ingmar Bergman felt that he wasn't
really an artist because he should have been a novelist. And he had
done some major films and still felt that. So when he published his
Four Screenplays of Ingmar Bergman, he kind of rewrote them
to novelize them, really to legitimize them. He admitted that he
felt this sort of inferiority complex, that the novel was high art
but film wasn't. I must admit that sometimes I still feel the
presence of that hierarchy myself.
SR: Well, that's ridiculous of course.
I wonder. Sometimes when I'm being
driven mad by studio notes, for example, I think I should just go
away and write a novel. Now could I? I don't know that I could. I'm
feeling a little desperate about it because of the money involved in
film. Actually, the collaboration of film is good, I don't feel that
as a constraint, but it's certainly not your own show the way a
novel is. You have to be kind of machiavellian, kind of
manipulative, whether you want to or not, because of other people's
I've always had this view that the more money there is behind an artistic project, the harder it is to create an independent vision. But I do think there is a thing about writing, because you can take a paper and pencil and sit in a corner and write. It's so cheap to make it, that gives you more or less complete freedom.
Yes, it does. And if you write
your manuscript or novel, it's there, it does exist, and if you
write your screenplay nothing exists. It's just an idea.
Exactly. I think a reason why I have not written a screenplay is because of that loss of control. Especially if you are a writer, for God's sake, you're the least important person in the movies if you're a writer.
Well, that's not true, but it does
seem that way at times. It does get forgotten. Any movie is an
industrial enterprise. And you deny it as much as you can, because
ultimately it's this little rectangle of film and everything that's
in there is real and everything outside the frame doesn't exist. But
you're living outside the frame mostly. So it's a strange
schizophrenia that you have to have.
SR: I'm constantly tempted by movies. I was having a production meeting with a writer and a producer about some of my work and at the end of it I said I was toying with the idea of directing something. I just said it as kind of a joke. Three hours later I get a message saying, "If you ever want to do this, please call us first." And that's made me sort of think, well, if they're able to cough up some cash, what's the worst....
This would be fascinating. I've
met several writers who have ended up directing and the results are
very varied. Some of them absolutely hated it. It was the most
hideous experience. Of course, they had never had to deal with
actors, the technology, space.
The moving of people and that little film cube through space was one of the first things that I found very difficult because I always thought I would be a novelist. It never occurred to me that I would make a film. And just the moving of people around a room is sculptural, it's balletic, it's choreographic and it's difficult to master. And you're doing this with incredible time pressures and people pointing at their watches. And some people absolutely love it and some loathe it. But I suppose you never find out until you do it.
SR: I almost became an actor. I had this lust. After I left university I spent a couple of years trying to be an actor and got out in time.
I don't think you ever get out in
time. I've actually acted in a couple of things, and I've been very
terrible, and my wife lets me know this. But I did one thing, a
little film called Blue, and I thought I wasn't bad in that.
SR: Funnily, I think that I might be better now. Because, looking back on my young self being an actor, to put it crudely, I waved my arms too much. There was too much movement.
It's amazing. The best actors,
they don't blink, and then when they do blink, it's very
significant. The stillness of great actors is incredible.
SR: Well, I think I would be stiller now.
Is this an audition?
SR: It could be, if you had a part.
Make 'Em Weep
Rushdie: I don't know if you have this experience with your films, but for my work, Midnight's Children was a book that people loved and Shame was a book that people admired. The Satanic Verses, leaving aside the people who didn't like it, was not a novel that inspired love. A lot of people admired it. Haroun and the Sea of Stories was a book that people loved. It seems to create in its readers a deeper emotional response than I've ever felt coming back at me. People cried. I've made people faint before, but never made people cry.
Cronenberg: Faint! Well, that's
very good. I've done that, but it's-
SR: I did it at a reading!
Oh, at a reading. I was going to
say, it's easier to do with film, because you have a group of people
and it's a visceral thing. I think with The Fly I had some people go
SR: I did a reading in Germany for Midnight's Children, several years ago, and there's this scene where the boy gets a piece of his finger chopped off when he slams the door on it. And when I read this I suddenly saw people leaving. And I thought, "Oh God, they don't like it." And then I realized they were carrying someone out. This lady had passed out.
SR: But I think crying is better. Actually both is all right.
I think crying is harder. I
shouldn't say that. I've seen some films, Forrest Gump is an
example, that become so sentimental, and yes, you get people crying.
