|October 18, 2012|
Mohammed receiving his first revelation from the angel Gabriel. From Jami’ al-Tawarikh, (The Universal History), by Rashid al-Din, 1307
It may be ironic, but it is not entirely surprising that the YouTube clip of what appears to be a badly made film satirizing the Prophet Muhammad appeared, causing mayhem and destruction—coinciding with the death of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens—in the same week of September that the novelist Salman Rushdie published Joseph Anton. The memoir recounts Rushdie’s life as a “celebrity victim” after Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, issued a fatwa calling for his death for offending Islam in his novel The Satanic Verses. Not to be outgunned by the late Ayatollah, the Pakistani railroad minister Ghulam Ahmad Bilour has now personally offered a $100,000 reward to anyone who murders the maker of Innocence of Muslims, the crude new film.
The Pakistani minister’s intended victim appears to be Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, an Egyptian-American Christian who used the alias Sam Bacile when producing the film, which in the YouTube clip shows a young, long-haired Muhammad indulging in oral sex with a Bedouin woman in her tent. Since Nakoula had received a number of death threats, newspaper pictures and television shots showed him shrouded and under heavy guard as he was bundled into a police vehicle when he was arrested by the Los Angeles police for violating the terms of his probation on bank fraud charges dating from 2010. The parallels with Rushdie’s disappearance from public view after Khomeini issued his notorious fatwa on St. Valentine’s Day, 1989, were somewhat uncanny.
Invited to sympathize with Nakoula’s predicament, Rushdie made a crucial distinction. “I think he’s done something malicious, and that’s a very different thing from writing a serious novel,” he said on CNN’s Today show. “He’s clearly set out to provoke, and he’s obviously unleashed a much bigger reaction than he hoped for…. He set out to create a response, and he got it in spades.”
However, the responses to both Rushdie’s book and Nakoula’s film are evidently motivated in part by the same issue: the belief, now dominant among Islamists and even some non-political Muslims, that (contrary to numerous precedents in Islamic art history) the image of the Prophet must always be aniconic, and that representations of him—let alone inflammatory caricatures—are absolutely forbidden.
Inherent Vice’s Two Directions
The jokes certainly strike one as sophomoric and the latter one as clichéd, further below Pynchon’s intelligence than one would like to think he would stoop, at least in print. Discounting them and moving on, or throwing the book across the room as Parker half implies we should do, however, would be to lose sight of “that high magic to low puns”.
Auden, Larkin and Love
I was prompted to revisit these ancient questions anew by a long footnote about a single line in the new Complete Poems edition of Philip Larkin’s poetry. The footnote refers to “An Arundel Tomb” contains a provocative remark about that the poem’s celebrated, controversial, closing line, the one about the true nature of immortality: “What will survive of us is love.”
Plato, Our Comrade?
Not surprisingly, there have already been critics of Badiou’s translation. The first is that his translation breaks the formal rules of translation to such a degree that the original meaning of the text has lost its significance. But this critique is inadequate at face value because Badiou’s hyper-translation is forthright in its intention of taking Plato’s concepts and modifying them into his own lexicon.
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