Adam Dickinson in e-conversation with Nnorom Azuonye continued from previous page

NA: Let's wrap up with a question on literature and life. Irshad Manji whose book 'The Trouble With Islam' earned a few death threats recently has spoken about how she gained courage from the words "a book is more important than life." which Salman Rushdie said to her. If life is the substance that relationships between all elements in our universe create, discounting Manji's mortality, discuss with an ear for the weightier implications of Rushdie's words how a book can be more important than life.

I would be inclined to read Rushdie's statement, as you have presented it, as a kind of metaphorical tautology; that is to say, life is more important than life.  A book, after all, is nothing other than an expression of life, a self-consciousness standing in relation to the world.  However, I am inclined to specify Rushdie's terms further and suggest that what he might have meant is a book is more important than "a" life.  I think the introduction of the indefinite article (which is potentially implied as it is) inflects the meaning of his quote beyond tautology and makes it resonate with a whole host of ethical questions.  Given this interpretation, I would read the quote as suggesting that to write towards otherness, the world and its irreducible inhabitants, is more important than the individual life of any author.  In Emmanuel Levinas's ethical philosophy the Other is more important than me.  If we think of writers as engaged with otherness in the act of creative writing then to regard one's own individual being in inferior terms is consistent with ethical responsibility.

ADAM DICKINSON AND POETRY: An e-conversation with Nnorom Azuonye"      ©2004 Nnorom Azuonye. All rights reserved.

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