But so what? Because it's easy to provoke crying, you know, you kill
the kid's dog and you'll get people crying.
The Chip is Mightier Than the Pen
Cronenberg: Is there any
justification for thinking that the novel is an innately superior
art form to cinema?
Rushdie: I don't think so. I think if you look at the century, if we could all construct our own lists of the great movies of that period, and then if you construct a list of the great novels of that period, I think it would be about the same number. But on the other hand, there are probably more good movies in a year than good novels.
That's a scary thought.
SR: I think that's probably true. Certainly if I read two or three good novels in a year I think it's been a pretty good year. If I only see two or three movies I like in a year I would think that would be a rather disastrous year.
In a sense, literature has always
fed the movie system.
SR: I was just talking to a young British writer called Philip Kerr who has just sold his new book to Hollywood for a million dollars. His agent said to him, "The only treatments anybody's reading in Hollywood now are called novels."
Except that I would be really
surprised if any of those people actually read the novels all the
way through. They all get coverage. Coverage is a three-page summary
of the novel. And that's what people really read.
SR: But I do think there is a significant way in which our culture is still print-led. That somehow the ideas in this culture still come from print. And then television, cinema, everything grabs them and makes them bigger, takes them to billions of people instead of thousands.
On a crude physical level, I'm
thinking more now than ever it's important to learn to type because
of computers. One might have thought that by now that would be
archaic technology but in fact....
SR: It's the future.
It is the future. Do you write on
SR: I use an Apple Mac. The reason I taught myself to use a computer was because of this damn situation,
Oh really, not before?
SR: No. I wrote The Satanic Verses on an electronic typewriter. It was a typewriter with a few hundred word memory so it gave me a little of this. At that stage I had always been a very conservative writer in my habits. I would have to be in my room, I would have to have my stuff around me, et cetera, et cetera.
I always used to envy my friends who could write just about anywhere. When I suddenly found myself in a situation of endless hotel rooms, I thought, "I've got to find a way of making these places familiar." So I had somebody go into my old house and get me out some stuff from my workroom, pictures I would look at on the wall.
But East, West and my new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh are the first two books I've written exclusively on a computer.
Now J.G. Ballard [whose book
Crash Cronenberg has just adapted in his latest screenplay],
being the prophet of technology that he is, said he can tell when a
novel has been written on a computer.
SR: I think that's crap.
I do too. He said, "They just go
on and on." And I said, "You know, people have written by hand and
gone on and on."
SR: In my view, my writing has got tighter and more concise because I no longer have to perform the mechanical act of re-typing endlessly. And all the time that was taken up by that mechanical act, is freed to think. So I have more thinking and less machine-time.
I remember almost not changing a
sentence that was bad because it would mean cutting and pasting.
SR: Of course. And I had this kind of fetish about presenting clean copy. I don't like presenting my publisher with pages with lots of crossings-out and scribbling. So I would be manic at the end of typing a page where actually I didn't want to change anything, not at all, I just didn't want all these crossings-out.
So there's no doubt in my mind that the computer's improved my writing. And for exactly the opposite reason of what Ballard says.
Kill Me But Don't Censor Me
Cronenberg: I've had movies
censored, and I realize that I could never second- guess a censor. I
don't know how they think because they'll want to cut something out
of my movie that I would never imagine they would.
Rushdie: I had the strange experience of becoming a subject of a movie-this appalling movie made in Pakistan called International Guerrillas. It's about the freedom fighters of Islam searching for me, trying to kill me. I'm the villain of the movie. There is a character called my name who is the author of The Satanic Verses who wears a series of appalling safari suits. And every time this guy arrives on camera there's a sort of satanic "dahh dahh." And the cameraman always looks to his feet. And there's a slow "pan" up-
That's a "tilt." It's a very
common mistake and I get very pedantic.
SR: No, I appreciate it. I would make the same pedantic correction about writing. And this guy, me, lives in what appears to be an island in the Philippines, protected by what appears to be the Israeli army. And various members of these Islamic radicals were arrested by these Jewish soldiers and are brought to the "me" character who tortures them, has them tied up and cut about with swords. And at the end of the film I actually get killed by the Holy Book itself. The Koran appears in the sky above me and fries me with lightning.
This dreadful film is so badly made that it's actually difficult to take it too seriously, but it came to England and was banned. And I found myself in the strangest position. I'm fighting an anti-censorship fight and here's somebody banning a film which is brought about by me. It ended up with me writing to the censors here, guaranteeing that I would not take legal action against them. And telling them that I do not wish to be protected in this way.
