Questions of Identity, Metamorphosis, Religious Fanaticism and Islam in Salman Rushdie's "The Satanic Verses" (1988) and "Two Years, Eight Months, Twenty-eight Nights" (2015)
Scientific Essay 2016 79 Pages
Table of Contents:
3. Salman anRushdie' s position as a post-colonial writer
4. The postcolonial novel after 9/11
5. Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism in Contemporary English literature
6. Forms: Narratological Categories for the Analysis of the Genre
6.2 Islamic Spirituality and Transcendence
6.3 Identity Formation as one Central Problem of Islamic Writing
6.4 Identity as a Religious Matter: The Quest for the Meaning of Life
6.7 The Question for a Meaning of Life
6.8 Hybrid Description and Hybrid Identity under the Focus of Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism
7. Alternative Cultural Memory and Hybrid Existence: Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses (1988) .
7.2 Cultural Memory and Hybrid Existence
7.3 Religion and Blasphemy in The Satanic Verses
8. Identity, Metamorphosis and Hybrid Existence: Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights
8.2 The use of the hybrid
8.3 The use of globalization
8.4 Identity, Metamorphosis and Hybrid Existence
8.5 The specific use of stylistic means in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight-Nights (2015)
This book is about Salman Rushdie and two of his major works. All critics writing about this outstanding novelist and his novels must admit that doing so is hard but rewarding work full with respect because Rushdie' s books, essays and critical pieces of work have already deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, however, it is only a question of time when this prize will be granted to him, too.
Rushdie in general is a literary revolutionary and an artist who picks up the novel as the platform to discuss major themes of mankind with all kinds of tools literature disposes of. The approach to work on The Satanic Verses (1988) and his latest publication Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (2015) tries to (critically) reflect Rushdie's development as a writer within the time span of almost three decades. Twenty-seven years for a writer and his community might be an eternity since the world has tremendously changed since then.
Rushdie himself, however, in both novels sticks to major themes of his interest. Among them are the parameters used here. Identity, metamorphosis and (religious) fanaticism can be found in both novels and it is the focus on these three which will be central here. To do so not only helps to reflect major literary topics Rushdie is concerned about it also shows the development these matters have taken within Rushdie' s literary work and the world it reflects.
In is exactly the historical framework which Rushdie uses which helps to understand his literary attempt because Rushdie said in an interview with the German magazine The Stern in 2015 that he understands himself as an author who lives in a certain period of time and who therefore has to write about it.
The dualistic concept that links the narrative in both novels analysed here must also be seen in this historical framework. Rushdie sees modern man in a globalized world as homeless, hybrid, bound to metamorphosis, caught between the rational and the irrational yet open for positive options which he can choose provided he uses his freedom. So identity, metamorphosis, religion and fundamentalism are closely connected to personal freedom and it will thus be interesting to see how Rushdie's ideas have been worked into both novels. The structure of this book is therefore as follows:
A first part will consist in some sort of background information on Rushdie and his position in contemporary English literature. A second major part will consist in a short introduction of the postcolonial setting. This helps to place Rushdie's work in a literary background. A next step lies in a closer analysis of chosen parameters such as the use of the hybrid Islamic spirituality, transcendence, identity formation, failure and powerlessness. The next important step lies in a close interpretation of both works. This will be followed by an outlook.
This analysis of two of Salman Rushdie' s novels tries to reflect a time span of around 25 years of this outstanding contemporary novelist while concentrating on identical key terms of Rushdie's work. The talk is about identity matters, metamorphosis, philosophy, religion and Islam in particular. The author of this essay is aware of the fact that both novels presented here (The Satanic Verses 1989 and Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights 2015) differ in parts, however also dispose of similar literary elements which are ideal to show Rushdie's development as a writer while concentrating on identical elements.
