Salman speaks

By PETER KADZIS  |  June 21, 2007

It's very mythic.
I think I'm interested in the way in which we as a culture use celebrities. In that respect they are quite like the old pantheons of gods, who, you know, behaved very badly. Ancient gods were not model examples, but simply instances of human beings enlarged to divine proportions. It was about how humans might behave if you removed all restraints and gave them great power. In that sense, celebrity is a kind of recurrence of that theme: we take this group of people and we shine on them a very bright light and give them, if not great power, then certainly great influence. We ask how they behave when we remove all controls and restraints, and we enjoy watching the answer to that question. Sometimes they behave very well, and sometimes they're destroyed by it.

Why did you choose to have a photographer as the narrator? And why is he tone deaf?
Well, he can't sing because I can't sing. That's very simple. He's a photographer because I thought, if you look to the left of a rock star, you'll find the photographer. And if you want a point-of-view character, a slightly voyeuristic point-of-view character, it seemed a perfectly appropriate choice of profession. And then again, mentioning Princess Diana, in the aftermath of her death, I discovered ― having already chosen a photographer for my narrator ― that for a moment there, photography became the most unpopular profession in the world. All photographers, even artists like Richard Avedon, suddenly began to be thought of as paparazzi, and the profession began to be something that people scorned. There'd be boos when photographers took cameras out at public events. And I thought how strange that was, and it made me even more interested to write about the business of representation, the business of image-making, about what it is to take a picture of the world, what it is to walk up, walk up to the world and take its photograph. So it became doubly interesting to me. And I've always been interested in photography. I'm not particularly a good photographer, but I've got great heaps of photography books.

You've said, I forget exactly where, that you're proud to have avoided two traps set by the fatwa -- writing timid novels and writing bitter ones. How did you manage that?
Well, just by great bloody-mindedness. [Laughs] I love literature. I think of it as a great privilege to be able to do this thing that I admire so much, the art of the novel. And it just struck me that lots and lots of writers have had a hard time. I'm not the first one. And many wonderful books have been made by writers who have gone through or are going through very bad times. And I just thought I could not use my particular bad time as an excuse. "Just get on with it and do your work," I thought. So, I've always gained something ― I've said this before, but I do think it sums my feelings. If somebody's trying to shut you up, sing louder and, if possible, better. My experience just made me all the more determined to write the very best books I could find it in myself to write.

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