It's a wonderful parable about how censorship doesn't work. If that film had been banned, it would have become the hottest video in town. Everybody would have seen it. Instead, it was unbanned at my request and the producers booked the biggest cinema in Bradford, which is the largest Muslim community, and nobody came. They lost a fortune, and the film just died overnight.
Whoops, I Just Converted
Cronenberg: Are you good at
religion, are you religious?
Rushdie: No, I am totally without religion. I was brought up in a family where religion was just not around. And it just faded in me. However, I am very interested in it. Because if you grow up in India and you spend all your life writing about India you actually can't write about India without writing about religion.
Why did I read that you had
converted to Islam?
SR: Five years ago there was a moment when I made a stupid mistake and when I was approached by a number of British Muslims here who sort of seduced me into making some statement of support for the faith, and said that if I were to do this then in return there would be a rapid amelioration of the situation. I said very stupid things for a couple of weeks.
SR: It's one of those things that you get seduced into for good reasons, where you think, "OK, I will show these people I am not their enemy, I want to calm things down." And that sucks you towards saying things which you shouldn't say because they happen not to be what you think, you know? Yeah.
The moment I made the statement it immediately made me feel physically sick because I felt that in some way I had lost my language. Up to that point the one thing that kept me going was that I could defend everything I said and I could talk about it in my ordinary language and not have to use any kind of special guarded phrases, you know, just talk. And suddenly I found myself in this compromised position. So very rapidly I took steps to say, "Look, this was a mistake and this is not my position, and while I'm not hostile to Muslims at large, I could not really, truthfully, call myself Muslim."
Sitting here talking to you, I was
having trouble thinking of you as a practising, devout Muslim.
SR: Basically, I was offered a deal. It became rapidly clear that it was a mistake to have made the statement and that the people I was dealing with were completely unreliable.
You see that means you'd not be a very good politician, doesn't it?
Dirty Jokes Behind the Lie
Cronenberg: You say you can you
never go back to Bombay?
Rushdie: No. It's completely dreadful for me. That is the worst thing, finding it difficult to go to India is, of all the deprivations, the worst. Because, well, because I'm from there. My family is still there and my mother lives in Pakistan and I'm not allowed to go to Pakistan. I'm personally banned there.
That's the worst place for you to
go, a Muslim country.
SR: I will never go to Pakistan again, no question. But it's an indication of how trumped up this whole thing is. My mother has been living there throughout this time and there's been absolutely no trouble. You know, she hasn't had a rude phone call.
Why not? Because you believe that
in the streets-
SR: Because all of the people are not like that. She goes to the bazaar and people say, "How is your son? Isn't it dreadful what's happening?"
Oh? Now that's so interesting to
SR: But that's the reality.
The image you have of it is that
she would be stoned in the streets.
SR: I know. People say, "These crazy Muslims, we couldn't stop them, and they're bastards." One of the things that's not given a lot of attention is how much Muslim support for me there's been.
Well, that's encouraging to hear.
SR: The thing called Islamism is not the same thing as Islam. This political thing which we call fundamentalism, everybody is scared stiff of it. It is not a religious movement, it's a political fascist movement which happens to be using a certain kind of religious language.
It's like the Christian
fundamentalists in the States.
SR: Sure, but because there is less knowledge in the West of what's happening in these countries, there's a tendency not to understand that this is a political movement, a tendency to say that it is a spontaneous outpouring of the true religious feelings of the people.
Yes, I know that people do think
SR: Yes, and also to not notice the fact that the people who are most oppressed by these movements are Muslims. That's to say the people most oppressed by the Iranian regime are the people of Iran.
Ultimately it's easy to think that
they also got what they deserved, that somehow this is an expression
of what they really want.
SR: But there's no such thing as a homogeneous culture which can demand not to be criticized. Iran, for example, is famous as the place in which the most pornographic jokes about the prophet are made.
SR: Iran is famous as being a place with dirty stories, dirty religious stories. It's their culture. No culture is one thing.
If someone were doing that now in
Iran, under these-
SR: Oh, it would get wiped out.
Now they would.
SR: But it's still in the streets and in people's houses et cetera. It's an irreverent culture. My writing has always come out of that idea of the mixture, the kind of idealized, mongrel truth. We should avoid at all costs any pedigree version of the truth.
Cronenberg: I was going to ask you
about driving, because I've raced cars....
