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( 'Nother Solent is this blog's good twin. Same words, searchable archives, RSS feed. Provided by a benefactor, to whom thanks.
I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)
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Monday, May 23, 2005
Down the road, worlds away, but one can go there in imagination. Via R C Dean at Samizdata I found this marvellous Criterion article by Theodore Dalrymple. If I say that it is about the Church of England vicar who collected rejection slips for his short stories until he submitted them under the name Rahila Khan, then I will tempt a few anti-PC readers to go there for a laugh. But it is far, far more than that. Dalrymple says explicitly and the Rev. Forward (the author's real name) says in his work something important about literature.
Academics and intellectuals found the affair painful to elucidate. If it were true that the balkanization of literature was justified by the supposition that only people who belonged to a certain category of people could truly understand, write about, interpret, and sympathize with the experiences of people in that same category, so that, for example, only women could write about women for women, and only blacks about blacks for blacks (the very careers of many academics now depending upon such a supposition), how was it possible that a Church of England vicar had been able, actually without much difficulty, to persuade a feminist publishing house that he wrote as a woman, and as a Muslim woman of Indian subcontinental origin at that? Was he not in fact telling us, as presumably a good Christian should, that mankind is essentially one, and that if we make a sufficient effort we too can enter into the worlds of others who are in many ways different from ourselves? Was he not implying that the traditional view of literature, that it expresses the universal in the particular, was not only morally and religiously superior, but empirically a more accurate description of it as an enterprise than the view of literature as a series of stockades, from which groups of the embittered and enraged endlessly fired arrows at one another without ever quite achieving victory?There is also a compassionate account of the two differently blighted but mutually contemptuous cultures that "Rahila Khan" described. Many of the stories describe ultimately tragic liaisons between Muslim girls and white boys living in depressed Midlands towns. "Khan" had claimed to have been one and know the other well. The only thing that was untrue in that claim was which half was which:
But from the moment I started to read the stories in Down the Road, Worlds Away (and the title itself should have given a clue to the book’s serious intent, capturing in five words a very important element of modern social reality), I understood that the author was not in any sense perpetrating a hoax, much less a fraud. He was writing in earnest, and not satirizing anyone. For what he described in his stories was only too familiar to me from my work as a doctor, and no one could write so clearly of such matters without a deep sense of purpose.
I hope to read it one day. Sadly, it is difficult to get hold of as the copies not yet sold were pulped by the publishers when the "fraud" was discovered.