Thursday, September 20, 2012

Joseph Anton

Photo: David Shankbone
The New Yorker has run a section of Salman Rushdie’s, Joseph Anton: A Memoir, which deals with his life on the run (“The Disappeared,” 9/17/12). Rushdie writes his own story in the third person, as if he were describing someone else. But the most affecting moment of The New Yorker excerpt accounts the creation of the pseudonym made up from the first names of Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov. Salman Rushdie becomes Joseph Anton. “He had spent his life naming fictional characters,” Rushdie’s alter ego muses. “Now, by naming himself, he had turned himself into a sort of fictional character as well.” The words by which he would live come from Conrad too, from what he points out to be “the now unacceptably titled ‘The Nigger of the Narcissus.’” When the protagonist of the novel, James Walt, who is suffering from TB, is “asked by a fellow sailor why he came aboard, knowing that he was unwell,” Rushdie quotes Conrad’s character as answering, “I must live till I die—mustn’t I?” Taking the first name of the writer of Heart of Darkness would indeed seem apropos. The will to live itself is an animal urge, but considering the Faustian bargain Rushdie is forced to make, in which he sacrifices his identity to save his body, he could have iterated Janis Joplin’s famous, “take another little piece of my heart now baby!" The question is, now that the fatwa has been lifted and Rushdie is free to take his identity out of the closet, like an old suit of clothes, what to do with Joseph Anton? Joyce Carol Oates wrote books under the name of Rosamond Smith (her first husband was the Ontario Review editor Ray Smith) and John Banville has written novels under the name Benjamin Black.  Will Joseph Anton aka Salman Rushdie also start to get published?

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