Despite concerns that tickets for controversial author Salman Rushdie's Common Hour lecture would be difficult to come by after selling out only two hours after becoming available, all who showed up at Pickard Theater last Friday were able to see Rushdie's lecture live, though not necessarily in person.
"I know a lot of people were worried about the size of the venue. However, everyone that stood in line for the extra ticket distribution on the day of the event received a ticket," Assistant Director of Events Brenna Hensley said. "For those that arrived late without a ticket, the over flow seating with projection in Wish provided a good alternative so no one was turned away."
Rushdie's lecture, which focused on the fallacy of autobiography as a requirement in fiction writing, the importance of free speech, and the magical realism of his writing based in the tradition of oral narrative, drew constant laughter from the full theater and merited a standing ovation at its conclusion.
Rushdie opened his lecture by explaining that the first question all critics ask is about the autobiographical nature of an author's book, and the correct answer to give, so as not to disappoint the critics, is, 'It's completely autobiographical,' even when that is not exactly the case.
"You draw from what happens to you in your life, in a more interesting way," he said.
Rushdie also spoke about growing up in a society in which multiple languages were spoken as first languages.
"This gives you the ability to be playful with language," he said. "If the appropriate verb is a Hindi one, you use that one, and if the appropriate adverb is an English one, you use that one. It creates a sense of having a language that is amorphous."
"You have to find a way to make a book within a single language feel like it uses the thought processes of many languages," he said.
Zach Roberts '08 found this element of his speech particularly interesting.
"His thoughts on language as mimesis were really fascinating to me, that is, how a polyphonic culture influenced his works, and how one's native languages influence necessarily influences his ideas, and his thought processes," he said.
Rushdie, who was born in 1947 right before Pakistan separated from India, acknowledged that the political location of his childhood undoubtedly influenced his work.
"I was born eight weeks to the day to the independence and partition of India and Pakistan," he said. "'Midnight's Children' was born out of a terrible joke my parents used to tell?I was born, and eight weeks later, the British ran away."
Rushdie next addressed the continued controversy surrounding his fourth novel, "The Satanic Verses," which led to a fatwa, or death threat, issued on Rushdie's head by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then-leader of Iran.
"What happened to 'The Satanic Verses' was, in many ways, ludicrous," he said. "The question of would you kill people because you don't like their novel?I think that's a relatively easy question to answer?mostly, 'No.'"
When asked by Roberts during the question and answer portion of the lecture how the fatwa has affected his life, Rushdie commented that it has been seven years since the death threat really impacted his life, but that it absolutely affected the way he viewed the world and wrote.
"I was 41 then, I'm 58 now?my writing would have changed a lot anyways, but it made me clarify my thinking," he said. "If you're a writer of satirical fiction, it's clearer to know what you're against than what you're for. What I was against was people trying to kill me," he joked, and then explained that only because of the controversy did he realize how strongly he supported the absolute freedom of speech.
According to Assistant Professor of English Belinda Kong, Rushdie upheld the right to freedom of speech long before the fatwa was issued. The last line of Rushdie's signature essay written in 1982, "Imaginary Homelands," called for an opening of the universe a little more, a theme reiterated in his Common Hour lecture.
"A quarter of a century later, it must be so affirming for him to see that he still stands for the same principles," Kong said.
Kong also saw Rushdie two years ago at his American debut in Ann Arbor, Michigan. According to Kong, Rushdie seemed to feel much more comfortable speaking in Michigan, where he was provided more opportunities to interact with the audience.
"At Michigan, at no point was he on stage alone?there was more interaction," Kong said.
"I think he's more comfortable as a conversationalist than as a lecturer. Here, he was put in the position more as an orator, where he couldn't see the audience," she said.
Despite her concern that Rushdie would have felt more comfortable in a different setting, Kong felt that the lecture was very rewarding.
"He knew his audience?he was very funny, he was engaging," she said. "He was conscious of speaking to a specific audience and bringing them in."
Roberts agreed that the lecture was a success.
"I think a lot of people went simply by virtue of his fame?clearly he's a big name, and the fact that there's a bounty on his head is pretty fascinating. Of course, what was amazing about his lecture was not merely his presence, but his inspirational and engaging thoughts about the nature of culture, religion, and the modern city," he said.
"I was lucky enough to have the chance to talk with him briefly after the lecture in the reception, and he was thoroughly inspiring," Roberts said.