restricted access 8 Ethnography, Literature, and Politics: Some Readings and Uses of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

J££5 E T H N O G R A P H Y , LITERATURE, AND POLITICS Some Readings and Uses of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses It is commonly accepted within anthropology that the discipline emerged as part of the Enlightenment project of writing a so-called universal history, yet not all anthropologists would agree that that inscription presupposes a Western perspective on non-European peoples . Such disagreement draws its force, I would suggest, from an understanding of the project as essentiallyrepresentational. However, the Enlightenment project consists not simply of looking and recording but of recording and remaking, and as such its discourses have sought to inscribe on the world a unity in its own image. Ethnographies and proto-ethnographies have, of course, often pitched themselves against that powerful current, producing a valuable understanding of singular worlds (but inevitablywith only minor social effect). We know that ethnographic modes of representation evolved as an integral part of the great imperial expansion of Europe (and especially of England), as part of the desire to understand—and manage—the peoples subordinated to it. The implications of that fact seem to me inadequatelyworked out in contemporary discussions about ethnography. I do not mean to saythat ethnography can be reduced to the politics of imperial domination, that anthropology has contributed to the political rule of non-Europe byEurope and istherefore, in some unforgivable way, morally tainted. I mean that it is, in various ways, inserted into (as well as being outside) imperializing projects, but that we do not fully understand what these projects are and how they work themselves out. Yet having said this, it is necessaryto add that imperial power has 269 8 270 made itself felt in and through many kinds of writing, not least the kind we call fiction. I want to consider one such work, Salman Rushdie 's The Satanic Verses, for several reasons. First, because it is a textual representation of some of the things anthropologists study (religion, migration, gender and cultural identity) and I wish to bring acritical anthropological understanding to bear on this representation. Second , because it is itself a political act, having political implications far beyond any that ethnography has ever had, implications that all anthropologists ought to consider. And third, because it isgenerated by the encounter between Western modernity—in which anthropology is situated—and a non-Western Other, which anthropologists typically seek to understand, to analyze, to translate, to represent, but which in this case is also in the West. In all the recent concern with writing ethnographies, we have tended to pay insufficient attention to the problem of reading and using them, to the motives we bring to bear in our readings, and to the seductions of text and context we all experience. In reading imaginative texts, we inevitably reproduce aspects of ourselves, although this is not simply a matter of arbitrary preference or prejudice. We are all already-constituted subjects, placed in networks of power, and in reproducing ourselves it is also the latter we reproduce. To do otherwise is to risk confronting the powers that give us the sense of who we are, and to embarkon the dangerous task of reconstructing ourselves along unfamiliar lines. It is, understandably, easier to use our readings to confirm those powers. In what follows I want to distinguish between a number of readings of the book, and to relate them briefly to a complex political field in contemporary Europe. That is, of course, my own strategy for reading it, becauseI am persuaded that this text isgenerated byand isa reflection upon one veryspecific political-cultural encounter—and that it is so read and used in postcolonial Britain. I shall then try to reconstruct some authorial intentions and to place them within the political field, and to follow that with a political reading of some parts of the novel. This will involve a consideration of the modern category of "literature " asit operates within the text of the novel aswell asoutside it. I make no claim to have captured the total meaning of The Satanic Verses (whateverthat may be), still less to describe the Rushdie affair in all its international ramifications. My aim is to intervene in the political POLEMICS Ethnography, Literature, and Politics 271 debate surrounding the publication of the book byraisingsome questions about the ambiguous heritage of liberalism as it affects non-Western immigrants in the modern European state, particularly in Britain. A Political Setting In December 1989, the prominent British parliamentarian Enoch Powell referred to his...


pdf

Subject Headings

  • Religion.
  • Christian civilization.
  • Islamic civilization.
  • Rushdie, Salman.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access