Loss of identity and metamorphosis as two central human conditions set in The Satanic Verses can also be found in his other novel published in 2015. Rushdie embeddes these key terms in philosophical and religious matters and reflects both in the classical fight between good and evil which he incorporates in the literary framework of postmodernism. Surreal elements taken from Homer, Henry James or Rowling help to link the fairy tale world with today's reality thus hinting at man's eternal condition. Time, fiction and space are dissolved and important is not what is told but how it is told although this basic dualistic condition between two opposing sides is prevalent all the time and backed by the key terms mentioned above. Rushdie hereby connects comic elements with Greek mythology, Indian Hip Hop and the philosophy of Aristotle to show the madness of modern man's existence and to throw light on the world we live in. The fact that Rushdie also includes religion in general and Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism in particular into both works shows the ongoing importance of religion in both of Rushdie' s works since he seems to see a positive energy in fundamentalism for man's basic condition set in identity and metamorphosis. For him traditional religions have all failed to stay energetic something which he as a non believer only sees in fundamentalism.
3. Salman Rushdie' s position as a post-colonial writer
For the last four decades, the two most important as well as two of the most controversial terms used in postcolonial discussions have been hybridity and mimicry.1
The terms themselves dispose of a manifold range of meanings and have been widely employed by critics, theoreticians and authors alike all of whom used them to include other issues related to cultural encounters or clashes. However, it is important to point out that these terms must not be used as rigid concepts in the sense of descriptive terms which might lead to the acceptance of fixed meanings. Instead a more open approach avoiding polarisations should be used.
In order to have a closer look at Rushdie's place in this matter it is important that he puts hybrid existence and metamorphosis along dualism in man's life below the question of location and belonging. Exodus, exile, diaspora and ghetto formed his interest in his early writings (to which The Satanic Verses belong) whereas his latest works (to which Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights belongs) seem to focus on a dualistic approach to man's life which is fixed between the rational and the irrational.2 This analysis of the rational and the irrational is presented in his latest work as a battle between the bad and the good jinn which is a mirror of the conflict between reason, intellect, logic and tolerance against intolerance and the irrational in man. It is important to point out that Rushdie here follows a philosophical or rather existential path in postcolonial thinking which itself can be seen a radicalisation of the above mentioned former terms such as hybridity, metamorphosis or diaspora.
Rushdie himself places this perspective in his idea of a 'magic realism' to which he is often linked to. 'Magic realism' for Rushdie himself is "firmly rooted in this world" (Rogers, 2002: 78). It is used to build an alternative to reality as such. Although this notion today is commonly attached to Rushdie' s work it is not one of his inventions since it can also be traced in Dickens, Kafka, Steinbeck. Flann O'Brien, Isabell Allende or Garcia Marquez. Rushdie, however, seems to use it as a means for the colonial subject, the uprooted, the oppressed or the victim of good and evil. Kimmich 2008 here rightly states:"Rushdie has often been treated as the postcolonial writer par excellence as far as his style and narrative strategies are concerned. His style offers widely diverse frames of reference and allusion that range from Sufi poetry over to Shakespeare, Dickens, Hindu and Muslim theology and mythology to the Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and comic book heroes such as Batman or Superman. Many features of his writing are frequently used empowering strategies in postcolonial writing, such as his carrnivalesque satire undermining the dominant discourse, his emphasis on hybrid identities and the tendency of his characters to reinvent themselves in opposition to authority ..." (ibid.: 2008: 3).
Another key term in Rushdie's writing -at present- lies in his concept of identity.
Identity for Rushdie is not stable, is flowing hybrid and permanently on the move since "...all identities are radically unstable" (Fletcher, 1994: 241. This ongoing and dynamic process is done with the help of the process of memory of past and present as well as future to form existence as it is or could be. This dialectic structure becomes a leitmotif of his novels.
Identity in both of Rushdie's novels analyzed here culminates in self-creation. Rushdie himself here bases most identity matters on the ideas of Franz Fanon (The Wretched of the Earth, 1961). He seems to dovetail with "contemporary theoretical notions of the fictional subject." (Dascalu, 2007: 41)
This fictional subject is characterised by a permanent construction of the self which is negotiated against a number of linguistic and discursive factors.
