Salman Rushdie says that he was taken completely by surprised by the reaction against The Satanic Verses.
Given how often Rushdie has been accused of writing The Satanic Verses with the express purpose of making trouble, it is understandable that he should wish to highlight the unexpected—the unprecedented—nature of the events that followed the novel’s publication. Even so, his retrospective account of himself as a bookish innocent, bewildered by the world’s coarse intrusion into the literary sphere, seems a little over-egged. By this point in his career, Rushdie, who had already been sued by Indira Gandhi for libelous statements in Midnight’s Children and had already seen his third novel banned in Pakistan, was better qualified than most to appreciate literature’s capacity for eliciting hostile, nonliterary responses.
There's nothing that new about it. There are comedians who are outraged that anyone would be offended by intentionally offensive jokes. Their excuse for it is that "he was TRYING to be offensive," as if it were self-evident that you should therefore not be offended. If someone is trying to be pleasant and inadvertently says something rude you should be insulted, but you have to chuckle politely at an obnoxious loudmouth?More troubling, however, than his exaggerated claim to naiveté is the case that Rushdie seems to be making for fiction’s immunity from political or religious anger. In a departure from the standard, liberal notion that literature must be free to offend, he proposes that literature, properly understood, cannot offend. Muslims who were insulted by The Satanic Verses were guilty of a category error: just like Anis Rushdie, [Rushdie's father who recognized himself as an abusive drunken character] in his “unsophisticated” reading of Midnight’s Children, they had confused fiction with other sorts of speech...
That seemed to have been a minor point, both in Rushdie's memoir and in the review. I jumped on it because I've written about this on here before. I should try not to run it completely into the ground.
The review should be the start of a new literary feud between Rushdie and Heller.