Rushdie: I've hardly driven a car in six and a half years. But I love cars.
How about motorcycles? Ever drive
SR: No, I never did motorcycles. But I used to get a great deal of pleasure from driving. I had one wonderful day a few years when a friend of mine who liked racing cars arranged for me to go to Silverstone [a major international racing circuit in England] and be taught the track.
Oh, that's fabulous, yes. Did you
take a Saloon car or a Formula car?
SR: It was a sort of Rally car. But actually just as enjoyable as they took us onto the skid pad.
Oh yeah, that's fantastic.
SR: That was great. We spent a few hours learning all this counter-intuitive stuff that you have to do on the skid pad.
SR: And then we went out on the track and by the end of the day I felt very proud that I was managing to drive the racing line, and learning all these amazing things, like if you slow down and drive you go faster.
That's exactly right. Driving fast
and messy is slow.
SR: I remember the first lap I went 'round Silverstone, the instructor who was sitting with me said, "Look, you're going to be coming to a point where you'll be going very fast and there will be what seems to be a solid wall in front of you and you've got to turn a corner and at that point every instinct in your body will be saying `Brake!', and I will be shouting `Accelerate!' Do me a favour, accelerate."
Yeah, otherwise you'll be into the
SR: Counter-intuitive acts are very, very interesting to experience because you really have to unlearn everything that your instincts are saying.
That's right. I put a 1962 Ferrari short-wheelbase Berlinetta, a very expensive car, into a concrete wall because I had not learned the thing that you had to learn. I've learned it since. I didn't get hurt, and I was racing the same car two weeks later. Now new reflexes have been built into my nervous system. Of course, in Canada you get ice and snow in the winter and you can use some of this to slide around. But I learnt it the hard way by putting this machine into the wall.
Reservoir Dogs and Fame
Cronenberg: It never used to be a
part of a movie's release that a director would go on the road with
the picture. Maybe the stars.
Rushdie: But now, of course, the director is the star, or as big as the stars.
And if you achieve what I want,
which is that you have a voice in your movie that's unique to you,
then you're still the only one they want to speak to about what the
movie is. And you gotta go on the road and then you are in these
hotel rooms and you've got the best hotel rooms and you've got the
food... and you're a bird in a gilded cage.
SR: And people don't sympathize.
No. The horrible thing is you've
got these obsessive fans. At the Berlin Film Festival, for example,
they're showing your movie and the fans are outside at three in the
morning and you say, "I'm too tired," and they are so incensed, so
insulted that they've been there for three hours. And you want to
say, "Well, I didn't ask you to be." You don't want to argue with
fans like that. And the attitude becomes quite strange. You can see
them going home and ripping up your photos or burning your videos.
You hate to think that's what would happen.
SR: It is a problem, the glamour of high-security operations.
Glamour has always been a
two-edged sword. It's Hollywood Babylon. People love to see the
SR: I remember years ago thinking that. When writers become very famous as people, like Norman Mailer.
Of course, he made an effort to do
SR: It must be hard for Norman to do his job 'cause part of what a writer has to do is be invisible.
SR: And watch. If you become what everyone watches then how do you learn anything?
It's like filmmakers who finally
don't observe people but only observe other films. Their references
are only to other films. John Carpenter and a lot of other people
whose films suddenly became only references to other films. That's
something that I fight. In a way you can say, "Well, Pulp Fiction is
OK because that's what it's about."
It's very interesting that the only world that Pulp Fiction knows is of the movies. I know people say it's not as violent as Reservoir Dogs, that it's much nicer. But you wonder why you can take it, because there are violent things that happen in it. But of course, it's all movie, it's a closed loop.
SR: I preferred Reservoir Dogs.
I did too, by far.
SR: But I could not watch the torture scene.
Are You Interactive?
Cronenberg: I torture myself about
the inevitability of being dated on film. The technology will make
you obsolete even if the story doesn't.
Rushdie: Because the film will look old?
Because there are kids who can't
watch black and white, they won't watch a black and white film.
SR: Let alone silence.
A silent film, of course. Or
people who won't watch subtitles. I'm very conscious that my films
are always going to be seen by more people on tape or laser disc
than in the cinema. Just what a film is has changed because you can
have a library of videotapes and you can watch your favourite scenes
and can choose not to watch others.
This is the whole interactive art thing. Can it be a new art form? There's a sense in which every art form is interactive because you or whoever is reading your novel can bring their own things to it.
