Sunday, April 01, 2007

KLILF 2007: Camilla Gibb calls Rushdie a mediocre writer

The Kuala Lumpur International Literary Festival 2007 has just ended after three days and over thirty different events featuring writers from over ten countries. Holding the events in a shopping mall (this is MallAsia after all) had its plusses and minuses. For one thing it had a warmer (in some instances literally) and easier atmosphere. You could have cappuccino and a giant piece of carrot cake (I didn't see much wine about) while listening to your favourite author, and there was no necessity to sneak off to the nearby mall between sessions for shopping. You were already in one. But on the other hand, some of the mall employees had difficulty understanding why we didn't like their piped-in music played so loud and their industrial fan.

Anyway, from early feedback, it appears to have been an enjoyable experience. There were the obvious crowd pullers. Tash Aw (Malaysia) was without doubt the most popular, with people spilling over, down the staircase at Alexis. Benjamin Zephaniah (Britain) was the other top draw, wowing the young and the old with his infectious streetwise poetry and rhythm. Dina Zaman (Malaysia) got good crowds and interesting questions for both her questions. (One participant got so involved in the discussion that she purportedly stalked Azmi, the moderator, to the parking lot after the session and proceeded to explain to him the difference between the foreskin and the hymen, because she felt her original 'question' on Dina's tongue-in-cheek essay 'Born again Virgins' had not been adequately addressed.) Another well attended session was with Camilla Gibb (Canada) who responded to a question from the floor by saying that she was not afraid of having a fatwa against her for bringing up Muslim issues in Sweetness in the Belly, and adding (quite unnecessarily one would have thought) that the fatwa against Salman Rushdie was "... the best thing that happened to his career ... he is a mediocre writer."


And then there was Antares, who explained carefully and slowly how politicians have evolved from a specie of reptiles ...


Anonymous said...

And a top-rated effort on your part to bring these writers in. good show!

Rushdie won't give a damn what Gibb says. He won't even know. He moves in a different world.

Anonymous said...

The last time I heard something like this was when Milli Vanilli said they were bigger than the Beatles.

bibliobibuli said...

yes, i gasped too when i heard that!!!

Antares said...

Thanks for all the sleepless nights and sweat you put into making KLILF 2007 happen, Raman, Phek Chin, Nesa, and Co! BRAVO INDEED! I didn't catch as much as I would have liked, but thoroughly enjoyed the festive (and refreshingly literary) atmosphere in Bangsar... a rare treat! Also was pleased with the good turnout at my book launch. However, was later informed that the sound system was woefully inadequate (people at the back could hardly hear a word), no thanks to the low-grade equipment supplied by the clueless folks at Communication Suite (how on earth did they get involved, or is that a "sensitive issue"?). Considering the overall success of KLILF 2007, I don't wish to nitpick - but drinks @ Alexis are rather pricey and I felt sorry that guests had to pay so much. I'm aware that the outlets involved might have objected to outside caterers, but it would have been sweet to be able to offer guests at least a complimentary cup of coffee or tea! As for Camilla Gibb on Rushdie... I'm not surprised, she's Canadian, isn't she, and a militant feminist who would bristle at
Rushdie's mamak machismo. To endorse the fatwa against him (for being a "mediocre" writer), however, reflects poorly on her own self-esteem as a writer and casts a dubious light on Ms Gibb's artistic integrity. Rushdie is probably someone I wouldn't enjoy meeting, but if his writing is "mediocre"... may the mediocre inherit the earth!

Anonymous said...

Good show indeed, Raman. I enjoyed the sessions I attended and met some interesting people along the way - Kak Teh was one (really easy person to talk to) and a lady called Devika Bai who spent 8 years writing her book which was published about 2 years ago (a humble and unassuming lady). Zu

The Angry Medic said...

Whoa. That Camilla's got nerve, hasn't she? Seems to be a trait she shares with other Camillas...

I've been a Silverfish fan for many years but never found your blog. Hope you don't mind me linking to it (and the heading I've given you :P)

rumaizah said...

Great job, all!
I only got to attend Thursday's sessions but I do find those enriching and inspiring. And Raman knew how tough it was for me to decide which session to go to, they were all interesting in their own ways:)
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Benjamin, Randa and Conor's sessions.
Look forward to the next KLILF.

bking said...

For someone who's been more familiar with dry and stuffy academic conferences where most of the participants are presenters themselves, and who are mostly puffed up with self-importance, the KLILF was refreshing and cool, cool fun!I met people who were genuinely interested in learning from those who've proven themselves, and I enjoyed all the sessions I managed to attend. Had a tough time trying to choose though. It felt so at home to be among people who share a love for literature and who dare to dream the impossible dream of writing/publishing one fine day!Looking forward to the next KLILF! Heartiest congratulations to Raman and his wonderful team !

