But, like all serious fantasy, Rushdie's story erases this division by making us realists inhabit, for the span of our reading, the realm of Imagination, which is controlled by but not limited to observation of fact. This is the land of story: the child's world, the ancestral, pre-scientific world, where we are all emperors or enchantresses, making up the rules as we go along. Modern literary fantasy is given a paradoxical intensity, sometimes a tragic dimension, by our consciousness of the other kingdom we inhabit, daily life, where the laws of physics cannot be broken and whose government was described by Niccolò Machiavelli.
Some boast that science has ousted the incomprehensible; others cry that science has driven magic out of the world and plead for "re-enchantment". But it's clear that Charles Darwin lived in as wondrous a world, as full of discoveries, amazements and profound mysteries, as that of any fantasist. The people who disenchant the world are not the scientists, but those who see it as meaningless in itself, a machine operated by a deity. Science and literary fantasy would seem to be intellectually incompatible, yet both describe the world; the imagination functions actively in both modes, seeking meaning, and wins intellectual consent through strict attention to detail and coherence of thought, whether one is describing a beetle or an enchantress. Religion, which prescribes and proscribes, is irreconcilable with both of them, and since it demands belief, must shun their common ground, imagination. So the true believer must condemn both Darwin and Rushdie as "disobedient, irreverent, iconoclastic" dissidents from revealed truth.
The essential compatibility of the realistic and the fantastic imagination may explain the success of Rushdie's sumptuous, impetuous mixture of history with fable. But in the end, of course, it is the hand of the master artist, past all explanation, that gives this book its glamour and power, its humour and shock, its verve, its glory. It is a wonderful tale, full of follies and enchantments. East meets west with a clash of cymbals and a burst of fireworks. We English-speakers have our own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India. Aren't we the lucky ones?
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Ursula le Guin thinks Rushdie is 'own Ariosto now, our Tasso, stolen out of India':
Posted by Space Bar at 7:09 PM