Salman’s Global Canon

Salman Rushdie

Lesson time 08:03 min

Salman makes the case for a new global canon and discusses works of fiction that have inspired him personally.

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Topics include: Find the Riches in Other Cultures · The Case for a New Global Canon · Discovering New Influences: Anita Desai · Discovering New Influences: Junichiro Tanizaki · Discovering New Influences: Latin American Writers


- We live in an age of great translators. There are wonderful renderings of books into English now, from many, many different languages. This, in a way-- it gives us the world. You will find as much help, as much inspiration, in books that come from far flung corners of the world written in languages you don't speak and talking about people very different from yourself. [MUSIC PLAYING] You know, I think there's a tendency that we all have to be a little-- to be parochial in our reading. You know, to-- to want to read books about people like us living in a place like the place where we live. We recognize in the book versions that we recognize as variations on our own lives. And that's natural that we want to read those kinds of books. But I think if we only do that, then we deprive ourselves of enormous riches. And certainly, I would say that books not written originally in English have been at least as important to me as books that were written in English. The question of whether there's a-- of whether there's a cannon, you know, whether there are great books that we should all know-- I mean, I think the answer is yes. But the way in which that cannon has been defined has been very narrow. You know, so, yes, we should read Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Proust and Joyce and Kafka. But very often the way in which the canon has been defined in the West has been to exclude a lot of writing. It's been to exclude writing by non-white writers and to exclude writing by non-English language writers. You know, so I think there's an argument for making another kind of cannon, which is more internationalist and more diverse. You know, the literary canon which is genuinely global. And I sometimes think it was a good fortune for me never to have studied English literature. Because I never had a canon imposed on me, you know, by professors. I didn't have to be told about the great tradition and obliged to worship at the shrine of D. H. Lawrence. You know, I read-- I read in my own idiosyncratic way. Like, I suddenly get interested in Russian literature. I'd read everything. And then I'd swing over here and start reading Latin Americans, you know, et cetera. I would just go on these adventures in literature as my way of educating myself, teaching myself about writing. You may well find that the book that unlocks something in your head, the book that shows you the way, is something that was originally written in Russian or Japanese or Hungarian, you know. You never know. And it's worth just going on these voyages of discovery to see what they can give you. There are Indian writers that I deeply admire, like the novelist Anita Desai, who I would say is the kind of heir of Jane Austen. You know, that she's writing in India books which-- which feel like what Jane Austen might have written if she had been an Indian writer. You know, as in Jane Austen, women are very formidable characters, but are very limited by the constraints of the...

About the Instructor

To the delight of readers across the globe, Salman Rushdie’s genre-defying novels have brought surreal and magical realms to life for decades. Now the Booker Prize–winning author teaches you the art and craft of storytelling. Learn how to draw from your own experiences to build vivid worlds, authentic characters, and complex plots. There are extraordinary stories that only you can write—start sharing them.

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Salman Rushdie

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.

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