Although he puts identity matters in SV into a postcolonial background and Bhabha's notion of hybridity his latest novel is here more radical leaving behind the postcolonial condition and concentrating on the more general human condition of existence.
In SV Rushdie is able to translate the exile modes into diasporic idioms of postcoloniality whereas his latest novel seems to center on more general constellations such as good and evil within something which is commonly called reality and "real" (ibid.: 48).
Both novels are centered around the idea that human existence in the world is based on fictions that people believe about themselves, their religious concepts, a discursive principle and the myths mankind disposes of. This shows one basic link between both novels analysed here which lies in the final countdown between absolute evil and absolute good whose battle is out for the soul of the world. The suspension which the narrative in both works keeps together mainly lies in their treatment of a deconstruction of the self.
4. The postcolonial novel after 9/11
9/11 has been a turning point for modern man in all his spheres. The attack on the Twin Towers in New York were followed by political, economic, social and literary changes which can only be explained with this traumatic event in America's recent history. The consequence for literature was some sort of answer to the 'war on terror' which the Bush government started. The novels that followed this date were often welcomed as some sort of alternative to the political and military havoc which have changed the world. John Updike's Terrorist (2006), Don De Lillo's Falling Man (2007) and Alexie Sherman's Flight (2007) inadvertendly reinforced the dominant rhetoric on the American literary scene. Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss (2006), Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), Hisham Mater's In the Country of Man (2007) or Salman Rushdie's Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights (2015) offer a postcolonial answer to fundamentalist violence. Here is it mostly not the internationally led 'war on terror' which opposes the West to the Muslim world it is rather the internalization of the conflict within individual people, between their cultural, political and religious heritage and Western values and offers. These (postcolonial) novels rather seem to tease apart identities the war on Islam and Islamic fundamentalism seem to fuse.
It is here where Rushdie's novels must be set as well since they throw light on modern man's complex background and his inner being torn apart.
In his latest novel Rushdie seems to be focused on two literary traditions. He first follows well known authors like Dostoyevsky and Conrad who both replace the tyrannizing state with an even more terrorizing regime thus throwing light on man's ability to live the negative. He does, however, also follow the tradition of the postcolonial novel which too often finds itself in the treacherous fault-line between the binaries of the former discussion on alien and native and now terrorist discourse or the clash between East and West. Rushdie here -like Matar, Desai or Hamid- transforms the above mentioned fault line into a living, breathing space in which the human consequences of rigid and radical polarities become visible in questions of metamorphosis, identity and religious fundamentalism which all resemble the hesitations, qualifications, and complexities of lived experience. Rushdie's latest novel is (basically speaking not negative it rather sets the artifice of fiction to the service of a modestly progressive hope set in dreams and nightmares.
So for Rushdie the utopian concept of the world is an option that never ceases to haunt and indict the same world from within thus already starting to change it (for the better).
5. Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism in Contemporary English literature
The literary analysis of subjects like Empire, colonization, race or migration is deeply rooted in English literature. For a long period, the perspective on these topics was European. The end of Great Britain as the ruler of the world, the collapse of the Empire, which emerged from this, the independence of former colonies and migration movements to Europe put an end to this dominant European point of view. Now writers from the former colonies shaped and stressed their position. They started to write from the perspective of the colonized and the victims of colonial rule. The result was a pessimistic trend in modern literature, whose effects can still be found today (Greenblatt 2006: 2729-2730).
Modern migration and globalization processes, along with the renaissance of religion, brought back the religious element into literature, which had once been one of its central elements. The return of religion and the introduction of Islam were thus logical consequences of migration and globalization processes, because in these new frameworks “cultural loss, identity loss or confusion, cultural gains and identity formation” (Parkin 2010: 41) were added to the (mostly) passive role of the individual with its surrounding communities and cultures (Bredella 2010a: 32-33). One result of this constellation was, generally speaking, a negative perspective of the West and in particular a criticism of Great Britain and its handling of immigration and integration of minorities and a beginning (critical) reflection on Islam. Another was a new literary awareness and self-confidence of authors with a migrant background.
