Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Apocalyptic Narratives: The Nation in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Apocalyptic Narratives: The Nation in Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children

Article excerpt

The radically performative laying down of the law by the legislator must create the very context according to which that law could be judged to be just: the founding moment, the pre-, is always already inhabited by the post-.

Geoffrey Bennington (132)

Thus the veil had to fall so that with it the strongholds of reactionaries preventing women from being educated and participating in public life would fall.

Amina Said (360)

In the Book of Revelation, John is living in forced exile on the island of Patmos.[1] Opposed to and alienated from the existing social and political order, he predicts the overthrow of a corrupt world and the everlasting reign of the New Jerusalem. In this revolutionary prophesy, John imagines himself as the consciousness of the collective; the boundary between the world and the word, between narrative and history, must dissolve, and all margins, including the one he inhabits, must be eradicated to complete this dream of a perfectly integrated community at the end of history. [2]

While the belief in the actual or imminent end of the world has receded, Frank Kermode argues that "the paradigms of apocalypse continue to lie under our ways of making sense of the world" (28). With the shift from God's plan for humanity to secular dreams about the world, nationalist narratives that both replace and echo Revelation are one of the ways we order that world. Apocalypse continues to be understood in a secular context as a revelation or unveiling (from the ancient Greek apokalupsis), and this paradigm underlies the nineteenth-century teleological narrative of modern nationalism, where the emergence of the nation is understood as the point of arrival for an "imagined community" (Anderson 6). As Benedict Anderson has suggested, as traditional religious belief wanes, national narratives come to satisfy the desire for origins, continuity, and eternity (11).

Like the biblical story, secular apocalyptic writings about the nation also express the dreams of the ostracized and the oppressed about the renewal or rebirth of a community; the call from beyond (the interference from the Other) that characterizes apocalyptic writing challenges the established order, confuses accepted rules, and ignores the prevalent codes of reason. As Jacques Derrida writes, "By its very tone, the mixing of voices, genres, and codes, and the breakdown [le detraquement of destinations, apocalyptic discourse can also dismantle the dominant contract or concordat" ("Of an Apocalyptic Tone" 89). It is not surprising then that the Romantic poets, and Blake in particular, conceived of the French and American Revolutions in millennial terms; the violence and upheaval of these events seemed to mark the dawn of a new earthly order, freeing man from the tyranny of monarchy and church.[3] And in Writing the Apocalypse, Lois Parkinson Zamora reads both the Hebrew (Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah) and Chri stian (Mark 13, Matthew 24, 2 Peter, and Revelation) apocalyptic texts, with their emphasis on the merging of private and public destinies, as inspiring the "communal" or national fictions of Latin American writers such as Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Julio Cortazar.

However, the events of the twentieth century have also cast doubt on apocalyptic nationalist narratives. In E. M. Forster's A Passage to India, Aziz clearly joins the revolutionary chorus when he declares that "India shall be a nation! No foreigners of any sort! Hindu and Moslem and Sikh and all shall be one!" (289). But while Forster suggests that the colonial presence in India is intolerable, completing his novel in the aftermath of the First World War, he is clearly not convinced by the revolutionary promises of nationalism: Fielding taunts Aziz with the remark "India a nation! What an apotheosis! Last comer to the drab nineteenth-century sisterhood!"(289). And as a Muslim, Aziz himself is only half taken with the idea of the modern nation as he recognizes the es of teleology and origins that accompany this model. …

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