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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Salman Rushdie to Present 2013 Lucas Lecture

<t is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.” In 2004, Salman Rushdie posed this thesis to the BBC News Magazine.  On Friday, October 25, he will lecture in the Recreation Center at Carleton College, before an audience of thousands.

A highlight of the ongoing “Censorship, Blasphemy, and Free Speech” Humanities Series, his name has electrified the campus as students and faculty wait in awe and anticipation.  Familiarity with Rushdie’s work may be attributed to class assignments or personal interest, but his famous (or, to some, infamous) novels, particularly The Satanic Verses and Midnight’s Children, have been sources of discussion and inspiration for many students and scholars. 

For those unacquainted “The Rushdie Affair,” the author’s political stigma began when The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, caught the attention of Iranian politician Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious decree, demanding the execution of Rushdie and his allies for perceived slander against the Muslim prophet, Muhammad.  Under the alias “John Anton,” Rushdie was forced into hiding for nearly 12 years.  Readers can learn about this experience in his autobiography Joseph Anton—A Memoir.

His role in the theme of “Censorship, Blasphemy, and Free Speech” is self-evident; the privilege of hosting Salman Rushdie as a keynote speaker is ideal to the purpose of the series.  Arnab Chakladar, Professor of English, primes students to expect “a highly intellectually stimulating and entertaining lecture” from an author he describes as, “deeply serious, deeply funny, rigorous and irreverent.”

The Satanic Verses has been advertised in the Carleton Bookstore for those who have not had the opportunity to read it in class.  Katherine Phillips ’16 represents a number of students for whom the upcoming event has sparked interest in Rushdie’s literary work.  She reports, “I started reading [The Satanic Verses] so that I would be more informed, and it’s a really interesting read.”

Anna Jarman (14, a Political Science major, read Midnight’s Children for pleasure, and says, “It is one of my favorite novels for its beautiful and poetic writing….  I am eager to hear how he speaks and to gain insight into his life and why he writes.”

The political and religious controversy surrounding The Satanic Verses incorporates a variety of interests and disciplines within the liberal arts setting, appealing persons of assorted academic backgrounds.  Indeed, Chakladar hopes that audience members will gain “a better understanding of the ways in which art and politics are inextricable from each other.”

Response to this weekend’s events has been, to quote Chakladar in a word, “overwhelming.”  Initially scheduled to occur in the Skinner Memorial Chapel, over 2,000 audience members for Friday’s lecture will now be accommodated in the Recreation Center.

On Saturday, Chakladar will moderate a conversation with Rushdie, allowing for questions and answers in a more personal forum.

Equally enticing is the Faculty Scholarship Symposium scheduled for the same day in the Weitz Center after the “Conversation with Salman Rushdie.”  Susannah Ottaway, Director of the Humanities Center and History Department Chair, says “[The symposium] is a wonderful opportunity for students to see their professors in their professional capacity as scholars.”  Everyone is invited to attend for all or selected presentations.

As a whole, the lecture, conversation, and symposium comprise an incredible weekend.  The events serve to remind Carleton students that each day, among guests, professors, and peers, we in the presence of greatness.  

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