SilverfishWriters said...

Dear Raman,

I have just arrived back in Canada and wanted to thank you and your colleagues for such a wonderful festival. The volunteers and audiences were terrific – lively, generous and engaged – and I came away inspired by so many of the readers/writers/thinkers/bloggers I met.

Imagine my disappointment though, to see the one headline about the festival on your site referencing a comment I made to an audience. There were so many more interesting issues being discussed at the festival by such a vast array of fine writers. I don’t think this one comment, taken out of context, is really an appropriate summary of the festival – it neither reflects the spirit of the festival or the spirit of my talk.

My point, which I made explicit, was that in writing about Muslim characters some people in the west asked me if I was afraid of being fatwaed. I found that reaction naïve and distressing. First, it is based on the assumption that because I am not a Muslim I must be writing something negative about Islam. And second, it makes the assumption that the fatwa is somehow a common Muslim reaction. Both these notions need dispelling. That seems to me, a much more important point than one person’s opinion of Rushdie as a writer. My aside about the fatwa against Rushdie was entirely tongue-and-cheek and I regret if this was not the spirit in which it was taken.


Camilla Gibb

Anonymous said...

No need to explain yourself, Ms Gibb. Just to be clearer, your comment on Rushdie should be that he has a mediocre mind, albeit being an excellent writer. why mediocre mind? because Rushdie does not know the difference between free speech and insult; hiding behind fantasy and the 1st amendment in order to insult is not the mark of a great mind.

Antares said...

Just for the record - not that Rushdie would ever require a plug from me - I found his most controversial novel, 'The Satanic Verses,' truly helpful in humanizing Muhammad the Prophet. Rushdie's portrait of the Prophet, albeit occasionally cheeky, was generally empathetic and it was through him that I found some emotional resonance with the hitherto murky non-image of Islam's founder. Indeed, my admiration for Muhammad grow by leaps and bounds when it dawned on me that here was a man who successfully navigated all the major stations of human experience: as a worker, husband, merchant, visionary, warrior, and king (uncrowned caliph at any rate). Nobody else, as far as I know, has ever accomplished all that. Anyone who still thinks Salman Rushdie "insulted" Islam has probably never read 'Satanic Verses' (how can they, anyway, when it's been banned?)... or suffers from a rigid, patriarchal, and punitive mindset.

shehara said...

It is a pity that the remark made by Camilla is made totally out of context.
Hers is so much a voice searching for belonging and context in a world where labels of white in black Africa and Muslim for a Christian is not just exotic or odd but a polarization of the outsider who could never be one of 'US'.

She tries to unmask what it is to be able to relate and not relate, to be family and have a common sense of love and warmth and home.
She does it all by trying to blur the boundaries that show that we are all caught in the web of many worlds and associations, and that the battle lines are far more nuanced and layered..

And then she is simplified (our Buddhist friends would call this Karmic retribution) in some "let me try and be clever blog "to a point that a mere side remark becomes all she stands for... sad for consistent amongst all she said and has ever said was that she did not ever want to make judgments ..

She wanted to participate, observe and try and not comment or at least get imaginary contexts explain the imaginary communities that are fracturing our worldviews..

As For Rushdie-he certainly has disappointed many of us who were so taken up by his verbal dexterity that bordered on the musical , his nonlinear logic and circular timelines that was multimodal and multimedia in its mélange of associations , his wondrous magical realism and his mindscape.

But writers like Rushdie who become frauds in their chauvinistic attitudes and their facile and exhibitionistic lifestyle become to seem like accidental wordsmiths, impresarios with no true values that transcend any larger vision than that they have become more iconic for what they inadvertently tread on( fundamentalist Islamic sensibilities that are as bizarre and bigoted as the larger than life Rush-deification that has made this wonderful writer to descend into the superficial depths of a rock star wallowing in his own gooey egocentric indifference to decorum and political correctness).He has surrounded himself in an anti-intellectual bimbo world where nothing but perhaps the pursuit of happiness matters. Perhaps there is room for Shalimar the Clown to be reinvented by Rushdie to an autobiographical bohemian prince, sans sense and sensibility. He might very well call it "Woodstock’s children”. And start it with a tryst with Rod Stewart playing footsie with Shoba De. A double chorus on two ends of a seesaw one with born again Christians and another with fundamentalist Muslims singing a two part harmony of "let it be..".

Given where our world is heading this will definitely qualify for magical realism as far as labels go. And then to square the round the Church of England can take umbrage and de-knight him for good measure...more grist for the mill as the saying goes...


“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."