Author Salman Rushdie urged those who care about “the culture of this country” to rise to its defense during a May 10 talk on “Literature and Politics in the Modern World.”
“When I say ‘we’ I mean all of you,” Rushdie told an audience that filled McCosh 50. “We are the troops of the defense.”
Rushdie said one of the problems America faces today is that the administration of President Donald Trump wants to “rewrite the narrative of this country.” People of power and writers, he said, are often in conflict.
“It became very obvious to me at an early age that simply the act of responding, in a book, to the world as we know it can become the reason for a political conflict because there are people who don’t want the world to be described that way,” he said. Rushdie, who faced death threats after the 1988 publication of The Satanic Verses, added: “You may have heard that occasionally I’ve had some trouble with politicians.”
In choosing to write about the outside world, Rushdie said, a novelist risks “the loss of human scale” in the story, causing readers to lose interest. But art can discuss contemporary issues and still leave an impact as long as human beings remain “at the center of the frame,” he said.
Despite threats to cut funding in the arts across the nation, Rushdie believes that artists “must continue to do our work” to affect the culture of the country. It is the art for which an age is remembered, he said: “The power of art to outlast tyranny is very great.”
“Authoritarian regimes may, for a short time, control the present, but we control the future,” Rushdie said. “And that’s what we have to remember — that we have to keep creating that work that will tell the future what the present is like.”
Asked by a student about advice for young journalists today, Rushdie responded that journalists have been energized since the new administration took office. The public is even returning to newspapers in response to hostility voiced by the White House, he said: “It could be a golden age for journalism.”