MFS Modern Fiction Studies 48.1 (2002) 50-82
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Globalization, Postcoloniality, and the Problem of Literary Studies in The Satanic Verses
In literary studies, the term "postcolonialism" suggests at least three related meanings. In its first sense, it implies a political position: postcolonial scholars participate in and extend anti-colonial praxis and theory. In its temporal and historical sense, it describes the social and cultural conditions of the postimperial world. As a critical category, it both encapsulates and exceeds its political and temporal connotations: postcolonial theory purports to interrogate not only the logic of colonial domination but also the capacity of theory to articulate viable critical alternatives. The concept of globalization is more politically neutral and, at this moment, is less useful as a critical term. Though there are many long-standing critiques of globalization--several contemporary geographers who use the term in its current sense, such as Saskia Sassen or Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, can trace their critiques back to Marx--literary scholars are still struggling to adopt this word into their own critical vocabulary. How can the idea of globalization enhance our critical apparatus? What barriers do we confront when we attempt to employ it as an analytic concept? [End Page 50]
In this paper, I want to use The Satanic Verses to think more about the value and limitations of the term "globalization" for postcolonial literary scholarship. The Satanic Verses is one of the familiar landmarks of postcolonial studies, and its plot transpires on a global stage. We follow Saladin Chamcha, a wealthy Indian immigrant to London, as he moves back and forth between Bombay and his adopted home. The novel uses Chamcha's harrowing international journey to illustrate the tribulations and consequences of our increasingly mobile existence. In the end, Chamcha returns home to embrace the country he had left long ago, to recover the quality of Indianness that would help him make sense of the world and his place within it. The novel employs a narrative of global mobility, in which the protagonist must reject the place of his birth in order to discover the true value in what he has forsaken. Chamcha's "comparative cosmopolitanism" 1 structures the text's plot of personal development: his journey is the catalyst that inspires him to rediscover his Indian roots. The novel offers a narrative of globalization as a cure for the ills of postcolonialism.
With this in mind, it would be relatively easy to argue that The Satanic Verses demonstrates the critical need for an adequate theory of globalization. Read in this way, the novel's plot suggests that international mobility increasingly serves as a metaphor for contemporary existence. Like Sassen, who argues that global systems of economic exchange and dependence have undermined the autonomy of the nation-state, it would be tempting to read this novel as a literary representation of our post-national global climate. Furthermore, we could feasibly interpret the text's international horizon as the latest weapon of postcolonial writers and scholars. Along these lines, Hardt and Negri argue that an anti-colonial politics can no longer rely on the security of a sovereign state, but instead must articulate its platform in an emerging global context. In Empire, they suggest that a global political consciousness must learn from but ultimately supersede postcolonial struggles. We could argue plausibly that The Satanic Verses is one of the first novels to introduce postcolonial literature to this new terrain. The text simultaneously refutes the autonomy of the nation-state and the metropole while exploring the possibility of global travel as an emerging site of political subjectivity. [End Page 51]
But any attempt to read the text as an argument for the usefulness of "globalization" as a critical term must be complicated by the novel's deployment of historically specific social and political relationships in London during the 1980s. We need to evaluate, in other words, whether or not globalization theory represents the logical next phase of postcolonial literary scholarship. Although Chamcha's life and the story itself seem...