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Rushdie Aijaz

Rushdie Aijaz

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Published by Mehmid Ashik
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Rushdie's Shame: Postmodernism, Migrancy and Representation of WomenAuthor(s): Aijaz AhmadSource:
Economic and Political Weekly,
Vol. 26, No. 24 (Jun. 15, 1991), pp. 1461-1471Published by: Economic and Political WeeklyStable URL:
Accessed: 05/05/2009 18:36
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SPECIALARTICLES
Rushdie's
Shame:
Postmodernis
,
Migrancy
and
Representation
f
Women
AijazAhmadTheessentialtaskofThirdWorldnovels,tissaid,is togive appropriateormtothe nationalexperiencendthe rangeof questionshatmay beaskedofthesetextsmustpredominantlyeferothisexperience.Consequentlyother kindsofquestionshaveto be subordinatedotheprimacy oftheauthorisedquestions.It iswiththeseother questionsthatthepresentessayisprimarilyconcerned.Focusingmorenarrowlynthe politicsof readingndividualextsthe essayexaminesSalmanRushdie'sbookShame.The author'spurposeis toofferasymptomaticreadingofanideologicalocationand inthis contextthe essaylocatestheideologicalunderpinningsfRushdie'sworkprincipallynthehighcultureofmodernismandpostmodernism.
THE axiomaticfact aboutany canonfor-mation,evenwhen it initiallytakes shape asa counter-canon,is that whenaperiodisderined andhomogenised,orthedesiredliteraryypologyconstructed,the canonis-ingagency selectscertainkindsofauthors,texts, styles,and criteriaofclassificationndjudgment,privileging themover otherswhichmayalso belongin the sameperiod,arisingout ofthesame spaceofproduction,butwhich manifestlyfall outsidethe prin-ciplesof inclusionenunciated by thatself-sameagency;a certainkindof dominanceis assertedand fought for,inotherwords,andis in turn defined asthe essential andthedominant.The history of modernismssignificantin thisregard.Itwas themoder-nist avant-gardetself which first positedmodernismas a comprehensivenegation,both formaland philosophical,ofthecanonicalrealism of 19th centuryEurope,and claimed, moreover,that realismitselfhadbeen definitivelybroken, supersededand buriedn theperiodof high modernism,the quartercentury before1940 let us say.Inturn,the triumphof modernismis in-dicated oday preciselyn the fact that realisttexts producedduringthatsameperiodandinthe sameEuro-American pacesnow findnosigniflcantplaceintheliteraryurriculaeandcritical discoursespertainingto thatperiodandplace, regardlessof thenumber,theworth orthesocialinfluence of suchtextsin their owntime.And,itisthehegemonicself-representationofmoder-nisinas anutter negationof realism whichmakes tvirtually mpossiblenowtoseehowmanykindsofmodernistnarrativity,Kafka'sforexample,have beenfacilitatedbythemachineriesofrepresentationdevelopedn19thcentury Europe.This canonical statusofmodernismseemstobeatwork eveninrelationo what hasnowcome to be knownaspostmodernism.Aseveryoneknows,herewere allsortsof distinctmovements-Imagism,Surrealism,Dada,Cubism,and soon-duringtheperiodwhichlater came tobecanonisedundertheunifiedrubricofmodernism.Oncethatcategoryhadbeen setin motion as theart of the20th century,however,what cameafterit could onlybeseeninrelationtojt(ie,itqouldonlybea post-ofmodernism tself).Thehegemonicmanoeuvrewasevident, further,n the factthat any textwhich aspired tobeincludedinthe categoryof 'whatcame after'had(a)to have enoughof modernismwithin itand (b) alsoto divergesufficiently ina newavant-gardistway.In either case, processesof canon formationmeant alsothat certainkindsof questionscould not-nowbe asked.One couldnot read amodernist orpostmodernistarrativerom the standpointof realism,or example,without beingguiltyof Derrida's