Salman Rushdie joins the stable of canceled Substack writers

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Salman Rushdie discussing his book "Quixote" in Vienna, the Austrian Volkstheater in November 2019.

Salman Rushdie discussing his book “Quixote” in Vienna, Austrian Volkstheater in November 2019.
Photo: Herbert Neubauer / APA / AFP / Austria OUT (Getty Images)

Author Salman Rushdie joins the Substack subscription newsletter service, recounting the Guardian that the hardcover books remain “incredibly, mutinously alive” and that he “tries another chance, I guess, to kill him.”

According to New York Times, the Anglo-American author of Indian descent said in an interview that his interest in Substack was first sparked when he learned that others he admired, such as Patti Smith, Etgar Keret and Michael Moore, were already using the platform for their writing. Rushdie told the newspaper that he plans to start off with serial fiction for free, but could then charge $ 5-6 per month for content such as book chapters or interaction with Rushdie himself, like comment threads.

This is not the money that Substack offered as part of the deal, Rushdie told The Times. “If I published a book, I would earn more money,” he insisted. Instead, he plans to weigh in on all topics and will continue to publish his most engaged work through publishers like Random House.

“I have the impression that with this new world of information technology, literature has not yet found a truly original space in it,” Rushdie added in the interview. “… Whatever goes through my mind, it just gives me a way to say something immediately, with no mediators or gatekeepers.” “

There’s also another, admittedly tangential, reason why Rushdie’s announcement oddly makes sense. Rushdie is best known for his 1988 book Satanic verses, whose fictional portrayal of the life of the Prophet Muhammad sparked a years-long backlash from many Muslims around the world who viewed it as blasphemous. The then Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomenei issued a fatwa, or ruling on a point of Islamic law, calling on all Muslims to assassinate Rushdie for revenge. This in turn sparked immense controversy. While Rushdie survived several unsuccessful attempts against his life, many bookstores were bombed and an unknown assailant stabbed the translator of the Japanese version of the book, Hitoshi Igarashi, to death in 1991. The fatwa officially remains in force, in 1991. as current Supreme Chief Ayatollah Khamenei reminded his Twitter followers.

The Satanic verses The debacle can be seen as a sort of high-stakes precursor to what has mutated far beyond anything to do with fiction in today’s free speech wars – that is that is, opponents claiming the cloak of unrestricted expression who say they are fighting a politically correct newspeak culture. This group obviously contains the fringe of American conservatives, including Donald Trump and practically all republicans in Congress, who are obsessed with phantom oppression by social media companies. But that also includes the New Atheist movement, which ended up degenerated into Islamophobia; the cringe titled “Intellectual Dark Web”, which presents itself as a motley team of “unclassifiable renegades” while repeating right talking points; self-proclaimed anti-“cancel culture” activists; and gender warriors who tried to disguise the anti-trans talking points as serious intellectual ideas.

Substack has become something of a beehive for these latter groups, who have used it as a haven from bans or perceived harassment on social media sites – because these are the types of media we’re talking about, they usually quote the ” Twitter mobs ”as the source of their oppression. It is also served, as in the case of La Glenn Greenwald of Intercept Where amateur racing scientist Andrew Sullivan, as a lucrative landing platform for writers who would have been forced to quit their previous publications due to liberal censors. Substack has recruited these people with big cash incentives in some cases, although it doesn’t disclose who it is paying up front. (Professional victim Bari Weiss has resigned the New York Times last summer and is would have withdraw $ 800,000 per year on Substack.)

Earlier this year, Substack in the face of controversy over them counter-current list, especially writers with a habit of brutally harassing critics or deploying anti-trans rhetoric. Substack defended himself by saying that many women and people of color were in his prepayment program, but the perception that the company is ready to look the other way in favor of grievance artists with a high number of subscribers persisted. (For example, the site has hosted people like the covid-19 conspiracy theorist Alex berenson.)

Freedom of expression, in particular its criticism of “radical Islam”, religious fundamentalism, and dogmatism in general, have become central to all of Rushdie’s shtick. He sometimes minimized his thoughts on the whole anti-cancellation kerfuffle culture, saying there are greater threats to journalistic and artistic freedom than Twitter’s arguments, but it is too not exactly allergic to rhetoric. Recently, Rushdie was one of the co-signers of a letter denouncing the “censorship” and “ideological conformity” of social media which has quickly become another flash point in the online culture war. Powerful sub-stack users like Greenwald are also promoting Rushdie’s pivot to online.

So, at the very least, Rushdie isn’t as strange as it might sound for Substack. As the Times noted, Substack could also benefit significantly from recruiting the most prominent names in literature, potentially helping to expand both its roster and its audience beyond the narrow cliques of media, tech and journalism.

In interviews, Rushdie pointed out that one factor in his decision was editorial freedom, although he focused on the inequalities in mainstream publishing faced by writers of color.

“The question of which voices can speak … is a very important question. [one]”Rushdie told The Guardian.” In publishing … there was a real problem on which voices should speak, and I’m not saying it’s gone far, but that changes. here [in the U.S.] there is much more room for writers of color than before, both in book publishing and in the critical sphere.

“And potentially something like that, with its lack of goalkeepers, could also allow for a more diverse set of voices, ”he added. “… If you want a sub-stack you can create one, you know, you don’t have to be invited.” “

Rushdie told The Guardian that he hoped Substack “might allow a slightly more complex connection” with readers and give him a platform to write about topics “just too big to be discussed in tweets.“ He would also like weigh in on things like movies.

“I’m just diving in here and that will be, you know.” Either it will be something wonderful and enjoyable or it will not be, ”added Rushdie.



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