Monday, November 1, 2010

Rushdie and the Idea of "Passing"

"...whereas Saladin Chamcha is a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing re-invention; his preferred revolt against history being what makes him, in our chosen idiom, 'false'?" (Rushdie 441).

The selected passage seems to reverberate the idea of "passing." "Passing," in simplest terms, refers to ones' attempts to fit in with the dominant group, even though they contain characteristics of the "others." Saladin Chamcha, in this passage, is referred to as a "willing re-invention," a "preferred revolt against history," and "false." In this context, Gibreel seems to be the individual that is able to "pass" because of his angelic nature. His physical characteristics, which can be arguably portrayed through the appearance of the halo around his head, seem to put him into the dominant group. Though he is a migrant as well, he is received much more positively (another possible explanation for the halo) than Saladin. Gibreel is previously referred to as "continuous," while Saladin is (simply) the opposite. By Saladin choosing to "revolt against history," which seems to imply that he knows of the cultural norm of the society but choose to go against it, he is "othering" himself. This is a conscious decision not to "pass."

By him choosing to stay in the group of the "other," he is therefore classified as "false" and "evil." Does this have to do with Gibreel's metaphorical decision to "pass?" By this assumption, Saladin and Gibreel can be classified as exotic but with different connotations. Ashcroft first defines the term as an "alien, introduced from abroad, not indigenous." It is then defined, in nineteenth century terms, as a "stimulating or exciting difference, something with which the domestic could be (safely) spiced" (Ashcroft 87). Saladin seems to fit the first definition, specifically because "alien" can be interpreted as good or bad; in this case, Saladin, based on his physical appearance, is viewed as bad. Because of this, he is placed in the group of the "other." Gibreel, with his heavenly appearance, fits the second definition, being viewed as more "stimulating and exciting" by the dominant group. All of this seems to suggest why Saladin is viewed as "discontinuous" and Gibreel as "continuous."

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