famous'metaphysicofpresence'.Thesubordinatingor evenforeclosing f certainkindsof questions, heforegroundingof others,isthe essentialcanonising gesture.Analogousproceduresof privilegingcer-tainkindsof authors,exts,genresand ques-tions seem to beunderway nowwith regardto'ThirdWorld iterature.Theessentialaskof a 'ThirdWorld'novel,itis said,is togiveappropriateorm(preferablyallegory,butepic also,orfairy tale,or whatever)othenationalexperience.The rangeof questionsthatmaybe askedofthetextswhichare cur-rently in the processof beingcanonisedwithin this categoricalcounter-canonmustpredominantlyrefer,then,inone wayoranother,torepresentationsfcolonialism,nationhood, post-coloniality,thetypologyofrulers,theirpowers,corruptions,etc.Theres nogainsayinghe factthat theseareamongthe great questionsof theage.Whatis disconcertingneverthelesss thata wholerangeoftexts whichdonotask,in anyforegroundedmanner,hoseparticularues-tionswould then have tobe excludedfromorpushedto themarginsofthis emergingcounter-canon.Worsetill,a whole rangeofother kindsofquestionings-pertainingtoothersortsofliteraryinfluencesand ex-perientialocations,the politicalaffiliationsof theauthor,representationsf classes andgenderswithin the text,andmyriadsuchissues-wouldthen have to be subordinatedto the primacyof the authorisedquestions,about'nation'etc.It is with theseotherques-tions thatthe presentessayshall be,inthemain,occupied.Ihavereferred lsewhereo the greatpro-fixityand heterogeneityof culturalpiroduc.tionsinourspaces,'bothof the archivaland the non-archivablekinds,which simp-lyexceed thetheoreticalterms of'Third,World iterature'.ere,Iwant tolookbrieflyatonlyone author-SalmanRushdie-who.occupiesadistinguishedplaceattheveryapexof 'ThirdWorld iterature',ndat oneofhis books-Shame-whichhasalreadybecome somethingof a classicofthis'counter-canon.Whathappenstoone'sownreading,I wouldbe curiousto know,if onechanges,nany appreciableegree,heques-tions? Asidefromchangingthequestionssomewhat,mymaininterest nundertakingthisexercises not toattemptasufficientreadingof eitherthe authoror the book,insome radicalisedersionofNew Criticaleti-'quettes,but, rather,ooffera symptomaticreadingof an ideologicallocationwhichmakesitpossiblefor Rushdietopartake,equally,of the postmodernistmomentaildthecounter-canonf'ThiWorlditeraure.For,there now appearsto be,in theworkofthemetropolitancriticalavant-garde,nincreasingie between postmodernismandThirdWorldistanonisations.Thus,for ex-'ample,whetherwe lookattheliteraryriticswho havedone themost productiveandin-fluentialworkon thisidea of a genericdif-ference between'the West' andthe'ThirdWorld'or attheactualauthorswho areaccorded central importanceinthis evolv-ing counter-canon-GarciaMarquez,Fuentes,Rushdie,amongothers-we find,first,that these critical positionsareframedbytheculturaldominance ofpostmoder-nismitself,and,second,thattheresenough'in the authorsupon whomcriticalattentionis so trainedwhichisappropriableorthosesortsofreadings,usuallywith the text'sown
EconomicandPoliticalWeeklyJune15,19911461
 
abundant complicity. Therecurrent pre-ferenceforMarquezoverAsturias,for ex-ample,hasalways appearedto me to beessentiallyapolitical matter,whichreflectsthe greaterformal andpoliticalavailabilityof Marquez (as against Asturias) forpost-modernistappropriationson theonehand,and,ontheother,thepoliticsofavant-gardist literaryastein our time.Thesamepredominanceofpostmodernistetiquettesofreadingispalpably presentinothercognate sub-disciplinesthat areevolvingalongside'Third Worldliterature',astherosterofthosewhoundertake 'colonial discourse analysis'wouldamplyshow.Noristhissqbjectionof theso-called 'ThirdWorld' text to postmodernist scrutinysomethingreservedfor the