11 theses on art and politics #8 & #9

verses8. The cartoon is contained in the frame, and can safely say so much more because of that protection. Oftentimes what is illustrated in art and comedy can be far more critical than the editorials or headline ‘breaking news’. But as we also know, even in Denmark, politics can spill over the border of this containment. There are many such incidents – it seems no coincidence today that the 20 year old furore around Salman Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses marks the beginning of a global ‘attention’ to a politics of Islam. Rushdie’s novel can be discussed in a wide variety of ways of course. Certain anthropologists identified the ‘Rushdie Affair’ as a moment of awakening for a diasporic identity formation in the UK (we can safely consign them to a sidebar, see Hutnyk 2006). Other writers, however, assimilate the event to new times. Recently Kenan Malik attempts a strange amalgam of anti-racist activist history and condemnation of ‘the multiculturalist’ tendency in the British context that owes much, but does not fully acknowledge, the work of Sivinandan and the Institute of Race Relations. What happened around Rushdie’s book? Banned first a few months earlier in India, there was then a celebrated, televised, burning of the book in Bradford by those who, according to Malik, acted in large part:

“because of disenchantment with the secular left, on the one hand, and the institutionalisation of multicultural policies, on the other. The disintegration of the left in the 1980s, the abandonment by leftwing organisations of the politics of universalism in favour of ethnic particularism, and the wider shift from the politics of ideology to the politics of identity, pushed many young, secular Asians towards Islamism as an alternative worldview” (http://www.kenanmalik.com/lectures/rushdie_boi.html accessed 6 June 2009)

The critique of ethnicity, identity and multiculturalism misfires, however, where Malik insists on universalism as if it were the only and antithetical inverse of identity and ethnicity. Caught in a complimentary logic, Malik repeats the obvious and automatic reaction – and endorses an integration model for Britain. The case can be, and has been, made that ‘ethnic funding’ elevated culturalist ‘community leaders’ as a ‘bulwark’ with which to undermine militant anti-racist alliances, but to then diagnose the problem as culture and insist on its overcoming in some naïve secular French Republic type model is a deeply conservative, even nationalist, error.

More interesting is Gayatri Spivak’s essay on The Satanic Verses, which uses the occasion of Rushdie to consider other cases written out of the record (Shahbano made a ‘figure’ in a contest over votes), to reflect on the position of Southall Black Sisters in relation to the ‘controversy’ as crisis, to then in this context think about ‘freedom of expression’-talk and the ‘uses to which the spectacular rational abstractions of democracy can sometimes be put’ (Spivak 1993: 241). Rushdie, accused of complicity with the West’s imperialist ‘crusade’ against Islam by Ayatollahs and others, surely did not know or intend the extent to which his little fiction would offend, even as he aimed to offend indeed (as he had oftentimes done – Midnights’ Children and Shame both also banned).

The Satanic Verses, as art, went unread. Instead something of a rumour (Spivak 1993:228) spread that Rushdie had engaged in ‘gossip’ about the prophet, that he had blasphemed against the Quran. Again politics, here on the part of postcolonial metropolitan activists (not subalterns) proceeds without full representation. Of course it is almost bad taste now to think of Rushdie’s book in terms of the theoretical interests or fashions of its time of writing. The controversy has a different context now, that cannot ignore the US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, Iran was central in a different way, an the Ayatollah railed against America. Then also, the death of the author thematic, signed under the proper names of Barthes and Foucault, alongside celebrations of the schizoid self, did not make for easy jokes about he fatwah.

Spivak pointed out at the time that there might be critics of her reading of The Satanic Verses that might complain that she ‘gives resistance no speaking part’ in Rushdie’s text (Spivak 1993:226). But if the book does not enact resistance as a character, perhaps we can agree with Spivak that to ‘“state the problem” is not bad politics’. She continues: ‘In fact, it might be poor judgement to consider academy or novel as straight blueprint for action on the street’ (Spivak 1993:227). I do not find this far from Adorno’s critique of an introspective protest against order that is indifferent to, and so compatible with, that order. Rushdie’s book explores blasphemy and ambiguity within Islam – a complication neither trenchant defenders of the Holy Book, nor those who attack Islam, and desecrate the book in prisons like Bahgram or Guantanamo, can assimilate.

