Rushdie’s Satanic Verses and the Transmutation of Human Being

‘To be born again, first you have to die’ (Saladin Chamcha)

Reading The Satanic Verses opens a new perspective on the enthusiasm for the transmutation of human being by humanists, ecologists and philosophers of the current age. The question is whether such a transition of the self ‘by doing so brings immediate death to its old self’ (Lucretius), or is ‘still the same forever, but adopts in its migrations ever-varying forms’ (Ovid). Saladin Chamcha chose Lucretius over Ovid; he actually breaks out of his limitations and becomes another, discrete, severed from history. Gibreel Farishta on the contrary, chose Ovid over Lucretius. As a consequence, he develops a deadly form of schizophrenia between his current self and his old self, which inevitably results in his committing suicide at the end of the novel. When do we stop halting between two opinions and make Lucretius our choice? In the current ecological crisis, such a transmutation of human being can be seen as a mutation in extremis to ensure the survival of the human species on earth. At the same time, and contrary to the celebration of such transmutations in the current age, the confrontation between Chamcha and Firishta shows clearly the death and despair which is inseparable from such a transmutation of human being. It will not become a happy century in any case!

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