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About this book

This introduction places the fiction of Salman Rushdie in a clear historical and theoretical context. Morton explores Rushdie's biography, the histories that inform his major works and his relevance to contemporary culture. Including a timeline of key dates, this study offers an overview of the varied critical reception Rushdie's work has provoked

Table of Contents

Introduction

Timeline

Without Abstract
Stephen Morton

1. Introduction: Salman Rushdie and Fictions of Postcolonial Modernity

Abstract
The sound of ‘Mountbatten’s ticktock’ in Salman Rushdie’s second novel Midnight’s Children is not only a narrative device for building suspense and focusing attention on an event such as the countdown to a bomb detonation; for the sound of the ticking clock also evokes the technological instrument of modernity used to measure the chronological transition from the period of British colonial rule in India to India’s political independence in 1947. By highlighting this temporal transition, and its subsequent anticlimax, Salman Rushdie not only draws attention to the fault lines in India’s political independence in his fiction but also suggests that India’s postcolonial modernity is itself a fictional composite of different political and cultural discourses borrowed from the South Asia’s rich and complex cultural history as well as the European enlightenment.
Stephen Morton

2. A Biographical Reading

Abstract
Rushdie’s life is not anterior to the body of his fictional writing, but inextricably bound up with it. Yet his background as a secular Indian Muslim who moved to Britain and subsequently to the United States is often read as a transparent reflection of his fictional writing. While Rushdie’s cosmopolitan background may certainly help to situate his fiction in a cultural and political context, it can also lead to crude ad hominem readings (as in the case of The Satanic Verses affair), which dismiss Rushdie’s fiction on the basis of his biographical background rather than critically engaging with the literary texts themselves (see Kuortti 1997a) For this reason, I would argue that the life of Salman Rushdie, or the events which become associated with the proper name of Salman Rushdie, are written in and through the fictional texts themselves.
Stephen Morton

Major Works

3. Midnight’s Children and Shame

Abstract
Rushdie’s second novel Midnight’s Children (1981) and his third novel Shame (1983) address the radical social and political changes brought about by India’s independence, partition and the formation of Pakistan. The genocide and abduction of thousands of refugees on both sides of the India-Pakistan border that followed partition; the war between India and Pakistan over Kashmir; and the authoritarian political leadership of Indira Gandhi and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto are just a few examples of the violence and repression associated with the formation of the divided postcolonial state. By employing self-reflective rhetorical and narrative devices, Rushdie interrogates the promises of political leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, General Zia and Iskander Harappa, as well as the official narratives of national independence in order to address the division between the political elite and the people.
Stephen Morton

4. The Satanic Verses, Haroun and the Sea of Stories and East, West

Abstract
The angry response of some Muslim leaders around the world to the publication of 12 cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in September 2005 might at a first glance seem to echo the critical response to Salman Rushdie’s fourth novel The Satanic Verses (1988). For just as the Jyllands-Posten cartoons seemed to deliberately provoke protests and anger from a community identifying itself as Muslim by presenting the Prophet Muhammad using racist caricatures that equate Islam with terrorism, so, at least for some readers, Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses desacralised a religious text by questioning the theological basis of revelation, presenting the Prophet Muhammad as a human being with sexual desires, and suggesting that the Qur’ān itself was written by Satan.
Stephen Morton

5. The Moor’s Last Sigh

Abstract
If Saleem Sinai’s narrative in Midnight’s Children mirrors Nehru’s cosmopolitan vision of a secular Indian nation, the narrator of Rushdie’s sixth novel The Moor’s Last Sigh (1995) is much less optimistic about this cosmopolitan, secular vision of India’s postcolonial future. Written from the first-person perspective of Moraes ‘Moor’ Zogoiby, the novel traces the downfall of the Zogoiby family, as well as the rise of right-wing Hindu politics in Bombay during the 1990s. Like Saleem Sinai and Rashid Khalifa, Moraes is likened to Scheherazade, the narrator of the Arabian Nights, who is under pressure to complete the narrative of his family’s history. This recurrent narrative motif in Rushdie’s fiction not only situates his writing in relation to a literary tradition that has its roots in eighth-century Baghdad but it also serves to establish Rushdie’s concern with the precarious position of the writer’s relationship to political power and authority in the twentieth century.
Stephen Morton

6. The Ground Beneath Her Feet

Abstract
In an essay titled ‘Talking about our Modernity in Two Languages’ (1997) the South Asian historian Partha Chatterjee diagnoses the condition of Indian modernity. Writes Chatterjee, ‘Somehow from the very beginning, we had made a shrewd guess that given the close complicity between modern knowledge and modern regimes of power, we would for ever remain consumers of universal modernity; never would we be taken seriously as its producers’ (Chatterjee 1997: 275). It is precisely this assumption that Indian modernity is somehow belated or backward that Salman Rushdie seeks to challenge in his seventh novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999).
Stephen Morton

