Tuesday, March 10, 2009


NOW READING: The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

I've just been humming along contentedly reading The Satanic Verses, except when taking time out to do things like take gigantic lawyer ethics exams for hours on a random Saturday. I'm just about halfway through and I have yet to find anything worth getting Muslims all in a snit, but then, I don't really pretend to understand what goes on in the heads of those who believe religion justifies violence.

So, my relationship with reading is interesting. I can't believe in only four and a half months I will again be able to read only what I want when I want ... unless of course I get some job that assigns reading to me, but that would require me to get a job so I'm not holding my breath on that one.

The Satanic Verses has a lot of weird characters running around doing a lot of weird things. It's pleasant enough, but I haven't really fallen in love with it. Every once in a while, though, there's a sentence or phrase that Rushdie puts SO WELL. He is a good writer, and I can get behind that. I may even be surprised and satisfied in the end when these characters come to some sort of resolution, if they do. I've been told I should also read Midnight's Children. We'll see.

The main weird thing that happens in this book is with each new scene you have to redetermine where and when you are. (Much like an episode of Lost, these days.) The funny thing is that Rushdie is using all these characters who I vaguely recognize are characters from the mythology of Islam --for example, I got that Mahound was Mohammed, which was apparently lost on some British reviewers when the book came out -- and sometimes I just have NO idea what is going on with them. It makes me wonder how differently the book resonates with people who have grown up with/know about the characters in the Islam story.

Today is a Jewish holiday. Apparently. I guess it's not high and holy enough for us to have the day off, but "Furim" (?) involves dressing up and giving out treats. Like a spring Hallowe'en? I'm not sure; when I tried asking some classmates why they dress up the reply was, "For the holiday." Like pulling teeth, people. Anyway, in one particular class this afternoon even the professor was dressed up, and he brought cookies. Good enough for me.

So here's the point. It just so happens that this class deals with the topic of negotiation, and my professor as part of today's discussion showed a few film clips, featuring very different looks at negotiation, from Life of Brian, Erin Brockovich, and Five Easy Pieces ("I want you to hold it between your knees!") As he brought up the Life of Brian clip from the computer, he was saying, "I don't know who this guy is supposed to be; he's running away from the Romans..." And I may be reading too much into this, but first of all I thought that it was odd that someone would show a clip from a movie JUST for the negotiation lesson (trying to get Brian to haggle in the market when he just wants to pay and continue outrunning the Roman centurions) while having no idea what the film is about. I mean, wouldn't you become at least a tiny bit curious what the movie was, even if the scene was brought to your attention by a colleague in an academic seminar or something? Wouldn't you at least look it up on Wikipedia or Netflix?

Secondly, though, I thought it seemed like an almost willful not knowing what the plot was. Here's where what may be my bias comes in: as I said, I could be reading too much into it, and by all accounts I am the one Out of My Element on Long Island asking "What holiday? Why are you dressing up? Cookies, really?" all day, and I can appreciate the subversive satisfaction to be felt by someone Jewish and devout in the face of my ignorance when they later demonstrate ignorance of anything Christ-related that many of us raised in a predominantly somewhat-Christian society take for granted ... but I still think it's weird to not have looked up the plot of the movie at ALL, and weird to claim not to know what's going on at ALL in that scene. Oh well.

The point of all these musings is that ... hmmm, I'm not sure what my point is. I guess it's that Life of Brian was controversial, making light of Jesus and all. Still, I'm told that blasphemy is a far more egregious "sin" in Islamic society than the West can understand, hence the Satanic Verses fatwa. It's supposed to be more like the revulsion and lack of sympathy we feel for child molesters, that in Islamic society they wouldn't feel bad to see a blasphemer die. THAT is messed up, I say. Get. Over. It. I've never understood, in any religion, why people think their gods and prophets are not strong enough to endure a little satire.

No comments: