Friday, May 23, 2008

Non-Western Literature Student Learning Analyses: On The Satanic Verses

I'm experimenting this year with adding blogging into the mix of things students do in my courses. So this semester I'll be posting post-group research/teaching project learning analyses from students in my Non-Western Literature course. The students' task in this assignment, one dimension of many they're being assessed on in this project, is simply to identify the one or two most interesting things they learned about the text and or writer on which they presented as a result of the planning, research, teaching, and reflection/assessment process they went through in doing the project. These are not meant to be full-blown analytical/interpretive/argumentative critical essays, but instead little personal, subjective pieces on what the text they taught meant to them.

Here's the last batch, from Team Wolverines, on Salman Rushie's The Satanic Verses. I wanted to start the course off with this novel, but the paperback wasn't available until later in the semester, so I decided to end it with a bang!


Mike leads off:

Over the course of this project I learned a great deal about the life and mind of Salman Rushdie. I learned first and foremost about the hardships that were placed upon him. For our presentation I focused primarily on the life of Salman Rushdie.

On February 14th, 1989 Khomeini, a Shi’a Muslim scholar, issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie. A fatwa is a death sentence that calls the general Muslim population to hunt and kill someone that a scholar decrees. Khomeini issued this fatwa without giving a legal reason for his judgment. So between 1989 and the present Rushdie has had 11 assassination attempts on his life. On a funnier note every year on February 14th Rushdie reports that he still receives a “Valentine's Day” card from Iran letting him know the country has not forgotten the vow to kill him.

Another interesting fact is that the fatwa didn’t suppress the book at all. In fact it glorified it. In mid-January after the fatwa the book flew off the shelves. In 1989 he sold more than 750,000 copies and earned 2 million dollars.

Now our team on the other hand focused on several issues. One was Rushdie and his political views on 9/11. We also focused heavily on his personal life. In class we discussed his love life as well. Apparently having a death sentence put on you makes you very attractive to the ladies. Salman Rushdie has had 4 wives in the last 30 years and all of them had been famous models or actresses.


Jen picks up the ball and runs with it:

Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a very interesting read. Given more time to read it, I think I would have really enjoyed it. I had a hard time grasping everything within the novel because there was so much to absorb and not only was it the end of the semester, but I had to present on it and I chose to write a final paper on the novel. I would really love to give this book another chance and reread it because I know there is so much that I missed in reading it over such a short period of time.

After reading just the first few pages I knew I was in for an interesting read. I couldn’t tell yet if I was going to enjoy it or absolutely hate it. In the end, it was a little bit of both. It was rather enjoyable to read, but I got lost in the words sometimes. The dream sequence chapters confused me the most of anything and I had to go back and read them a few times. As I read, I jotted down important events on post-it notes and put them at the beginning of each chapter just to summarize what happened because I kept forgetting.

Salman Rushdie really crammed a lot of things into one novel, but I can easily see why this is one of his most, if not the most, successful novels he has written. Ultimately, I most enjoyed the idea of an ambiguous narrator throughout this novel. I am writing my final paper on the possibility of multiple narrators in The Satanic Verses and the significance of this. The narrator, although he only addresses himself as “I” a few times, is what kept me going while reading this book.

There are many instances where the narrator hints to us who he could be, but each of these instances hints at a different narrator. Although we will never know who Rushdie intended the narrator to be, I love that. Had the first line of the book been, “I am Satan and I’m going to tell you a story,” I don’t think the novel would have been as interesting. There is a lot going on in The Satanic Verses and the fact that the narrator never actually reveals himself is what made the novel so enjoyable for me to read.

I also really enjoyed the pairing of good and evil and the idea that they can be one in the same. Obviously we can’t have one without the other, but the idea that good and evil are one in the same leads to the idea that the narrator could possibly be God and Satan, or even a human. I am still exploring the many possibilities and I am really enjoying it. I know that I will never know exactly who the narrator is or who Rushdie wanted it to be, but the research on it and the quotes from the novel pertaining to it are very interesting.


Shane continues:

I think the most interesting things I discovered about Rushdie during this would need to be his perception of good and evil, the falseness of religion and the idea of judging based on appearances. Rushdie does a lot with good and evil--for example, Chamcha is, essentially, the devil. His physical appearances resemble those of a demon, but he portrays mostly good traits early after his transformation. Beyond the judging a book by its cover thing, Chamcha is mostly good. He doesn't get wrathful with his (ex)wife; if anything, he is more understanding than most would be. However, he does do his best to ruin Gibreel, who he feels hasn't earned his good fortune. I got the impression Rushdie feels people are inherently good unless they feel they have been unjustly wronged. Even so, Gibreel, after being ruthlessly ruined by Chamcha, saves his life from danger, even though he was the one who put him into it.

The biggest thing I took from The Satanic Verses is that Rushdie really doesn't like organized religion--he thinks it's a joke. Although it can be assumed he is targeting Islam specifically, the situation he represents with Mahound is very similar to the story of the Mormon faith, slightly disillusioned. Mahound checks with God to find out the legality and purity of certain decrees, but all he does is walk off into the mountains and return with God's decree. He makes, even more so than the actual Mormon story, religious figures to be con artists, intent on swindling and confusing innocent passersby.

I think you'd be happy to know that I actually don't hate Rushdie. The first chapter of his book is terrible--it's a torrential jeremiad of ridiculous stream-of-thought writing that not only confuses readers but accomplishes nothing. However, once I got into the story I found it compelling. I wish Rushdie had dropped his pissing contest with Islam, however, because I feel the actual fictional story (without religious dreams and flashbacks) would have made a better stand-alone novel than with it.


Tom concludes:

My original goal for my portion of the presentation was to present the essay, “Introduction: Reading Rushdie after September 11, 2001,” by Sabina Sawhney and Simona Sawhney. I was going to present their points and show the way in which Salman Rushdie seemed to be obviously affected by both the Fatwa put on him and the events of September 11th. However, I learned that essays such as this one cannot be taken at face value. It should never be assumed that anyone (even those who claim to be experts worthy of producing a collection) necessarily reads any author of fiction or political writings the same as any other person. They describe the shift between Rushdie’s pre and post political views and discuss them as if there is a huge contradiction from one to the other. However, upon reading some of the articles he writes that they cite in one light, and based on my own reading of The Satanic Verses, it seemed obvious to me that they were not reading him correctly. The quotes they used seemed out of context and unfair representations of what I felt were his views on the politics they discussed. I attempted to show this in my presentation but I didn’t feel that I had grabbed the attention of the class sufficiently enough to make them want to listen to me go on about something they hadn’t read. I wanted to present many more points of issue, but the class looked tired, uninterested (sans a few faces), and generally unenthusiastic about what I thought was an intriguing topic.

I think that I did a better job at bringing them into the discussion within our small groups and did notice that my presentation set the stage somewhat for the small groups to have some idea of where I wanted discussion to go. We ended up focusing on “World Policing” policies that are prevalent in western politics. We discussed the Kashmir conflict as Rushdie presents it and compared that to our own thoughts on the USA/Iraq issues that we have a closer association to. I did try to relate to the text somewhat; however, I was aware of the lack of reading that occurs near the end of semesters and felt good about not trying to get them to talk about the book more closely than they were able to.

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