Author: Daniel James Sharp

A New Republic of Letters

For the past few years, I have been corresponding with an old school friend via email. We write to each other as if we were exchanging letters, which makes the correspondence richer than if we were merely texting. But my friend once expressed his dissatisfaction with the digital medium—if only stamps were not so expensive, he sighed, he would write on paper. I am not so unhappy about digital letter exchanges. For one thing, my handwriting is atrocious. So, while I enjoy receiving handwritten physical letters, I much prefer the convenience of typing. And corresponding online is cheaper, easier, simpler, and faster in ways that do not negate the benefits of long-form communication. Letters have interested me ever since I read Tobias Smollett’s wonderful eighteenth century epistolary novel The Expedition of Humphry Clinker. I don’t see why our society’s switch from pen and paper to virtual exchanges mediated by screens should mean that the culture of letter writing needs to die. To ensure that it doesn’t, a new platform has been launched which aims to …

Against Literalism—’The Satanic Verses’ Fatwa at 30

I have written elsewhere about the fatwa issued 30 years ago by a sinister religious cleric commanding the world’s Muslims to murder the writer and everyone involved in the publication of The Satanic Verses. But the best way to repudiate the authoritarian, constricted, literal mindset is by celebrating its opposite. And so, with as little mention as possible of the events the publication of The Satanic Verses engendered, what follows is simply an appreciative analysis of that extraordinarily epic, satirical, ironic, and multifaceted novel. Salman Rushdie is one of the finest writers of recent times, whose work celebrates hybridity and intermingling of culture over narrow-minded puritanism. This theme is at the heart of The Satanic Verses, as suggested by the questions posed near the beginning of the novel: “How does newness come into the world? Of what fusions, translations, conjoinings is it made?” These questions are asked as the two protagonists, Gibreel Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, fall from the sky above the English Channel after the hijacked plane they were travelling in is torn apart …