Any art as blueprint for action of course again invokes the metaphor of the architect, not the bees. A novel, or academic test, as blueprint for action condemns actors to repetition (18th Brumaire) and containment (its not the 1960s anymore). This is true if one is wanting postcolonial engagement around race and gender ambivalence, or if revolutionary change is a goal – in each case scripted responses invite containment.

9. Book burning has its own heritage – degenerate art, lost libraries, the exotic image of Alexandria and the horrors of National Socialism. Pornographic books destroyed, Andre Malraux’s manuscript burned on his capture in 1944, the Leuven University library in Belgium in WW1, the Jaffna, Sarevo and Abhazian libraries in recent civil wars. Kafka’s books, the Master’s manuscript in Bulgakov’ Margarita , the chivalry books of Don Quixote,  the firemen destroying books in F˚451

On May 10, 1933 the Deutsche Studentenschaft (German Student Association) burned a great many books in Berlin’s Opernplatz after proclaiming them degenerate and un-German.

In 1953 Senator McCarthy and Eisenhower ordered overseas US libraries to remove from their shelves books by communists and fellow-travellers (they burned them).

Rushdie’s book burned in Bradford, insults the Quran. The Quran itself associates the word of god with the honey of bees (‘Honey is a remedy for every illness and the Qur’an is a remedy for all illness of the mind, therefore I recommend to you both remedies, the Qur’an and honey’ (Bukhari) http://www.islamicresearch.org/bees%20hidden%20miracle.htm accessed June 5 2009). Beekeepers know that smoke is a tool of control. Rushdie’s insult is to make pornography of the revelation, the sacred origin of this text. He inserts new verses into the revelation, and authorship of them is given to a doubly mischevious archangel. As they appear in the drama of the book, those verses were of course already something to be interpreted politically, in terms of blueprint and control. They are a script the book excised in exactly the most insulting passage that offended those in Bradford. Rushdie has the ‘businessman’, a false but read as if the, prophet, tussle with the angel in a way that makes the revelation of the book pornographic or at least obscene. The prophet wrestles with the archangel in a cave 500 feet below the summit of Mount Cone with tongues in mouths and fists round balls only to end up with ‘Mahound’ pinned to the ground and the archangel’s mouth ‘open and making the voice, the Voice, pour out … [and] pour all over him, like sick’ (Rushdie 1988:123). That Mahound awakes later in the cave and realizes a previous visitation had been Shaitan’ ‘that he had been tricked, so that the devil came to him in the guise of the  archangel, so that the verses he memorized, the ones he recited in the poetry tent, were not the real thing but its diabolical opposite, not godly, but satanic’. Mahound rushes back to the city to expunge a previous false revelation – ‘to expunge the foul verses that reek of brimstone and sulphur, to strike them for the record for ever and ever, so that they will survive in just one or two unreliable collections’ (Rushdie 1988:123).

Of course this is an insult to Islam, and in some ways indeed worse, more mischievous, than the insults so well known in Bahgram. Have you ever burnt a book? Golden Bough…


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[Spoiler alert: the comments are closed on this particular post because the twisted madness of the first ten or so responses – which I have happily left up as forensic evidence – included various ultra dubious film clips that somehow attract a mad number of useless pingbacks if comments are open. If you are not a robot, and I know many of you are struggling with that ontological head-frak, it is still possible to comment elsewhere. cheers.]

14 thoughts on “11 theses on art and politics #8 & #9”

  1. [spoiler alert: the next 10 or so comments are from another planet entirely – ed]

    Islam is the work of Satan.

