Thursday, October 21, 2010

The art of self-sloughing in Satanic Verses.

“…there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie, 5)

Sloughed-off selves. In The Satanic Verses, the sloughing off of selves is almost an art. Gibreel and Saladin are both masters, in fact professionals, in the business of self-off-sloughing. Gibreel has made a career filming up to “eleven movies ‘sy-multaneous’” (11), slipping from identity to identity, day after day. Saladin, the “Man of a Thousand Voices and a Voice” (60), has formed his career on a transmutable voice that can take on any identity the radio (or film) industry demands. On the business level, these skills can be attributed to years of practice and fine-tuning. On a personal level, however, the skills can be more attributed to the characters’ urgent desire to flee the selves of their homeland.
At home in Mumbai, Gibreel first perfected not the art of self-sloughing, but the “art of dissimulation” (25). He leads multiple lives—and keeps them strictly separated—in order to maintain his high social status. The stress of this performance nearly costs him his life, so he knows something has got to change. When he ultimately flees the country aboard flight AI-420 he is on one hand fleeing this social demand, but on the other, shedding this conglomeration of past identities all together. When he is reincarnated during his fall, he lands a new role of a new man…sort of. We’ll flesh that out more later in the text.
Saladin Chamcha has struggled his entire life to perform a similar feat. He successfully changes his last name (or shortens it), leaves India for an English education, and abandons the “father-ship” (41), as he calls the overseeing control of his father, for a life lived on his own terms. He carefully crafts a new accent and handwriting technique to disguise his background, but when he returns to India one last time he realizes that he has never successfully sloughed off his old Indian self. His voice slips, his handwriting and mannerisms betray him. The walnut tree of his birth, he realizes, still stands lodged in his father’s backyard: “Cut it down, sell it, send me the cash” (70). With the cash from the tree in hand, he tears the bark off his birth-tree in an act of finally peeling off his old self.

Fragmentation in a Broken Plane

“Also- for there had been more than a few migrants aboard, yes, quite a quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about length of and distinguishing moles upon their husbands’ genitalia, a sufficiency of children upon whose legitimacy the British Government had cast it ever reasonable doubt- mingling with the remnants of the plane, equally fragmented, equally absurd, there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie 4-5)
Looking at this quote Rushdie shows the effects of immigration with the use of “fragmented”, “broken”, and “severed”, among other words that show a partiality or incompleteness. Rushdie shows that immigration has a dire effect upon those people who are looking to make a move from their homeland to a land unknown.
The key word that stands out to me is “fragmentation”. By making the choice to immigrate a person takes a chance of themselves. They leave family, friends, comfort and safety. These loses are major tools that make up who an individual is. As we have discussed in class on numerous occasions, individuals are able to identify themselves through their interaction and relations with others. When some is an immigrant they no longer have those relationships or interactions, they are merely just a person in a space. They lose who they are and become the other to themselves. In addition to dealing with these loses they face mounting tension from those who view them as the other. Rushdie states that “quantity of wives who had been grilled by reasonable, doing-their-job officials about length and distinguishing moles on their husbands’ genitalia” which is a clear discrimination and ostracizing to those women. In Rushdie’s comedic nature he states that the officials doing this were “reasonable” individuals that were “just doing their job”, which is clearly sarcastic on Rushdie’s behalf. The act of immigration is a great feat on behalf of the individual making the decision to move and the pressure that individual has to deal with is also a huge concern in itself. Rushdie is aware of that and shows it through this quote.

Inferiority and Insignificance in "The Satanic Verses"

Within the first few pages of
The Satanic Verses,
the two main characters, Gibreel and Saladin, two Indian actors on their way to England, are falling through the air after a bomb was detonated on their plane. The narrator comments that Gibreel and Saladin "fell like tidbits of tobacco from a broken old cigar [4]." This simile is perfect in it's description of the status of the two in England and an immigrant in general. Likening them to rogue bits of tobacco, they become a mere annoyance, something to be simply brushed away into obscurity. Saladin even became one afflicted by such a view of his fellow Indians and Indian culture, choosing to tailor himself as an Englishmen, forcing his face, appearance, voice, and mannerism to become English. But for all the work he has done to achieve his goal, he is still treated like an animal by the constables and officers that arrest him from Rosa Diamond's house once the two land [162-167].
Immigrants as a whole are described as being inferior and unwanted by their trip through customs, having to describe their husband's genitalia and distinguishing marks and travelling with children whose legitimacy is suspect [4]. Customs is requiring them to go through a humiliating process by describing their husband's privates and presenting them with an arbitrary test. The British government is not ensuring these people are coming into the country legitimately, but actively trying to keep them out. And if they are suspected not to be, they are treated horribly, as Saladin and all of the other patients in the "hospital" that he is sent to are. Or when Saladin is initially arrested, he is undressed, physically abused, verbally berated, and made to eat his own excrement. These exemplify their status in the eyes of the English as inferior and insignificant, or as just bits of tobacco falling out of a cigar.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Destruction of Both a Plane and a Language

“…there floated the debris of the soul, broken memories, sloughed-off selves, severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes, extinguished futures, lost loves, the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home.” (Rushdie, 5)

By studying colonialism and its impact on the colonized this semester we have identified a number of things that are most important when considering the negative impact of the colonizer on the colonized. There are certain elements of a people’s culture, that when destroyed, are particularly devastating. Of these, we have considered language to be one of the most important. Rushdie criticizes colonialism vehemently in his novel by showing us the modern, negative impact it has on a group of people by contributing to the destruction of its language.

