I've been arguing with the fabulously-named Sergei Lobanov-Rostovsky over on the excellent Kenyon Review blog about the literary worth of Salman Rushdie's work. I'm not a fan, Sergei is:
I see The Satanic Verses as Rabelaisian in style and intent: a satiric excess that reflects what happens to language when empire makes it both an official language of power and a language of immigrants. The secret of empire is that you never truly conquer another people: you marry your children to them. That’s also true in language. You don’t teach those you conquer to speak your language; instead you find yourself speaking Anglostani on the streets of London or Calexican on the streets of L.A. To me, Rushdie’s linguistic excess is funny, and the inconsistencies in his tone reflect the clashing of worlds. That’s the most important narrative of our time, and if the writing sprawls and lacks purity, that’s exactly the point.
During our debate, Sergei brought my attention to some great old reviews of Moby Dick that can be found via melville.org. One, from the London Literary Gazette (December 6th, 1851) reads in part:
This is an odd book, professing to be a novel; wantonly eccentric; outrageously bombastic; in places charmingly and vividly descriptive. The author has read up laboriously to make a show of cetalogical learning... Herman Melville is wise in this sort of wisdom. He uses it as stuffing to fill out his skeleton story. Bad stuffing it makes, serving only to try the patience of his readers, and to tempt them to wish both him and his whales at the bottom of an unfathomable sea...