The literary parameters used in their novels make up a basis for what is called an ‘applied cultural narratology’ (Nunning/Nunning 2004), a concept that seems to have a central position within late postcolonial studies. The term describes a combination of the attempt to concentrate on the text in the sense of a classical, structuralist analysis, including topics like class, sex, race, history, culture or religion (see Erll 2004: 342; Sommer 2007b; Sommer 2007c). The use of religion within a literary framework does not stand for just one phenomenon within literature itself, it must also be looked upon as the key element for the construction of cultural memory and religious self-awareness within a foreign society. During the last two or three decades, the consequence from this was a mix of “new narratologies” (Nunning/Nunning 2004: 357), which included collective values and norms in modern literature. The literary employment of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism turns out to be an element closely connected with narration. This is also achieved by the social construction of narration itself. One result of this consists in a double approach to text work. A first access is based on certain categories that are connected with the story being told (point of view, character analysis or the plot, part of which is religion). A second access contains the generic development of Islamic literature in Great Britain and the discussion caused by it (Rupp 2010: 49-50).
In most novels where Islam is employed, this constellation is fixed to the term identity and its variations. Identity formation is along cultural memory also a central notion within Black Literature, yet closely connected with the term myth, which is basically analyzed from the perspectives of colonialism and postcolonialism. Islam and Islamic fundamentalism were not linked to mythology, they functioned (and function) as dooropeners for a notion of literature which describes the transformation of Muslims and their collective history into a modern and Western society or a globalized world. The parameters analyzed in this book, must therefore, be closely connected to identity and identity formation. Cultural (and thus religious) narrations deal with “ways in which the formal properties of the novel reflect, and influence, the unspoken mental assumptions and cultural issues of a given period” (Nunning/Nunning 2004: 358). Part of it is “the relationship between the polyphonic structure of novels and their challenge to dominant cultural discourses” (ibid.: 358).
In this context Zapf (2001) offers an interesting concept when he talks about ‘literature as cultural ecology.’ His ideas connected with the function of Islam can be seen as follows; for him, literature is based on three steps:
1. The critical reflection of dominant discourses within a society by literature (with Islam by religion).
2. The possibility to work out counterpositions (Islamic positions).
3. The ability of literary texts to bring in marginalized positions into current political discussions (e.g. the discussions on the role of Muslims).
Literary texts hereby offer the possibility of a critical discussion of cultures and religions (Gymnich 2005: 137). In this context postcolonial writing can be regarded as an alternative to pure opposition. In an ideal case, it opens the door for cultural renewal:
“In contemporary multicultural and postcolonial novels, all three functions tend to be brought out with special intensity, since what is typically staged here are both the radical conflict and the complex interrelationships between an increasingly globalized civilisatory writing/storytelling which are to be imaginatively recovered.” (Zapf 2001: 94)
The function of literature (and thus of the parameters shown here) also includes the dynamic encounter of the political and ethic levels of society. In short, mainstream society enters into a critical dialogue with marginalized groups, because literary texts as part of a given social condition bring another category into the focus of attention. The poles of distance and closeness should not only be seen as one central concern within Muslim writing, they determine each parameter itself. This is done in the sense of a 'postcolonial retrospection', which critically reflects colonialism and its effects. The religious, in the form of Islam and Islamic fundamentalism, appears as a product of the tension of a (former) political or religious independence and a (new) negative experience of the imperial past marked by migration and assimilation. The focus of these writers on autobiography, the Bildungsroman or crime fiction reflects this tension. It also shows that authors using Islam have not only taken over traditional elements of the British novel, even more so, they have hybridized them.
The result of this mix of traditional and new elements is a spectrum of categories representing different literary answers. The basis of an alternative cultural memory, connected with a hybrid basis, along with the notion of an attack on Islamic identity, must be seen as some sort of distant reflection of colonialism, migration and assimilation. The possibility of an alternative in the sense of an emancipation hints at the potential of an inner and outer liberation. The access to the genre ‘fictions of memory’ (Nunning/Nunning 2004), along with the modern construction of Muslim identity, certainly points at the traditional notion of center and periphery yet stresses the importance of an honest and fair dialogue on a cultural, religious and literary level. Rushdie like most other migrant authors, sets the question of identity into a hybrid form, simply because all characters, like the authors themselves, are portrayed in such an existence. Here another literary parameter becomes evident. It deals with the topics of hybrid narration and identity in contemporary British literature, which are connected with the question if these notions are used as positive or contrasting elements of man’s existence and its literary reflection.