Looking at the quote and in particular the items between the several commas that deal intimately with language we can identify how Rushdie feels about colonialism. Language is one of the very most important facets of a people’s sense of common identity. This is also one of the first things to be damaged by colonialism; a people’s language can be either completely destroyed or bastardized into some form of a hybrid. It is also one of the first indications of an “other,” either by accent or the use of native words. Rushdie’s novel is full of examples of native Indian words, either full sentences or words thrown in here and there, but the critique comes usually after the phrases. This is also applicable to the idea of untranslatable jokes and I feel they are intimately related. Several times throughout the novel the narrator uses a joke in its original Indian and then immediately afterwards translates it for us into English. Rushdie uses this technique to show us how unimportant the Indian language is to English-speaking audiences; we haven’t learned it and most of us probably never will, we expect the colonized to conform to our use of language.

Falling (Certainly NOT Failing) Metaphors in The Satanic Verses

Towards the beginning of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (specifically in the first book, "The Angel Gibreel"), Rushdie presents multiple metaphors to represent the plane crash. Here, everyone on board, including migrants and the main characters Gibreel and Saladin, is plummeting towards the English Channel. The migrants are ironically described as being treated reasonably by officials, who have searched even their genitalia as thoroughly as possible, but are described moments later as "equals." They are as equally broken and fragmented as the plane that is plummeting towards the water below. This seems to place the migrants on the same level as everyone else on the plane, including Saladin Chamca, who is described as "going down head first, in the recommended position for babies entering the birth canal" (Rushdie 5). This particular metaphor of a baby entering the birth canal made me wonder: in the context of postcolonial studies, are these people who are referred to as "migrants" placed in this context voluntarily? Could these subtle mentions of characters such as the migrants be a reason as to why The Satanic Verses can be viewed through a postcolonial scope?

The term migrant generally refers to those people who are introduced to a new population or habitat. Using the term to describe these people seems to be problematic, however, because of the metaphor presented by the narrator of a baby entering the birth canal. Though conception may or may not be choice made by the parents of a baby, the baby has no choice on whether or not they choose to be born. It's involuntary. Though the officials seem to believe they have reason to suspect the migrants, the other metaphors offered by the narrator, such as "severed mother-tongues, violated privacies, untranslatable jokes" (5), seems to confirm that an outside presence (the colonizer) is responsible for the migrant status of the people plummeting from the plane. "Severed mother-tongues" seems to refer to the snatching of a characteristic (specifically language) from an oppressed group, while "violated privacies" seems to also imply a forceful act upon an unwilling recipient. So are these people placed in the body of a migrant by choice or involuntarily? These examples, given by the narrator, seems to suggests that they are, indeed, placed in an unfamiliar situation by a forceful colonizer.

Place and Belonging in The Satanic Verses

The beginning of The Satanic Verses situates the story within the context of ethical displacement. The two Indian actors fall toward England like babies through mothers' birth canals. Without agency, willing or not, the grown men are birthed into a world which views them as outsiders. As Gibreel and Saladin symbolically plunge toward the unwelcoming waters of the English Channel, they find themselves surrounded by debris from the wrecked plane: the source of their untimely birth. This physical refuse accompanies an incorporeal debris, which the narrator describes as "debris of the soul" (Rushdie, 4). The listed debris of the soul contains many elements which pertain to that which is lost for the individual who emigrates from his or her birthplace. In fact, adjectives such as "sloughed-off" and "severed" connote loss, either intentional or forced. This abstract waste includes "the forgotten meaning of hollow, booming words, land, belonging, home (5). This particular passage concerns the loss of meaning, particularly of those words which represent the concept of a place of belonging or acceptance.

Each of the three words listed in this passage concerns a displaced individual's desire to assimilate into a culture and to feel comfortable with his or her own identity. The words themselves echo with hope and the prospect of acceptance. When placed in conjunction with the words "home" and "belonging," the word "land" represents more than the physical foundation upon which we stand. Instead, the land represents the abstract idea of a physical place in which an individual is free and welcome to exercise his or her unique identity. For Saladin and Gibreel, now careening toward an England still conscious of its past relations with India, such a place would be quite welcomed.

