In what ways has the contemporary British novel served to contribute to the ethos of secular liberalism that underpins the ideology of the colonial present before and after the “War on Terror”? This article seeks to address this question through a rereading of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and its critical reception. Beginning with a discussion of the secularism/theology binary in Roland Barthes’ essay “The Death of the Author”, the paper considers how the ideology of secularism that Barthes attributes to the birth of the reader has shaped and influenced the public understanding of the Rushdie affair before and after 9/11. With close reference to Rushdie’s memoir, Joseph Anton, the essay proceeds to address how Rushdie’s own account of the production and reception of The Satanic Verses in Joseph Anton might be regarded as a particular form of secular misreading that calls the authority of the book’s implied author into question. By addressing questions such as these, this article suggests that Rushdie’s literary reworking of Islamic history in The Satanic Verses and his defence of this reworking in Joseph Anton demand a rethinking of the relationship between the ideology of secularism and postmodern theories of reading. Such a rethinking, I suggest, also demands a consideration of the ways in which the contemporary figure of the emancipated reader is implicated in the secularist ideology of the colonial present.
The Journal of Commonwealth Literature – SAGE
Published: Jun 1, 2018
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