Friday, September 11, 2015


I play hooky once in a while for outings made with a couple of art loving retired friends. Venues are less crowded on weekdays and I am wired into the office and can monitor business via my phone. My father would be appalled at this. Ironically, there is a power outage on the day we plan to visit a David Hockney show in Venice so I wouldn't have stayed at the office anyway. One of the most fantastic exhibits I've ever seen was a gigantic retrospective of Hockney's work at San Francisco's De Young Museum in 2013. I am astounded by Hockney's adventurousness with different media and his amazing work ethic.

The current show, at the Louver Gallery in Venice, shows clearly, that despite his seventy eight years and having suffered a stroke, Hockney is turning out some of the most groundbreaking work of his career. Always fascinated by perspective, via digital micro-photography and paint, Hockney has created a large body of work in 2014 and 2015. He further tests the potential of digital photography, with seamless pieces that contain multiple vanishing points and appear nearly three dimensional. In addition to the extraordinary photographic drawings, there are a number of oil portraits of friends and associates which showcase Hockney's affection for the Southern California color palette. While Hockney's embrace of technology is certainly cutting edge, both the photographic drawings and the traditional portraits seem to have in common an interiority. The setting for most of these new works is inside Hockney's own studio. Chairs figure predominantly. A number of the photo works pose men seated at a table playing cards or Scrabble with the same oil portraits that are displayed in the gallery. and in one piece, Hockney's landmark photo mosaic “Pearblossom Highway,” in the background. Hockney, at age 78, despite his fearless embrace of new technology also seems to be reflecting on his life's work, advanced age and mortality.

Whereas my typical days consists of walking, working, Judy Judy watching and popcorn eating, dinner preparing and culminating in more TV, after the delightful Hockney exhibit, Himself and I drag ourselves downtown to the Central Library to hear Salman Rushdie in conversation. We are not surprised that security is tight. My handbag is carefully inspected. I guess one advantage of my own advanced age is no tampons. About a dozen uniformed LAPD officers circulate.  I observe men in cheap dress shirts, more attentive to their cellphones than Rushdie's reflections, seated, scattered in the auditorium, who I presume are plain clothes security.

I confess that I spent the first few minutes distracted by a pair of gorgeous dark blue suede mules worn by a woman seated across the aisle. It occurs to me however that these would be too much shoe for my ample calves and I am able to shift my focus back to the guest speaker. While we are not in the front rows, I notice immediately that Rushdie's characteristic droopy eyelids are less so. I discover later that Rushdie suffered a medical condition and his eyes were un-drooped in a surgical procedure in order to prevent their completely succumbing to gravity. But, perhaps the most egregious evidence of my shallowness is that with the exception of an excerpt from Rushdie's memoir about the fatwah and a single short story, I have read none of his work. I suspect however, that despite the zillions of copies that were sold, Himself is one of the few people on the planet who has actually READ The Satanic Verses (and has pronounced it “uneven.”)

My excuse for not reading Rushdie is that I am not an aficionado of magic realism. For art and literature I'm a representational gal. Rushdie muses in his interview that his style of imaginative fiction has become quite unfashionable, the current preference being for work more akin to memoir. He sites the popularity of Elena Ferrante who has set the literary world on fire with three lengthy and ostensibly autobiographical novels. I guess I'm a sucker myself, as I've been clamoring for the Ferrante trilogy, and even after hearing Rushdie read an excerpt from his own new novel Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights I still vote Ferrante. While I am unlikely to become a devoted reader, I find Rushdie, or perhaps the circumstances of Rushdie's life, fascinating. While writing his second novel, Midnight's Children, Rushdie worked as copywriter at Olgivy Mather and was responsible for the Aero candy bar “irresistibubble” campaign.