I've written a script for MGM about gaming and my own version of that. And there have been attempts to do books that were interactive in the sense that you had chapters that you could shuffle.
SR: That's right. There was a writer, a British writer in the '60s called Bryan Stanley Johnson who did a lot of this trickery. [Johnson's 1969 book, The Unfortunates, was published in a box of 27 loose-leaf sections, to be shuffled in any order.]
Actually, I think you can't do it. There's just this book, there's just this object, and what you can do technically inside the format of just writing it down is almost infinite. It's just inexhaustibly infinite. I'm more interested in that than in these more physical foolings around with the book.
I'm not interested in, for instance, one of these writers of what's called cyberpunk fiction who had written a book which was available only on a floppy disc. [William Gibson's story, Agrippa, was published on diskette.]
SR: And had built into the program a thing which meant that each time you scrolled through, read a page, the previous page would be deleted. So that by the time you finished the book, you didn't have the book anymore. I don't know if this was a device to prevent replication or what. It seemed to be completely futile, because the great pleasure of a book is re-reading.
That old technology of having the
paperback in your pocket is very hard to beat.
SR: There's this thing about the death of novels and it has been so for about a hundred years. I think it's too useful an object. It's cheap and useful and fulfills a function that other things don't fulfill.
But I think it's quite possible that 20 years from now you won't have hardback novels.
There's also the Internet. If you
have a modem for your laptop you can access the Internet wherever
you are. It's a reality that's growing by leaps and bounds.
SR: I'm not, at this time, online.
I'm not either and I'm not sure I
wanna be. I have trouble reading the newspapers, never mind
wandering through other people's online craziness.
SR: I have friends who are very into all that. I've watched somebody, as they say, "surfing the Net," but it seems to me that 99 per cent of what's there is absolute-
SR: Mind rot and nonsense. I think there are two functions of it that would be useful. One is access to reference material. You can get into the Library of Congress or you can be hooked into the Encyclopedia Britannica or whatever it might be. That's useful. And the other thing is mail, the idea that sitting here I could dial my American publisher and post him my manuscript and he'd have it a minute later. That's useful. So email and reference are useful functions.
But all these conferences where you talk endlessly about nothing. Who would want to be in there? They've got them about me, and there's nothing remotely interesting ever said.
Super Mario Meets Two Great Artists
Cronenberg: Do you think there
could ever be a computer game that could truly be art?
There's a beautiful game called
Myst. Have you seen that?
SR: I haven't seen that.
They say this is democratic art,
that is to say, the reader is equal to the creator. But this is
really subverting what you want from art. You want to be taken over
and you want to be-
SR: Shown something.
Exactly. Why be limited by
yourself? But they say, "No, it's a collaboration."
SR: I like computer games. I haven't played many. At the Super Mario level I think they're great fun. They're like crosswords because once you've beaten the game, you've solved all its possibilities.
There's nothing left.
SR: Whereas this is not true of any work of art. You can experience it over and over.
And if you come back to it in five years it's a different work, it's a different thing.
There's a different thing between a puzzle and a book. These are just very clever puzzles and they are very enjoyable and they require certain skills which are quite clever, useful to develop. Sometimes they make you use your mind in very interesting ways because it requires natural steps. You have to think in ways you wouldn't expect in order to find the solution. But it's just a game.
You would say, then, that a game
designer could never be an artist?
SR: Never say never. Somebody could turn up who would be a genius. But if one thinks about non-computer games, there are many which people say have the beauty of an art form. People say that about cricket, people say about every game.
But actually, they're not art. You can have great artists playing games. You can think about a great sports figure as being equivalent to an artist. I could see that there could be an artist of a games player, a kind of Michael Jordan of the Nintendo.
They have those competitions
SR: In the end, a work of art is something which comes out of somebody's imagination and takes a final form. It's offered and is then completed by the reader or the viewer or whoever it may be. Anything else is not what I would recognize as a work of art.
"I'm Off the Case"
Cronenberg: Have you been tempted
to revise your books after they've been issued?
Rushdie: Not with my fiction. The fact is, everything is imperfect. Actually, just yesterday I reached the point of no return with my new novel, The Moor's Last Sigh. I've corrected the proof and now I sort of go away. They put in the corrections, then they print and bind it.
In film you also do the printing
and that's it, it's gone.
SR: So, as of yesterday, I'm off the case.
You'll just be a reader now.
SR: I'm unemployed. I have to of think what to do with the rest of my life.
This interview was originally published at David Croneberg website.