Thursday, October 01, 2009

Suhayl Saadi Uncensored

I met the Scottish novelist and writer Suhayl Saadi (he was born in Yorkshire in 1961 of Afghan-Pakistani parents, and grew up in Glasgow, becoming a medical doctor) a couple of years ago in Singapore during a lit fest. He came across as a very charming, fearless and articulate speaker during one of the panel discussions. It's been a while since I caught up with him, but when his new book, Joseph’s Box (2009) came out, I could not resist the temptation of asking him a few questions. Always courteous, Suhayl obliged and the result is a fascinating interview with this writer who treads a path less traveled by most authors of South Asian descent. Please read the full interview here to understand what I mean by the road less traveled in this case.


What is your take on e-publishing and the future of books? Will e-publishing and Google’s espresso instant books (machines can print and bind a paperback in 4 minutes flat) change the future of publishing, how writers distribute their books and reach out to the readers? Will the publishers cease to be the gatekeepers of content?

I hope so. It needs a revolution. I would like to (here, I have delusions of Sidney Poitier) ‘knock that big old white bastard off his hill’. Let’s democratise but try not to continue to dumb-down. There are far too many stupid, and stupefying, books out already by chefs, gardeners, estate agents, DIY experts and vacuous ‘celebrities’ which are heavily promoted in the ‘front fifty feet’ of bookshops and this mirrors the inanity of much television. Give ‘em what they want! is a big lie and is a recipe for the incipient snuff-movies and ritual humiliation which now pass for entertainment and which, ultimately, are tools of social control and mechanisms for the concentration of wealth. It’s not really about gatekeeping - that’s merely an instrumentalisation of these strategies - it’s really about what kind of human society, what kind of world, we want. The bottom line is that writing, invented in Iraq 5,000 years ago, is important and at some level, is feared by those in power. Stalin, the one-time published and acclaimed poet, knew - and stated - this perfectly well when he attempted to justify banning Dostoevsky’s works. Stalin was terrified of Dostoevsky and even eventually, of Gorki. The process of capitalist censorship is more systemic, less directed, more subtle, less obvious, but in the end it is even more effective in the engineering of pliant societies. Of course, Google is a big white corporation, too. We have to be attentive - to paraphrase from the Spanish writer, Ibn Tufayl, in order to stay alive, we have to remain awake!


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