While Satanic Verses” is responsible for Rushdie's notoriety, his previous Midnight's Children earned him the super prestigious Mann Booker award. I take enormous exception to people opining about things they haven't read. But still, with regard to The Satanic Verses, it seems to me that Rushdie, a history major and knowledgeable about Islam, and not living in a cave, must have had an inkling that the publication would cause a shit storm. I presume that he couldn't have anticipated the how dire his situation would become but I can't imagine that he was completely naive about any potential for controversy and repercussions. If Rushdie had skipped “The Satanic Verses” I suspect he would be relegated to the category of “writer's writer,” like William Vollman or Don DeLillo, well respected but mostly read by elite eggheads like Himself.

By having a price put on his head and all the attenuate hoopla, Rushdie has ascended from mere novelist into the stratosphere of public personality. He appears in the film Bridget Jones' Diary and plays Helen Hunt's gynecologist in Then She Found Me. He's appears on stage with U2 and shares a writing credit on their song “The Ground Beneath Her Feet.” Many names are dropped during the library conversation. Rushdie dines with Robin Williams who shows him a Picasso painting received as a gift from Disney, as recompense for underpaying him for his voice-work on Aladdin. Rushdie's stuck in an airport lounge with politician Bob Dole who he characterizes as “the most boring person alive.” Rushdie describes being charmed by Bill Clinton and lists him as one of the few politicians he generally likes. He notes that the exposure to a variety of people that an “ordinary” writer wouldn't have access to has informed and enriched his writing.

Rushdie is clearly social and enjoys hobnobbing. His command of history and culture extends from ancient philosophy to I Dream of Jeannie. I tell Himself that Rushdie would be fun at a party. Probably more fun than a lot of the other inaccessible (to me) authors Himself pours over. But, despite his gadfly proclivities, Rushdie is a serious working writer and remains at the forefront of the free speech movement. Before the event starts I tell Himself that it's fine to leave when the question and answer period begins. These sessions almost always embarrass me. People grab the microphone and whatever they have to say is usually about themselves and/or stupidly rambling. The library crowd however actually asks a couple of interesting questions and give Rushdie a chance to comment about political correctness and the state of the publishing industry. I am about to breathe a sigh of relief when a woman grabs the mike in order to ask a “personal” question, inquiring as to whether, in view of his past experience, does Rushdie now feel “safe.” I wince. Despite the many years that have passed, Rushdie is certainly not below the radar. What can he possibly say? His writerly response is, “I'm chill.” Despite all that I haven't read, I question some of his choices. Still, I like the guy and am happy for his chillness.  


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

At least I agree with Rushdie about his dislike of victimizers posing as victims, and the woeful "trigger warning" culture we are trapped in, too much free speech leading ironically to a liberal backlash against the free expression Rushdie has come to stand for? But I noted as in his deflection of a questioner's concern about Muslim immigration that he did not mention "them" in any direct way when it came to critique. He may be more chill now that he is more diplomatic, as the price paid. Shabbat shalom, xxx me.

Anonymous said...

In a similar setting, I would not notice the temperature, the comfort of the seat, or the aesthetics of the room, I would zero in on the great pair of shoes.
I would then half listen to the speaker, while trying to decide the best approach to asking a total stranger where she got her shoes.
I know this from having done just that. The answers often are unsatisfactory, as they range from "I got these in Italy" to "I don't know, they were a gift." As to the latter, I responded that I never knew anyone who received or gave shoes as a gift. Talk about obtuse..
Christopher Hitchens mentioned his deep affection for his dear friend Rushdie on several occasions. Would love to have been a fly on the wall when those two got together.

My own Damn Blog said...

Having read a few of Rushdie's books I've found his writing to be beautifully imaginative. I particularly liked his autobiography, "Joseph Anton: A Memoir" which was not only insightful but had more than a few moments of hilarity. And of course "The Satanic Verses" where I had to look up exactly what the offending passages were. It always seemed to me that the Iranian clerics were just looking for anyone to condemn because they were out of better fatwa candidates at the time. Glad you enjoyed his lecture.