June 19

1623, 1947

Blaise Pascal, French Philosopher and Mathematician, born today in 1623

There are books that influence, even if you haven't actually read them. I came upon Pascal's "Pensées" as a student, and glanced, and liked what I saw, so I bought a copy of the Penguin Classics translation, and read a few here and there (the one about Art being "admiration for things of which we don't admire the originals" hit deep, but I honestly can't remember anything else that did), and acquired through it a taste for the makers of erudite one-liners and intellectual soundbites, several of whom can be found elsewhere in this blog: Montesquieu on January 18, Montaigne on February 28, Emerson on May 25 but really here, others.

And then there was a little book called "Pansies" by D.L. Lawrence, which it took a while to realise - DHL doesn't really do humour so it was unexpected - was a play on Psacal's book, albeit not a terribly witty or even clever one, and not really a collection of maxims and adages and aphorisms either, or yes, but in the form of poetry, and these included several that worked deep in me - "How Beastly the Bourgeois Is" for certain, but I think it was really the fact that the book was intercepted and confiscated by government officials in 1929 on the grounds that it was "obscene", and that he just went ahead and produced another edition anyway, that led me to start gathering any of my own, and trying to think up new ones, until eventually I too was punning on the title of someone else's book, entitling mine "Notes On The Death Of Zarathustra".

Salmon Rushdie, author, born today in 1947.

Rushdie too had a moment of influence. When I started writing my life of Mohammed, and I had decided to make my narrator a purist, so that I could present Mohammed from the high ground of the purity he preached, and see how well he stood up in practice. I knew at once that this might not go down well in some Moslem circles (a Jewish Zionist writing such a book might already be a controversial issue in such circles, or are they crescents?) And then I thought of the stupid nonsense fuss over "The Satanic Verses", and the misery they put poor Salman through for so many years, and thought "Issue your fatwah if you must", and wrote the book the way the facts told me it had to be written, unexpurgated, uncensored. And with that phrase as the book's opening line.

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