While the idea of a place of belonging seems to be the ideal for the Eastern immigrant, it is important to note how these words are situated in this section. The embodied concepts of land, belonging, and home fall along with the two actors toward the cruel ground. These concepts, because they are "hollow, booming words," stand little chance of surviving such a fall. Hollowness suggests a lack of substance beyond the external. While these terms are pleasant to hear for the alienated immigrant, their ultimate lack of obduracy in the face of the harsh English soil will prove that they are, in fact, fragile. Furthermore, the adjective "booming" suggests power, yet one that is auditory and thus able to be dampened. While these words may ring in the minds of the immigrants, the reality of their situation may prove to check these comforting concepts. The ideas which rain down among the debris of the plane ultimately amount to little when faced with such a fall. The fragility of these terms in the context of the novel suggests the difficultly for the displaced immigrant to truly find a place of belonging in a strange land.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Birth of Indian Presence in England According to The Satanic Verses

This phrase describes the plane crash and the manner in which Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta, two Indians, enter England. These two men enter England by way of falling from the sky and miraculously surviving their landing in the English Channel. It is a very unorthodox way of travelling, but this is a very unorthodox novel.
Like other sentences in this part of the book describing their fall from the wrecked plane, this sentence likens their fall and entrance into England to the birth of a baby. “The aircraft cracked in half…an egg yielding its mystery” is describing the birth though not necessarily of a human baby as we are not born by hatching out of an egg. Anyway, the plane cracking in half is likened to an egg hatching and something being born. Saladin and Gibreel are being born into England. The “egg yielding its mystery” is similar to these men being born into England and a baby being born into the world. When a baby is born, the baby knows nothing about the world he/she is entering, just like their parents know nothing about them. Similarly, with these two Indian men going to England, they are arriving in a foreign land that they know nothing about, and the English most likely know nothing about them. Hence, we have our “mystery”.
The passage also suggests that their entrance into England is like fertilization as well as birth. The “seed-pod giving up its spores” is the plane-wreck introducing new genes into the English gene-pool. Here we have two Indian men arriving in London and they are described as “spores”. They are capable of spreading their foreign and “mysterious” genes throughout London like the spores of plant would spread it genes and reproduce.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Language in "In the Heart of the Country"

While the narrator's father is in his room with Klein-Anna, she approaches his door and attempts to open it, but finds that it is locked. She then tries to speak to him. After he tells her, "It's late child. Let us rather talk tomorrow. Go and get some sleep [54]," the narrator states, "He has spoken. Having found it necessary to lock the door against me, he has now found it necessary to speak to me [54]." Here, language is used as a confession of a reprehensible act. It becomes a confession because, as the narrator states, her father actually spoke to her. Most of the time he treats her indifferently and neglects almost any type of interaction with her. And now that he is having sex with his servants wife, he speaks to her. He does whatever he can to avoid her, finally speaking to her. This passage only enforces the mistreatment of the narrator by her father that one can see during the course of the novel. The few sentences that are spoken to her are not even out of interest, but simply for deceit, so that she will not know of his actions.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Agency of Hendrik (In the Heart of the Country)

54. No word about the marriage has passed between Hendrik and my father since the day when Hendrik came to ask leave to bring a wife on to the farm and my father replied, "Do as you wish." The wedding-feast was held at Armoede, the wedding-night on the road here, I do not know, and the next day after that Hendrik was back at work. My father increased his rations but offered no wedding-gift.

In this passage, Hendrik, a worker on the farm of the family at the center of J.M. Coetzee's novel "In the Heart of the Country," takes a wife. However, being the colonized, he must first ask permission to do so. Hendrik, the colonized,makes no request other than to being the woman there, and subsequently spends the period of time after the wedding, during which most people would go on a honeymoon, coming back to the farm and continuing work. Hendrik has no time to celebrate the union or get the know the girl whose hand he takes, and the entire event takes a mechanical nature.
The fact that Hendrik does not even attempt to ask for more time illustrates that he either knows it will be denied or that he has subconsciously submitted to the colonizer. As an extension of this, the marriage becomes more pragmatic than romantic, since he is most certainly taking a wife to perform the chores required in his own dwelling and bearing him to children to assist with work and inherit what he owns. The unemotional state of their union is further evidenced by the actions of the main character's father, who, instead of celebrating a normally happy and joyous occasion, simply gives Hendrik more food with which to sustain himself and his wife. His actions, or lack thereof, show the reader the view of the colonizer toward the colonized: disdainful and condescending. One can see these examples by the indifference with which he deals with Hendrik's request and his disinterest when he only gives them more rations.
Hendrik shows little agency in this case. Without even requesting more time, it shows one that he is either aware of his lack of agency or has subconsciously accepted that he has little. One can also see the view of the colonizer towards the colonized's agency, and in such a sacred example it becomes quite demonstrative.