Political and intellectual contexts
in Salman Rushdie
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This chapter explores Rushdie's conception of the relationship between art and politics. It turns to three essays written by Rushdie in the early 1980s, at the juncture of his career when he was starting to define his public role as a novelist after the successes of Midnight's Children and Shame. These essays, which might, with a degree of critical licence, be seen to amount to a manifesto of his views on the political functions of art, are ‘Imaginary Homelands’ (1982), ‘Outside the Whale’ (1984) and ‘The Location of Brazil’ (1985). Arguably the most revealing of all these is ‘Outside the Whale’, written in partial response to George Orwell's 1940 essay, ‘Inside the Whale’, in which it is suggested that writers, rather than engaging directly in politics, should climb inside a metaphorical whale where, with ‘yards of blubber between [themselves] and reality’, they will be ‘able to keep up an attitude of the completest indifference’ to the world.

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