bestknown;itnowappearsto be afairly generaltenden-cy.FredricJamesonoccupies adifferentanddistinctive positioninall thisbecause of(a)his arduousattemptsto combinepost-modernismwithMarxism, b)his identifica-tionof'ThirdWorlditerature'with'naive'realism and,fartherback, specificallywithallegory,and(c)hisupholdingof'ThirdWorld literature'asa globalotherofpostmodernism tself,undertheinsigniaof'nationalism.What is remarkable vennhisreadings,differentandsuperiorasthey are,isthathe tooispreoccupied,when one looksatthetotalityof his'mapping',with defin-inga relation between'Third Worldliterature'ndthe'globalAmerican cultureofpostmodernism.For mostothercritics,eventheproblemof this relationhardlyexists. What wefind, instead,n mostcases,is that postmodernism,inone variant oranother,hasbeenimbibedalreadyastheself-evidentpoliticsandprocedure,nd whatremainstobe done istheselection, ap-propriationandinterpretationofthe textsthataretobe includedn,or excludedrom,theemergingounter-canonf'ThirdWorldliterature'.tis inthisspaceofoverlapthatSalmanRushdiemakes,mostforcefully,hismark.Thatthe authorhimself wants his threemajornovels thusfar(Grimussminorand,insome fundamental ways, bothobscureanddifferent)toberead as'ThirdWorld'textsismadeobviousenoughinthe mainlinesofthematicsandplotting, and intheemphases that Rushdie has underscoredwheneverhehas spokeninhis own voice,whetherwithin he novelsor in thein,terviewsandconferencepaperswhichhavenevitablyfollowed:the colonialdeterminationof ourmodernity,theconditions andcoryuptionsofpost-coloniality,thedepictionof theZiaandBhuttoperiodsinPakistan asemble-maticofThirdWorldaudillosanddictators.ingeneral, mythsofnationhood and
iF*
dependence,themythsandgodsofIndia,ThirdWorldmigrantsnmetropolitan ities,theworldofIslam, andsoon.The formsofnarrativisation, meanwhile,arediverseenough for critics to conjecturethattheybelong, in essence, to a generally non-Western, specifically Indian form of non-mimetic narration,derived, inally,from theRamayanandthe Mahabharatwhichex-emplify,in the wordsof Raja Rao,thecharacteristicallyIndianpenchantforobsessivedigressionsandthe tellingof aninterminabletale.This isofcoursewhatRushdie's wnstancen Midnight'sChildrenis.It has notbeen possible,though,tosus-tainthis ideaofquintessentialIndian-nessin theform ofRushdie'snarrativeechni-ques;thelines ofdescentfromEuropeanmodernismandpostmodernismare toonumerous.The necessarythoughoftenun-intendedconsequenceof theseapproaches-i e, the preoccupationwithRushdie'spor-trayalof 'the nation'and 'theThirdWorld'on the onehand; with thedigressiveself-reflexivity('Indian-ness'?)of hisnarrativetechniqueonthe other-hasbeentheobscuringof his ideologicalmooringsnthehigh cultureof themodernmetropolitanbourgeoisieaswellas thesuppressionof awholerange ofquestionswhich havelittletodowitheither'the nation',or 'the ThirdWorld'butwhich I taketo be quitecentralto thebasic importof hisnarratives.The morefundamentalquestionsshallbecome cleareras we getto the readingofthenovel,but two featuresof theideologicalsubtext tselfmaybe mentionedhere npas-sing,soastoillustratehe generalambienceof the work.Thus,Rushdie'sidea of'migrancy',for example,which is quitecentral tohis self-representationbothinfiction andinlife,has cometo us intwoversions.Inthefirstversion,fully presentin Shame andin the writingsthat cameatmoreorless thatsame time, 'migrancy'sgivento usas an ontologicalconditionofallhumanbeingswhile the'migrant'ssaidtohave'floated upwardromhistory'.nthesecond version,articulatedmorefullyinthemore recentwritings,thismythofontolo-gicalunbelongingisreplacedbyanother,largermythof excessofbelongings:notthathe belongsnowherebutthathebelongstotoo manyplaces.Thisis onekind