Monday, November 1, 2010

The Willing Reinvention of Saladin Chamcha

This passage from The Satanic Verses explains the dichotomy that is at the heart of this novel: Saladin as a representation of evil and Gibreel of good. The core of this discussion concerns the nature of the cultural self and the ways in which individuals accept or deny certain aspects of these selves. In the passage, the narrator describes the individuals as being either good or evil in so far as they wither accept or reject their cultural foundations. The examination of Chamcha in this regard is particularly interesting considering the extent to which he denies his cultural identity. He is called "a creature of selected discontinuities, a willing reinvention" (441). An curious aspect of this description is the amount of agency Chamcha shows while establishing his own identity. He "selects" and "wills" his actions and nature to differ from what he believes is undesirable "Indianness." Assimilation is not something that happens autonomously; there is little chance for a sort of cultural osmosis. Chamcha must choose to assume a new cultural identity, and in doing that, he must consciously check the influence of his own cultural heritage.

Furthermore, Chamcha's willing reformation of the self is categorized as a "preferred revolt against history." The word "revolt" suggests a violent upheaval in which the rebelling entity actively fights against the enemy. Chamcha must engage his own volition to maintain the facade of Englishness, because it ultimately constitutes a violation of his personal history and cultural background. However, in this example, Chamcha is not only rebelling against his own history, that of an Indian man trying to assimilate into British culture, but also the larger historical relationship between Britain and India. He hopes to take on a British identity and shed his past. What he fails to understand is that Britain is locked in a perpetual mindset of superiority that has, no doubt, been fueled by their past successes as an imperial nation. Chamcha will always be viewed as a less other due to the fact that his skin color represents the "native" in the British colonial mindset. The urge of the British to categorize individuals on the basis of skin color and other external signifiers shows the profound influence essentialism has in the colonial realm. Chamcha, in so far as he stands for the colonial other, carries with him all the negative affiliations and significations the British place upon Indians. The British reject Chamcha's assimilation on the grounds of arbitrarily assigned racial signifiers. His revolt against his Indianness ultimately amounts to a futile rebellion against a historically established elitism.

No comments:

Post a Comment