6. Forms: Narratological Categories for the Analysis of the Genre
Muslim writing in the last 25 years has been marked by what is called ‘cross-fertilization’ (Nunning/Nunning 2004; Nunning 2008). This came about when religion (Islam) did not only stay on the level of an inner-literary phenomenon, it also influenced the construction of religion, too. The consequence of this was that religion could be linked with the narrative as well, i.e. Islam and Islamic fundamentalism could be used to describe the generic development of Islam in contemporary British literature (Rigney 2008: 347).
Islam and Islamic fundamentalism as expressions of a common Muslim past, its remembrance or actual presentation can, therefore, be approached by certain categories that help discuss the generic development of Islam in contemporary British literature. All categories chosen here represent possible elements by which the English novel uses or constructs Islam. They can thus be used to analyze a given set of characters, their constellation and the different points of view resulting from this. They also help reveal the function of religion in a given text and have a strong impact on “the way in which the emotional response of the reader is steered” (Nunning 2008: 59). The function of their employment is to order the narrative under the religious. In this way, the narratological categories used here do not claim to represent a definitive selection, yet they are central elements of an open list of categories showing the incorporation of Islam in contemporary English literature.
6.2 Islamic Spirituality and Transcendence
The late 19th and early 20th centuries have constantly been marked by political, cultural and literary spheres. The reasons for the loss of religion were manifold (Industrial Revolution, Socialism, Communism etc.). Spiritual and religious references lost their former importance in society and literature and left modern man alone with an increasing feeling of isolation. Religion, once a cornerstone of English literature, was marginalized and pushed into an existential crisis.
The trend from the early 1960s until today has been influenced by a development that has been described by sociologists, historians and theologians as the “Great Awaking” (Bach 2001: 10), a term that must be understood in the sense of a social resacrilisation. This return of religion into society at first consisted in a new positioning of faith in mixed forms such as psychological, spiritual or New Age offers (see Van Ness 1996).
It was finally religious fundamentalism that partly resulted from this religious vacuum zone, because it profited best from man’s irritation in times of global changes and from an increasing loss of identity. Apart from this, traditional religions were not able to balance the tensions resulting from transcendence and immanence anymore. This could only be done by fundamentalism. Religious fundamentalism offered a rigid and strict system, which included logical ideological and cultural offers along with an absolute truth - a perfect background for any character analysis. The incorporation of Islam into literature during the last 20 or 30 years replaced what Bentley (2005) rightly described as the “religious supermarket of modern pluralism” (ibid.: 147). The results were a deconstruction of Christianity of a western kind and the final shift of the place of action from the periphery to the center. Besides this geographical change, it was the (temporary or final) movement of the main characters to the Muslim side. This enabled a new and completely different access to Islam, because the main characters were still described in two worlds since “The position of the immigrant is defined by an in-between state which constantly calls for a balancing of the parameters of two or more cultural contexts.” (Loschnigg/Loschnigg 2009: 135)
The balancing of one’s own religion within different cultural surroundings produced no “smooth linear chronologies and homogenous localities” (ibid.: 135) but placed the spiritual in a new sphere of man’s existence, which can generally be regarded as alternative, logical and coherent (Sajoo 2008; Linde-Laursen 2010). One product of this use of the spiritual and religious within character analysis was a convincing authenticity and a picture of modern man, whose individuality (in reality and in fiction, alike) is marked by a central concern of the religious or the search for the truth (Galster 2002: 288-289). The range of this quest is characterized by the attempt to balance life in different social, cultural and religious spheres. The fact that this process can be painful is logical, because it is first connected with loss and then, perhaps, with gain.
