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MFS Modern Fiction Studies 49.2 (2003) 332-340



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Salman Rushdie's Metaphorical Other Worlds

Andrew Teverson


Jaina C. Sanga. Salman Rushdie's Postcolonial Metaphors: Migration, Translation, Hybridity, Blasphemy and Globalisation. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2001. xv + 173 pp.
Roger Y. Clark. Stranger Gods: Salman Rushdie's Other Worlds. Montreal: McGill-Queen's UP, 2001. xxii + 226 pp.

If it is true to say that there are two distinct camps in the diverse body of writing that constitutes Rushdie studies, then it is also true to say that one of the issues that divides them is that of Rushdie's potential complicity with the discourses he sets out to critique. In the one camp are those writers and critics who believe that Rushdie's tendency to incorporate and rework previous systems of thinking and writing is enabling because it allows him to take down the master's house using the master's own tools. In the other camp are those who argue that Rushdie, in establishing his oppositional politics in relation to colonial modes of writing, identifies postcolonialism as a political form that can only ever reply to, and revalidate, a colonialist center. Jaina C. Sanga's new study, Salman Rushdie's Postcolonial Metaphors: Migration, Translation, Hybridity, Blasphemy and Globalisation, represents a significant new contribution to this debate because it offers a sustained and persuasive elucidation of the position held by the former, poststructuralist camp: [End Page 332] that Rushdie's fictions are subversively potent narrative acts that intervene in and disrupt obsolete colonial systems of thinking in order to create new postcolonial systems that revolutionize our understanding of such things as nation and nationalism, culture and identity.

The principle focus of Sanga's study is metaphor since she believes that it is through contesting metaphorical conceptualizations of experience that political opposition is most effectively fomented in literature. Thus, colonial discourse established its political primacy through the introduction and solidification of certain metaphors having to do with "journeying to uncharted territories" or "bringing light and civilisation to the dark places in the world," while postcolonial contradiscourse writes back by disrupting these older but still potent metaphors and redeploying them to develop powerful alternative metaphorical formulations of its own. Patrick Brantlinger, Sara Suleri, and Robert Young, notes Sanga, have already conducted an exhaustive examination and demythologization of colonialist metaphors. 1 Her aim is to continue their project by showing—with reference to Rushdie's books—what post-colonial metaphors have come to the fore, how they operate to problematize "entrenched versions of reality" (2), and what kind of alternative versions of reality they produce.

The metaphors that Sanga chooses to focus upon are those indicated by her title: migration, translation, hybridity, blasphemy, and globalization—five basic concepts that she believes to be central to Rushdie's thought and fiction. Each of these metaphors is explored in five discreet, but theoretically interlinked, chapters, and each chapter offers both a detailed conceptual analysis of the metaphor in question and an illustration of how this concept works in relation to Rushdie's fiction. The resulting text, in the organization and development of its arguments, is peculiarly Rushdiesque in its structure: Sanga eschews the more conventional method of tracing Rushdie's development linearly from novel to novel and chooses instead to organize her examination of his work around five governing leitmotifs showing, in each case, how these leitmotifs interact and intertwine throughout his oeuvre. The advantages of this method are comparable to the advantages that Rushdie gains from his own pyrotechnic use of recursive and repetitive forms: Sanga does not impose an absolute shape upon Rushdie's work but gives us a dynamic illustration of how his thinking operates in specific contexts, neither does she mummify his fiction by placing it in discreet categories, but shows how comparable ideas and explorations are in dialogue among his texts. The result is a stimulating critical work that is resolutely focused upon ideas, that is creative in structure, and that is frequently ingenious in its deductions and cross-connections. [End Page 333]

The first three chapters of Sanga's study deal...

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