Intermediality in "The Ground Beneath Her Feet"

The function of music in Rushdie’s novel

Term Paper 2007 13 Pages

Didactics - English - Literature, Works



1 Introduction

2 Theoretical background information
2.1 Intermediality
2.2 Interrelation between literature and music

3 The functions of music in The Ground Beneath Her Feet
3.1 Relationship between myth and music
3.2 Interrelation between the topic of globalisation and music
3.3 Interrelation between love and music
3.4 Resemblances between Ormus Cama and Bob Dylan

4 Conclusion


1 Introduction

First of all, Salman Rushdie can be rightfully considered as one of the greatest and most influential authors of our time. In “Rock’n’Roll Rushdie”, even Carla Power – a well-known journalist working for the international edition of Newsweek – claims that Rushdie is “as famous as a pop star” and can be regarded as “literature’s first global celebrity” [Power 1999: 71].

In his seventh novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet (hereafter GF), Rushdie tells the love story of the 20th century pop icons Vina Aspara and Ormus Cama. However, GF is not exclusively about love since the novel also combines a lot of historical and mythological aspects with the mainstream pop culture of the 20th century. In fact, the field of pop music seems to be central next to the novel’s love theme because throughout the whole book, extracts of original and remodelled song lyrics are incorporated into the texture of GF, and these song lyrics are – amongst many other things - used to reflect the love between the novel’s protagonists.

Furthermore, the subject of music is also realised by the adoption of another strategy. Although the novel is said to be fictional, GF “tries to blur the edges between the fictional world and the real world” [Rushdie, interview with Vijaya Nagarajan 1999]. Therefore, Rushdie applied the technique of the alienation effect, which aims to make the familiar seem strange. This technique was predominantly realised by embedding mythological aspects in the story of GF and changing historical events which actually happened. Consequently, Rushdie created a “parallel version of the world” [Rushdie, interview with Vijaya Nagarajan 1999], which is slightly different from reality. The most influential aspect which makes the familiar life of the novel’s pop stars seem strange is its comparison with the Orpheus myth. Moreover, the Orpheus myth dignifies music as it basically declares that ‘one can kill the singer, but not the song.’

Since the subject of music seems to be of crucial importance in GF, and Salman Rushdie regards pop music as the “first cultural phenomenon of extraordinary force” [Rushdie, interview with Vijaya Nagarajan 1999], this paper aims to explore which different functions music fulfils in Rushdie’s novel. Therefore, this paper will first give a brief and general overview about the theoretical background of intermediality and the interrelation between literature and music. Afterwards, it will try to uncover in which ways music is related to GF by pointing out the different purposes music fulfils in terms of the novel’s mythological aspect, the topic of globalisation and the love theme. Finally, this paper will work out in how far GF draws parallels to the life and music of famous pop icons like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, but the paper’s main interest is clearly dedicated to Ormus Cama’s resemblances to Bob Dylan.

2 Theoretical background information

2.1 Intermediality

In general, the term of intermediality became increasingly popular in the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century and describes a modern trend of crossing different kinds of media with each other. Werner Wolf suggests that “’intermedial’ is [...] a flexible adjective that can be applied, in a broad sense, to any phenomenon involving more than one medium” [Wolf 1999: 40]. In Intermedialität, Irina Rajewsky – a lecturer of literary studies at the Free University of Berlin – claims that the phenomenon of intermediality has especially to be applied to the field of humanities [cf. Rajewsky 2002: 1]. Concerning literary studies, intermediality focuses on the interrelation between literature and any other media such as painting, photography, film and music.

2.2 Interrelation between literature and music

Traditionally, literature and music are said to be ‘sister arts’ [Wolf 1998: 133]. Even John Hollander confirms that “histories of both have remained mutually contingent” [Hollander 1965: 533]. Following Steven Scher’s general typology which divides the intermedial contact between literature and music into “music and literature”, “literature in music” and “music in literature”, Wolf regards the category of “music in literature” as the most interesting one for academics of literary studies [cf. Wolf 1998: 133]. Therefore, Wolf distinguishes between the modes of ‘telling’ and ‘showing’, through which music may be presented in literature. In Wolf’s sense, the mode of ‘telling’ is characterised by explicit references to music such as book titles evoking connections to music, descriptions of a certain music experience and comments on certain songs or musicals. The mode of ‘showing’, on the other hand, is rather concerned with implicit references to music such as the adoption of a text layout influenced by music-related criteria. As possible reasons for the growing tendency of embedding music into literature, Wolf basically suggests the yearning for the unification of the ‘sister arts’ and the application of music as a powerful medium of psychological expression.

3 The functions of music in The Ground Beneath Her Feet

3.1 Relationship between myth and music

First of all, there is no question that myths – especially myths of Greco-Roman and Indian origin – play a key role in GF. In an interview with Deborah Treisman, Rushdie admits that he applied mythological aspects to his novel in order to make people aware of the things “that once were our [culture’s] reference points.” Today, he wonders “how many people could even repeat the story of Orpheus, if asked” [Rushdie, interview with Deborah Treisman 1999]. The enormous influence of myths on GF becomes already clear by taking a closer look at the protagonists’ names. Most obviously, Vina was derived from Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and Cama was derived from Kama, the Hindu god of love, because both Vina and Ormus are lovers and the novel’s main characters.

However, the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice seems to be by far the most striking and important mythological aspect in GF since “across Rushdie’s text, references to the Orpheus myth come thick and fast” [Rollason 2006: 10]. Starting with Ormus, his name – which was definitely derived from Orpheus - already suggests that he should embody Orpheus, and, of course, both of them are celebrated musicians. Furthermore, the novel’s very title refers to “the ground trembling beneath Eurydice’s feet as she descends into hell” [Rollason 2006: 10], and, in this case, Vina resembles Eurydice. Moreover, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” became a famous pop song by U2, which is the “song that Ormus writes just after Vina dies” and “a rock version of Orpheus’s lament” [Rushdie, interview with Deborah Treisman 1999]. However, Rushdie’s main interest in the Orpheus myth is clearly focused on the end of the story, when Orpheus is murdered, his head is cut off and thrown into the river, and it goes on singing because Rushdie sees “his musician protagonists as manifestations of the Orphic principle of the indestructibility of music” [Rollason 2006: 10]. In the interview with Deborah Treisman, Rushdie admitted that “[the] idea – that you can destroy the singer but not the song - was something I wanted to write about” [Rushdie, interview with Deborah Treisman 1999].

Finally, one can say that with the help of music, Rushdie suceeded in making the Orpheus myth immortal because U2 recorded his song “The Ground Beneath Her Feet”, which is – following the Orphic principle – indestructible.

3.2 Interrelation between the topic of globalisation and music

Besides myth, GF also widely broaches the issue of globalisation and, once again, music is of crucial relevance. In an interview with Peter Kadzis, Rushdie pointed out that pop music was the “first globalized cultural phenomenon” [Rushdie, interview with Peter Kadzis 1999], and it occurred at a time when global phenomena were rare because the mass media were not widespread. Moreover, Ian Anderson regards pop music as a cultural dialogue that “has greatly helped international understanding and provoked cultural exchanges” [Anderson 2000: 39].



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
461 KB
Catalog Number
Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – Fachbereich Englisch
Salman Rushdie The Ground Beneath Her Feet Music Music in The Ground Beneath Her Feet Intermediality

Title: Intermediality in "The Ground Beneath Her Feet"