7. Fury and Shalimar the Clown

Abstract
The sentiment expressed by the third-person narrator of Salman Rushdie’s eighth novel Fury (2001) that anti-Americanism reinforces the authority of America’s global hegemony at the end of the twentieth century may suggest a withdrawal from the political in Rushdie’s later fiction. As the narrator puts it, ‘Even anti-Americanism was Americanism in disguise, conceding, as it did, that America was the only game in town and the matter of America the only business at hand’ (Rushdie 2001: 87). If The Satanic Verses and many of Rushdie’s essays of the 1980s offered a critique of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government and the racism of the British state towards Britain’s migrant population, his recent fiction and essays seem to suggest a resignation to, and even at times a tacit approval for, America’s unilateralist foreign policy in the early twenty-first century, and in particular the Bush administration’s war on terrorism.
Stephen Morton

8. Conclusion

Abstract
If Rushdie’s newspaper articles on anti-Americanism and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq post-September 11 2001 suggest a shift in the broadly anti-imperialist position reflected in his book The Jaguar Smile and his essay ‘The Empire Writes Back with a Vengeance’, the geopolitical imagination of Rushdie’s fiction seems to complicate this picture. For, as this book has suggested, Rushdie’s fiction has from the outset been concerned with re-framing and re-imagining the long history of Western imperialism — from British territorial colonialism to US military and economic expansion — from the standpoint of South Asia’s political modernity, its independence and subsequent partition. By placing the situation in Kashmir, the partition of India, India’s state of emergency, the legitimation crisis in India’s discourse of state secularism and the rise of the Hindu right in an international frame, Rushdie’s fiction has raised questions about the political legacies of British colonialism, and the viability of a Third World alternative to Western capitalism and Soviet communism during the Cold War period and its aftermath. The Satanic Verses affair and the collapse of the Soviet Union may have seemed to mark a crisis in Rushdie’s position as a tricontinental intellectual, as the end of the Cold War was replaced with what Rushdie himself describes as ‘narrower, ever more fanatical definitions of ourselves’, which are at once ‘religious, regional, [and] ethnic’ (Rushdie 2003: 301).
Stephen Morton

Criticism and Contexts

9. Other Writings

Abstract
Rushdie is a prolific essay writer, as well as a novelist, and has participated in various public discussions and debates ranging from racism in Thatcher’s Britain, the political establishment in India and Pakistan, the legacies of Britain’s imperial culture and the representation of India in British films of the 1980s to the controversy surrounding the publication of The Satanic Verses and Rushdie’s period in hiding, the rise of the Hindu right, the death of Princess Diana, the political crisis in Kashmir and the terrorist attacks on America of September 11 2001. Moreover, this book has suggested that Rushdie’s non-fictional writings provide a useful resource for tracking Rushdie’s shifting critical and political positions, and for situating his writing in a precise historical, cultural and political context. It is also worth noting that Rushdie has been an important critical voice in the literary world, and has written reviews of many contemporary novelists, including for example, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, John Berger, John le Carré, J. M. Coetzee, Nuruddin Farah, Nadine Gordimer, Günter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, V. S. Naipaul, Philip Roth and Kurt Vonnegut. This section of the appendix assesses Rushdie’s reflections on the politics of Third World literature in his non-fictional writings in order to map the trajectory of Rushdie’s geopolitical imagination from the 1980s to the first decade of the twenty-first century.
Stephen Morton

10. Critical Reception

Abstract
Throughout this study I have referred to critical essays and studies of Rushdie’s fiction in journals and books to support the case for reading Rushdie’s literary and non-literary texts as fictions of postcolonial modernity. This section of the book aims to supplement the account of Rushdie’s criticism presented in Chapters 1–7 by providing a short and selected history of Rushdie’s critical reception. In this chapter, I concentrate mainly on reviews of Rushdie’s writing, partly to avoid repetition, and partly to assess the ways in which Rushdie’s writing has been read and evaluated in the global literary marketplace, as well as in the pages of academic journals and monographs. While some critics have suggested that Rushdie’s fiction post-The Satanic Verses lacks the formal and philosophical complexity of the earlier novels (Clark 2001), others have noted a shift in the narrative structure and style of Rushdie’s fiction that corresponds with Rushdie’s traumatic biography (Gonzalez 2005). However, such a critical framing of Rushdie’s fictional work before and after the so-called Rushdie affair can overlook the development of what Timothy Brennan has called a uniquely situated cosmopolitan perspective in Rushdie’s fictional work from the start of his literary career (Brennan 2006). This cosmopolitan or worldly outlook may, as Brennan suggests, also assume a privileged transnational class position in relation to the working-class subjects that are represented in the novels. But as this book has suggested, Rushdie’s literary fiction from Midnight’s Children to Shalimar the Clown presents a complex and often contradictory vision of the modern postcolonial world, which allows for readings that brush against the grain of this elite, cosmopolitan perspective.
Stephen Morton
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