ofthrustinRushdie'swork,whichappearsoreferothesocial conditionofthe'Third World'migrantbutisrepletealsowith echoesfromboththeliterarytraditionofhighmoder-nismandthepostmodernistphilosophicalpositions.Butthen,alongsidethis issueof'migrancy'wealsofind in Shamean actualportrayalofPakistan-and,inRushdie'sownwords,morehanPakistan'asaspaceoccupiedsoentirely bypowerthat thereisnospaceleftfor eitherresistanceoritsrepresentation;whoeverclaimsto resistisenmeshedalreadynrelationsofpowerandinthe logicofall-embracingiolences.Thisone can seein numerousminorepisodesofthenovel,suchas thebreezycaricatureofthearmedmovementin Baluchisiann the1970c,intheearlierportionsofthebook,asmuchasin the fabricationof the centralcharater,SufiaZinobia,as weshallseektodemonstratebelow.Betweenhesetwopolesofideologicalconstruction-theindividuai'sfreedom,absoluteand mythic,hat isderivedfromthe factthat hebelongs.nowherebecausehe belongseverywhere;nd anim-ageofthepublicsphereofpoliticssorepletewith violence and corruption that anyrepresentation of resistance becomesimpossible-Rushdie encompasses, in fact,awholerangeofnuances which clearly donotconstitute a philosophical unity butwhich are the very nodal points throughwhich the contemporary (post)modernistliterary magination passes as it negotiatesits way out of Pound and Elict, into theworld of Derrida and Foucault. How veryenchanting,Ihaveoftenthought, Rushdie'skind of imagination must be for that wholerange of readerswho have been brought upon thepeculiaruniversalism' f The WasteLand (the 'Hindu' traditionappropriated yanAnglo-American onsciousness.ontswaytoAnglican conversion, through the agen-cyoforientalistscholarship)andthe 'worldculture' of Pound's Cantos(the sagesofancient Chinajostlingwiththeprincelynotables of renaissance Italy,withHomerand Cavalcanti nbetween,allin theserviceofa political vision framed by Mussolini'sfascism)- one didnothave to belong, onecouldsimplyfloatthrough, effortlessly,throughasupermarketofpackagedandcommodifiedcultures, readytobe con-sumed.Thisideaoftheavailabilityofallculturesof the world forconsumptionbyanindividualconsciousnesswas ofcourse amuch olderEuropean idea, growingintandem with thehistory if colonialism assuch,but theperfectionandextendeduseofitinthe very fabricationofmodernism(not just PoundandEliot,buta whole rangeofmodernists,fromHerman HessetoStJohnPerse) signalleda realshift, from theage ofold.colonialismpersetotheageofmodernimperialism proper, which wasreflected alsoin thedailylives ofthemetropolitan consumersina new kind ofshopping:thesupermarket.In theliteraryimaginationofhighmodernismhis idea ofculturalexcessserved,however,sacounter-point againstthefarlesssanguine notionthatthefragmentedelf wasthe only trulymodernself. Ideasofexcessanddisruption,ofunityandfragmentation,wereheid inthisimaginationinatense balance.Ifthe chiefcharacteristicof themetropolitan super-marketwastnatentirelydiverseproducts(utensils, fabrics, jewellery refrigerators,beds)couldnowbepurchasedunder oneroof,while alsodrawingupontheresourcesof different countries(IndiantextilesalongsideManchesterwoollens;Persian'carpets alongsideFrenchhosiery), makingavailablea widerangeofpersonalconsump-tionsin awholly Impersonal etting,the feltexperienceofthe elite artistwasthathecouldnow drawuponawholerangeofculturalartefactsfromthewhole world(Indian philosophy,Africanmasks,Cambodiansculpture)buthewas alsosub-jectedtothosesameprocessesofcapitalistalienationwhich'werenscribednownotonlyintheprocessesofproduction,tobesuffered by the working class alone,but inthe very structureof social space as it wasreconstitutedn the moderncity. Thecollige,
1462EconomicandPoliticalWeeklyJune15,1991

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