The incorporation of Muslim characters into contemporary British literature completes modern characterization and social studies as well, because the reader is confronted with individuals who can function as embodiments of modern life itself. The processes involved here are often painful, and the question of modern Muslim identity ranges from emancipation, the dissolution of traditional family structures, the search for identity, and the risk of a newly gained freedom, which (after 9/11) also includes the possibility of radical Islam or terrorism.
The variety of topics connected with Muslim identity within contemporary literature also hints at the relationship of literature and religion as such. It has become clear that religion and literature have experienced a period of vulnerability where their traditional and undoubted position as representatives of the division of the “logocentric traditions and the Creative arts” (Walton 2011: 2) is questioned. This might at first glance turn out to be a dilemma, yet it includes the chance for interdisciplinary work “where new possibilities can take shape” (ibid.: 2; also see Eliot 1960: 353).
The weakness of most traditional religions and the renaissance of fundamental movements within them offered the chance to pose the “question of morality” (Eagleton 2004: 140; also see Cottingham 2005) anew. One consequence from this was the fact that the classical religious question had been replaced by a moral one. The connection of morality to the question of identity enabled Muslim authors to revalue traditional religious questions, such as ‘Where do I come from?,’ ‘Where do I go to?,’ ‘What is the meaning of life?,’ yet in most cases these questions must still be seen against the background of Muslims being victims of imperialism, colonialism and globalization.3 Another consequence of this was a new assessment of the classical division between the worldly and the secular, because Islam and Islamic fundamentalism proclaim this dualism. The result was a general presentation of “otherness” (Huggan 2001: 20), where authors and readers permanentely operate at the borderline between “literary expression and theological investment” (Hsiu-Chin Chou 2011: 188). Yet here more than anywhere else, an honest access to modern man’s existence is possible, simply because all matters of identity constantly have to be answered anew, thus provoking a dynamic process.
6.3 Identity Formation as one Central Problem of Islamic Writing
“Religioser Fundamentalismus ist nach unserer Definition eine bestimmte Art und Weise, Identitaten zu konstruieren und gesellschaftlich zu handeln. Das kann auf individueller, kollektiver oder institutioneller Ebene geschehen.” (Schafer 2008: 22)
A critical look at this quotation by Schafer (2008) shows that any narration of Muslim identity seems to be - at first sight - a counter concept to what Galster (2002) considers as central for hybrid narration, namely the concept of “fluiden Identitatskonzepten” (ibid.: 163). Here one essential question of modern literature is touched. The talk is about something that Carpi (1997) calls “Krise des Subjekts” (ibid.: 176), which is connected with the temporary status of power constellations and the inevitable involvement of people (Ha 2010: 44; also see Lange/Wiemann 2008; Loschnigg /Loschnigg 2009).
Any questioning of modern man’s existence is closely attached to man’s search for the personal I. This task is dynamic, never comes to an end and cannot be separated from its social surrounding, sex, race or religion.4 Within this framework, it becomes obvious that identity formation is one basis of social life, because it includes the self-image of the individual and of groups by others. Fundamentalists dissolve any fixed identity and propagate the struggle for religious identity. They do this because our modern time does not know any homogenous biographies. These fall apart and dispose of a dynamic character. This trend is supported by a drifting apart of national, economical, ethnic or religious unities. Fundamentalisms exactly set in here: “Sie dekretieren geschlossene Identitaten und betreiben IdentitatskampP (Schafer 2008: 222). They show that in global cities migration and multiculturalism have created transnational spheres and hybrid constellations that go beyond ethnic or cultural frontiers. Next to this they place Islam. Islam is seen as a stabilizing element for a different kind of identity formation. In literature, the interest of the (western) reader sets in because he or she sees Islam as hostile and dangerous.
