In the latest issue of The New York Review, Zoë Heller seems to have no end of ways to pounce of Salman Rushdie for his latest book, Joseph Anton: A Memoir. From what I have seen in several other reviews, she is not alone. For those unfamiliar with the book, the name is the title that Rushdie used as an alias when he was under threat of fatwa assassination for the heresy of having written (and had published) The Satanic Verses. Heller begins by observing that the book is written in the third person, a style she called "de Gaulle-like," although the best known practitioner was probably Julius Caesar.
However, the general annoyance with the book led me to wonder whether Heller and the other critics may have made the mistake of taking the title at face value. After all, Rushdie's primary defense for The Satanic Verses amounted to the assertion that the book was "only fiction." Indeed, back in the days of the Bush Administration, when I felt as if rationality were currently under siege from faith-based thinking, I liked to observe that faith-based thinking only allows literal interpretation of a text, never recognizing that there may be a more significant figurative reading. Given the ludic approach that Rushdie has taken to so many of his texts, why should we assume that the title of his latest book should be interpreted literally?