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Rushdie vs. Le Carre: it's over

Posted by Simon Waxman  November 20, 2012 10:24 AM

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A battle of giants is over, The Guardian reports:

Fifteen years after Salman Rushdie called John le Carré a ‘pompous ass’ and Le Carré responded with an accusation of ‘self-canonisation’, one of the most gloriously vituperative literary feuds of recent times has come to an end.

Last month, Rushdie told an audience at the Cheltenham literature festival that he ‘really" admired Le Carré as a writer. ‘I wish we hadn't done it,’ he said of the 15-year-old feud which played out in the letters pages of the Guardian in 1997.

For his part, le Carré called his erstwhile sparring partner a “brilliant fellow writer.”

The spat began when le Carré criticized Rushdie’s "The Satanic Verses". Le Carré didn’t go as far as Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who called for Rushdie’s death, but the author of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold" did take exception to what he called insults directed at Islam.

Rushdie is a favorite of firebrand “new atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris; the late Christopher Hitchens was a close friend. Le Carré, who is in his own words “not a god man,” represents a less muscular version of non-belief. So the burying of the hatchet should be a welcome development among those seeking rapprochement within the atheist camp. One of the most frequent criticisms of the new atheists, even from those who share their epistemic outlook, is that they are simply too uncivil toward their opponents, too ready to tar every believer with the sins of the few. If atheists focused on behavior rather than belief, the argument goes, there would be room for common ground.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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