    It is retrograde and degenerate, as many former Muslims who have managed to escape it will testify. At last in France people like Michel Houellebecq can criticise it openly. The most telling, and damming, aspect of Islam is that it basically calls Jesus a liar and contradicts itself in the process. Jesus was who he said he was, Jesus was not crucified, therefore Jesus was a liar and all Chrsitians are delusional…Of course Jesus wasn’t crucified in Islam’s version of events, the reason the Son of Man appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. So of course Satan and his followers, namely Muslims, have to deny the singularly most important fact in all of human history.

    The reaction to the book proved that. What would be the Islamic reaction to a Monty Python The Life of Mohammed? Exactly, WW3.

    The whole issue of Islamophobia is part of a wider Church of Diversianity which only every ultimately leads to gas chambers. It was nice tolerance of Nazis, not to mention the mother of abominations, the collusive Vatican and half of Catholic France, that led to Auschwitz.

    When will people stop being so effing ‘smart’ and liberal and start calling a spade a spade? Spivak is a snake oil merchant whose only power is to dazzle her dalit-esque students with utterly meaningless verbiage. Of course she will insult McDonalds in Dehli, has she ever had to work in one to stop her child starving to death?

    Anyway, we are in the End Times acording to Christianity…at least when Jesus comes back the turd religion that is Islam will be wiped off the face of the earth along with its stone age, violent, racist, insular, homophobic, sexist and delusional nations and cultures.



  2. http://www.chick.com/reading/tracts/1031/1031_01.asp

    “The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. … We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. … How does one man assert his power over another … By making him suffer. Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is inflicting pain and humiliation. … A world of fear and treachery and torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. … If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face–for ever.”

    1984, Orwell


  3. While I’m on the case I might as well go the whole 9 yards:


    Would Mohammed die for anyone? Did he? Did he f**k!

    Let’s compare som teachings…


    ““You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else?”


    “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him”.

    Ghandi (Hindu):

    “Truth is God”.


    Koran-Sura 33:6 “Accursed, they will be seized wherever found and slain with a (fierce) slaughter. (Such has been) the course of Allah with respect to those who have gone before; and you shall not find any change in the course of Allah. Allah has condemned the disbelievers, and has prepared for them Hell. Eternally they abide therein. They will find no lord, nor a supporter. The day they are thrown into Hell, they will say, “Oh, we wish we obeyed ALLAH, and obeyed His Messenger.”


  4. Iverted Racism…

    At precisely what point does tolerance become stupidity?


  5. Spot on CT.

    I am so sick of this ‘Liberal’ crap. Spivak is a philosophical Siren warbling to get anyone she can dead on the rocks of defunct Deconstruction. Each new groupie is another fat royalties cheque for her retirement fund.

    Sacrificing truth for a ‘liberality’ that is nothing more than a backup band for what ultimately becomes evil, Judith Butler for example, has wrecked the humanities for too long.


    1. I agree, Judith Butler is the prototypical intellectual lesbian.

      She rarely mentions it, but she had an abusive childhood and spent a lot of it in her basement reading Hegel (who could blame her?)

      But her entire career has been one attempt after another to drag the rest of us down into that bloody basement with her…a Lacanian crypt so removed from the real world is a schizoid alternate universe. Anyone who has witnessed a screaming baby come out of a bloody vaginal canal can be sure of one thing, performativity is a crock.

      And Islam. One of my favourite things to do to an Islamic Post Box, is point out to them that their precious veil originated in 16th Century Turkey when the Islamic women cottoned on to the fact that sailors thought they were sexier when half veiled. It added an exotic eroticism. The Islamic veil is nothing more than prick teasing. The men were pissed off of course, so they turned it into a gesture of contemptuous self control.


  6. Hey John,

    In the name of free speech, we ask that you leave our comments on here and see what people have to say.

    The CT Team


  7. .
    oh my, its halloween spam.
    total nuts. especially that Coulter – a WMD of her very own.

    (As of 26 Oct, Halloween is now on pause – comments for this post are closed before it gets too boring and the joke wears thin. Folks ought to find a better host site than You tube. Some good things over on Daily Motion. No need to clog this corner with grotesque masquerades. J.


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