Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Political (W)holes: Post-Colonial Identity, Contingency of Meaning and History in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Academic journal article Journal of Philosophy: A Cross Disciplinary Inquiry

Political (W)holes: Post-Colonial Identity, Contingency of Meaning and History in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Article excerpt

His books infused with themes of uncertainty, shifting boundaries, syncretism, hybridity, melange and metamorphosis, Rushdie is understood as a celebrator of "postmodern" and "postcolonial" aesthetics. (1) However, in spite of his "fear of the absolutism of the pure" (2) in everything termed reality, identity, subjectivity, form and substance, which Rushdie subjects to the test of language and rhetoric, his method is almost always political and historical. In fact, contrary to some critics'3 portrayal of Rushdie as a post-modernist lampshade who defies meaning, denies history and culture and admires the perpetual flux of things, Rushdie's autobiographical allegory Midnight's Children begins with the narrator's very existential fear of non-being and disintegration: "... time ... is running out ... I have no hope of saving my life, nor can I count on having even a thousand nights and a night. I must work fast, faster than Scheherazade, if I am to end up meaning-yes, meaning-something. I admit it: above all things, I fear absurdity." (4) Taking these cues from Rushdie, I argue that, while he does deconstruct unitary notions of being, meaning, identity, objectivity, reality and truth, and the sanctity of History over other "histories," he is far from denying these categories' relevance even as he occasionally scrutinizes them to the point of hyperbole. Underlying Rushdie's deconstructive playfulness is a radical political spirit that sees meaningful humanity beyond the rigid definitions of national, cultural and political identity. Furthermore, his politics encompasses carving a space for diasporic subjects (not only writers) to participate in the process of decolonization. By taking a substantive historical time period in India, namely the events prior to and after independence in 1947, Rushdie opens up a discourse on being and belonging for those who have always felt a hole within themselves, who have felt stranded in that "strange middle ground, trapped between belief and disbelief," (5) not only of the religious kind, like in the case of Aadam Aziz. First, let us examine the body politics of a migrant intellectual and writer.

Rushdie set a trend of being a migrant writer of the postcolonial condition and has argued for such a condition as a legitimate place for bringing a different kind of experience into the world of writers. In Imaginary Homelands, Rushdie delineates the position of a postcolonial "migrant" writer in the West:

   It may be that writers in my position, exiles or emigrants or
   expatriates, are haunted by some sense of loss, some urge to
   reclaim, to look back, even at the risk of being mutated into
   pillars of salt. But if we do look back, we must also do so in the
   knowledge-which gives rise to profound uncertainties-that our
   physical alienation from India almost inevitably means that we will
   not be capable of reclaiming precisely the thing that was lost;
   that we will, in short, create fictions, not actual cities or
   villages, but invisible ones, imaginary homelands, Indias of the
   mind. (6)

Rushdie's conception of "homeland" becomes a "space" that could be carried over to geographic places of migration/emigration. While the past becomes an imaginary place in the mind, it is a place nonetheless to "look back" to and find inspiration from, a place to identify with. The notions of "place" and "space" continually interchange for those who are a product of the post-colonized world, migrants and diasporics created by economic globalization, war and political strife. Therefore, as Ashcroft writes, for post-colonial writers, "'place' is much more than the land. The theory of place does not purpose a simple separation between the "'place' named and described in language, and some 'real' place inaccessible to it, but rather indicates that in some sense place is language, something in constant flux, a discourse in process." (7) Contrary to the understanding of place as just a geographical space, for the migrants or the displaced, "place is just as much constructed as identity itself. …

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