Any (re)construction of Muslim identity in contemporary English literature and the different types of the present novel (autobiography, social, historical or experimental novel) is an indication of the fact that art and literature of non-white Britains destabilize traditional concepts concerning British (and European) culture, especially if they are commercially successful. What follows from this is the fact that Islamic fundamentalism (like all kinds of fundamentalisms) possesses a destructive character, simply because it is a reaction to social discrimination. What results from this, as well, is that people who are social outsiders due to their race or religion cannot identify with a different and dominant society. They isolate themselves and use their religion as some sort of shield of, and criticism against, postcolonialism and its consequences (Young 2000: 241). This attempt is made clear by parameters connected with identity formation.5 Terms like metamorphosis, search for a meaning of life, failure or helplessness are placed close to identity formation, and the results from this are “tensions between identities of origin, identities of residence, and identities of aspiration” (Appadurai 2006: 37). The analysis of these terms, therefore, helps widen the concept of Muslim identity in literature and must also be understood as a connecting element in both novels analyzed here. Since these parameters will be used in the following as connecting categories, they have to be explained before any interpretation can start. Along with a wider reflection of the term identity formation, the connection between the novels will be more logical. Besides, this step provides some sort of survey of the development this topic has taken over the last 30 years. Thus, migration, religion and metamorphosis are placed next to identity in The Satanic Verses. Globalization, integration, the dissolution of structures, the rational versus the irrational and the question of the meaning of life are used alongside identity in Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights. The result is a complex presentation of identity formation and a survey as to how the contemporary English-speaking novel has incorporated Islam into matters of Muslim identity. The relationship between identity, religion and the present, which is of special interest with this analysis, has lately been pointed out, especially in connection with the close link between religion and the modern world.6 This link is marked by the constellation of man’s identity and the moral ontology of our time. Identity is hereby understood as a part of man’s existence. It is based on the physical condition of the individual, his origin or his abilities and the actions deriving from them. Identity is defined by certain judgements that cannot be separated from man’s self and his actions. Human existence and human identity can be found in systems providing values. What results from this is the fact that identity and identity formation are attached to structures responsible for values. The basic question of identity and identity formation is linked to the classical questions already mentioned, like ‘Who am I?’, and its connection with the question ‘What do I want to be?’. The result is a tension between the personal I, its surrounding framework and a permanent desire to find meaning in life:
“One may therefore conclude that the strategy in the construction of personal identities described above runs counter to theories on identity formation which emphasize aspects such as fragmentarisation, instability, and hereogeneity or consider identity as being generated by difference.” (Nunius 2009: 21)
It is within this tension between the personal I, its desire for security and shelter and the outward conditions that religion obtains a central position, simply because human beings deny religious uprootedness. On top of that, it is only religions that offer alternatives and moral resources concerning the concept of man, which goes far beyond globalization processes,which judge man by his means to make profit (Wilfred 2001: 561-564).
Without religion, human identity very often seems to be broken, because people adapt their identity to given situations that lack any consistency and stability.7 Again, this pattern can be transferred on all characters presented here. All of them are split personalities, generally or temporarily. It is, therefore, exactly here where Muslim writers ( and Rushdie) must be seen as continuing postcolonial literature and its presentation of character analysis, which too often stresses the different types of aggression on the individual because “Postmodern characterization advances and attacks on the notion of identity, or of an essential selfhood [...] whose existence is characterized by difference (rather than identity).” (Docherty 2002: 366)
Additionally, the close relationship between Islam and character analysis shows that the persons portrayed with the help of Islam must also be seen in the dualism of an arrival in the West and the condition of being an outsider. One possible result of this is, of course, the sanctioning of identity by religion (Gerig 2000: 14).
Both novels analyzed here show this type of human being, analyze him/her and hint at this dilemma. They yet add to this development, because they transfer it to the question of modern identity formation. It seems typical for Rushdie's characters that identity is felt as being suppressed, alienated and lost - a feeling that is typical of former colonies and postcolonial writing.
6.4 Identity as a Religious Matter: The Quest for the Meaning of Life
The term identity touches on central problems of philosophy, psychology and theology, and its key role in modern literature is unquestioned.8 One consequence from this is an analysis of modern cultural and religious hybridity and the attempt to surpass the utopian picture of a stereotyped human being based on fundamentalism. Bhabha’s notion of ‘cultural hybridity’ or the possibility of a ‘third place’ is confronted by Rushdie with the concept of a rigid and fixed notion of identity, which results in a permanent negotiation of identity options.
