Tag Archives: Salman Rushdie

Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

There’s an interesting article over at the Guardian book pages from their literary critic, Robert McCrum, about the different types of writers that tend to get considered for literary awards. He draws from Isaiah Berlin’s famous essay, The Fox and The Hedgehog, as a way of classifying the types. (You can download the essay by clicking here), and read more about Berlin in this article in The Independent.

In fiction, Berlin’s famous distinction between hedgehogs and foxes, drawn from the pithy fragment attributed to the classical poet Archilochus (“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”) remains influential. Hedgehogs, in Berlin’s celebrated essay, see the world through the lens of one big, defining idea. They include Plato, Dante, Proust and Nietzsche. Foxes, who scour the landscape, drawing on a wide variety of experience and are indefatigably averse to a single explanatory idea, include Aristotle, Shakespeare, Goethe, James Joyce and, dare I say, Salman Rushdie.

McCrum doesn’t stop there, though. He also contrasts “history course novels” (such as those produced by Pat Barker and Ian McEwen) and the kind of “English course novels” that Martin Amis and Lorrie Moore write. Then, in nonfiction, there are the “mores” and the “differents.”

Mores are writers who, as the label implies, are immensely gifted and vastly superior to their fellows, but are conventional in their vision. Classic mores include Thomas The World Is Flat Friedman and Niall The Pity of War Ferguson. Your different, who might be a hedgehog or a fox, is a mould-smashing one-off, usually an original, and probably quite undisciplined, writer. Differents include Dostoevsky, Oliver Sacks, Naomi Klein, Kurt Vonnegut, George Orwell and Atul Gawande. As readers, we may be better satisfied, in the short term, by the mores, but it’s the differents we remember, and who will probably have the lasting influence.

McCrum’s argument is that “foxes” and “mores” win more prizes than “hedgehogs” and “differents.” It would take more of an in depth survey than I am prepared to carry out to prove him right, but I can certainly get on board with the idea that we live in a fox’n’more orientated society, and it’s these writers who seem to earn the most money. We demand versatility from our writers, and breadth of knowledge. It ain’t easy being different!

The Dept. of Cross Cultural Misunderstandings

Salman's Prize

Salman's Prize (pic. care of UnBeige)

So Salman Rushdie was recently honored at the Moth Ball (a fundraising event for the popular and acclaimed storytelling forum). He got a designer statuette! There it is, above. Awesome. It’s a peace sign. Only, in my homeland, if you turn that thing around, it means something very different. No, not victory, my sweet, innocent American readers. It means F*#K OFF. He. He he he he.

Yes — I am more amused by that than I probably should be.

Salman Rushdie’s Signing Rate

Oh Salman.

It’s hard to know how to read this letter of yours. Is it carefully constructed to imitate the tone of a curmudgeonly and egocentric fool, which would make it a masterpiece of parody and indicate that you have a sly and self-deprecating sense of humor? Or are you — could you really be — such a petty kind of man, one who would take an attack on his signing rate to be an excuse to start a pissing contest on the letters page of a national UK paper with a bombastic and loud-mouthed writer like Malcolm Gluck? Which is it? I just can’t tell!

Here’s a link to the “controversy.”

And here’s the letter in its entirety, as sent to The Guardian newspaper:

It’s always a delight to return to London from an arduous two-month book tour of North America to find myself being accused of “illusions” – that is, lying – in your letters columns. The weirdest part of Malcolm Gluck’s unpleasant little missive (July 17) is that he begins by saying it’s impossible that I could have signed my name 1,000 times in an hour and ends up by revealing that he did it himself. Anyone who has ever attempted to sign a lot of books quickly knows, as Gluck says, that the key is to have the support of bookstore staff experienced in the construction of a smooth “assembly line”. He tells us he had the assistance of such staff when he did it, but refuses to believe that I could have.

So let me be clear: I did not initial the books, but signed my full name; I did have the support of experienced staff at Ingrams book distributors in Nashville (and at many other US bookstores), who will confirm that among the fastest present-day signers of books are President Jimmy Carter, the novelist Amy Tan, and myself. I understand that Mr Gluck may be miffed that his own accomplishment has been equalled or bettered. That does not entitle him to accuse another writer of untruthfulness, without a shred of evidence to support the accusation. And, if memory serves, I actually signed the 1,000 books in Nashville in 57 minutes as against his 1,001 in 59, so his record is toast.
Salman Rushdie
London