Mind the Gap: Modernism in Salman Rushdie's Postmodern Short Stories

Article excerpt

Abstract. Contrary to current readings of Rushdie's poetics in postmodern terms, we propose a modernistic approach to Rushdie's short story collection East, West. This paper considers the internal coherence of this collection as well as its ellipsis and internal tensions. Through such concepts as Deleuze and Guattari's "deterritorialization of language" in "minor literatures" we set the migrant diasporic subject against the modernist mode of subjectivity par excellence: the citizen. Our close reading of Rushdie's stories plays the hybridity characteristic of the migrant subject - usually articulated in a poetics of addition and coordination of traits from different cultures - against a subjectivity structured by a constitutive gap, an unsolvable antagonism, an irreducible fracture - graphically represented by the comma in the title - that is somehow misrepresented in discussions about hybrid, multicultural subjectivities. This irreducible antagonism is seen not only as the constitutive gap of subjectivity, but as the central locus of difference from which language and the writing subject emerge.

Keywords: subject, poetics, modernism, postmodernism, postcolonial, Rushdie, short story.

When I started thinking of calling the stories East, West, the most important part of the title was the comma. Because it seems to me that I am that comma - or at least that I live in the comma. "

Salman Rushdie. "Homeless Is Where Art Is"

The Citizen as Migrant

The aim of this chapter is to highlight the modernist poetics underlying Salman Rushdie's collection of short stories East, West (1994). This is arguably a problematic issue since Rushdie's oeuvre has generally been discussed within the postmodern paradigm for good reasons, given his iconic role as a media figure in the context of the difficult contemporary transactions between European universal notions of citizenship and the acknowledgement of new and different communities of subject peoples, notably and more specifically in Britain, Islamic peoples. Furthermore - and very emphatically - the 1989 fatwa declared against his work and the horrific series of events it triggered demand a political reading of his works within the present conjuncture of global postmodern hybridisation (Hanne, Akhtar, Ruthven, Todorov, Appignanesi and Maitland, Bilgrami, Spivak, Said, Brenan). Finally, the terms "East" and "West" have acquired new and different configurations of meaning since 1989, remapping not only the conceptual opposition that underpins Postcolonial Studies, but also impinging stubbornly and bloodily on contemporary history, as the various wars and conflicts in the Near and Far East, as well as on the southern coasts of the Mediterranean testify.

When Rushdie's Midnight 's Children was published in 1981, the voice of this experimental Asian writer was hailed as a victory of the periphery over the centre; the Empire was at last writing back against the blandishments of an English novel that didn't seem to find its voice. Today, the accomplished fictional and creative voice of Rushdie has become an "accomplished" popular "persona" and occupies a hegemonic position in the literary and cultural centres of power: he has been President of the Pen Club, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth in 2007 and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 2008. No longer a marginal figure, he seems to have incorporated some of the defining features of the normative liquid and weak subjectivities of the postmodern world. He can engage in the political issues underlying the partition of England in Midnight's Children, launch a devastating criticism of Thatcher's England in The Satanic Verses (1988), or address the media images of Bollywood and the rhythmic bangs of rock and roll music in The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1999). He could be described as a walking postmodern ghost: a thrice-removed migrant (from India to Pakistan, to England, and to the U.S.) and a relevant voice in the excruciating political debates surrounding Islam and Islamism, as well as the topical issues of assimilation and/or recognition. …