Non-Stop Rushdie; PEN World Voices Festival

Salman Rushdie is everywhere, man. Last week it was introducing Ray's The Home and The World at Masters of Indian Cinema, before that the SAJA Tsunami Benefit.

This week, he's hosting the PEN World Voices Festival, and denouncing the Bush administration by way of publicizing the event.

The most interesting panel at the event, which of course I can't go to, might be The Post-National Writer. I'm becoming increasingly skeptical about whether writers can really pull this off; most "post-national" writers are really better described as "trans-national." Post-national would imply going beyond national boundaries entirely. But you always carry a passport (and therefore a nationality); you always have a mother-tongue you speak (and read); and the space you live in is always limited. Even people who are serial migrants remain bounded as they move.

I think national boundaries define one's sense of space in ways that are hard to shake; the nation is still a kind of defining imaginative frontier for the novel. It's one reason why I mistrust the category "South Asian literature," for instance. Most Indian writers are defined by the borders of India. They barely know Pakistan, Bangladesh, or Sri Lanka, and they certainly don't sit down to read Mohsin Hamid or Jean Arasanayagam to get a sense of what's happening in the "South Asian literary scene."

One might think this disconnect happens because India is in a sense the "center" of South Asia, and people at the center often forget those at the margins. But this nation-oriented provincialism is, I think, equally applicable in the smaller countries as well. If you read Sri Lankan writers like Jean Arasanayagam (based in Colombo), there is very little sense that there is a huge country called India just a few miles off the north coast of the island. The foreign reference points in most Sri Lankan literature are London, Toronto, and New York, not Madras or Trivandrum.