It is not the task of this book to provide a new concept of identity based on religion. Nevertheless, this topic has to be looked upon in detail, since it plays a central role in Rushdie's writing. Basically speaking, one can agree with Taylor (1993), who looks upon identity as a framework “in dem unsere Vorlieben, Wunsche, Meinungen und Strebungen Sinn bekommen” (ibid.: 23). Any religious concept of identity is closely attached to classical theological questions such as man’s origin or the meaning of life. From a religious and philosophical point of view, humans can only pose these questions, any answers, however, are unobtainable to those outside the divine realm. For believers of all religions, it is only God who enables an approach to an answer for them.
In migrant writing in general and in Rushdie's writing in particular, the key questions of human existence are sharpened by the terms exile, ghetto or diaspora, which are used in connection with exile life in the West. People living in a diasporic situation want to get an answer to the question about their origins. Islam and Islamic fundamentalism here function as two options. It is in this background where an important task of migrant writers becomes obvious. They have to keep this memory of culture and religion alive, a task that comes close to a moral obligation if exile, ghetto or diaspora are seen as the basic sources of identity formation.
For Christianity, these questions have been approached, above all, by Guardini (1955) and his concept of human life in contrast of the worldly and the divine (ibid.: 42; 103). Man’s existence has to face this contrast. People who are not willing to accept this difference do not feel or sense God. The result is a split personality. In Islam, the question of man’s identity is closely attached to the concept of God. Man’s will and the question of human identity are determined by the divine. Any individual decision is of little importance, because all existence is based on Allah (sura, 16.104; 20.82; 3.86). Human existence depends on God’s masterplan. Yet the notion of predestination, which rules Islam, is in accordance with the notion of human liberty:
1 See Homi K. Bhabha and his highly influencual concepts. In the Location of Culture (1994) he refers to the notion of hybrid cultural identities, which are the result of colonial and postcolonial contact scenarios. The concept of 'mimicry' also employed by Bhabha, refers to Anglicised natives in a colonial context. Rushdie embodies these ideas in many of his works and widens them with his own ideas of dualism and metamorphosis yet also hinting at the polarity in modern man's existence.
2 In the following SV will be used for The Satanic Verses and TY for Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-eight Nights
3 On this, also see King 1999; D’Aguiar 2000; Huggan 2001; Carette/King 2005.
4 The discussion about the term identity is on the whole a central concern of social and cultural studies. Is is here where sociological, psychological, political, ethnic and religious theories overlap with their specific emphasis (Zarnow 2010: 7). As far as our analysis is concerned, the topic of identity is primarily looked upon from the literary point of view. It mainly centers on the relationship of the individual and his or her social role in society. The integration of religion stresses the close relationship of identity formation and sense making in the contemporary English novel. It thus appears as a reflection of the literary diagnosis of modern times, which too often exercise inclusion and exclusion. The question of identity formation thus obtains a key position and has become a central concern for contemporary literary work (Taylor 2010: 2-3; also see Lawler 2008).
5 The word identity is of Latin origin. It derives from the term idem (the same, equal). In terms of human beings, it describes certain adjectives attached to a specific individual. Research work distinguishes between different options to work with this term. As for literature, the importance of social studies has to be pointed out. Frey/Hauber (1987) regard identity as a process of self-reflection (ibid.: 21). Mead (1986) focuses on identity while hinting at the importance of the mind’s development and the personal I in connection to an individual’s social surroundings (ibid.: 177). Modern concepts pick up these social notions of identity and stress the social level as the most powerful element in identity formation. What becomes clear here is the danger migration and globalization processes can have for any human being in the 21st century (see Hein 2006; Sen 2007a; Zirfas 2007). For identity and history see Childs 2005: 188ff.
6 In this context, the considerations of Taylor are of central interest. Taylor (1995a/b, 1996, 2002, 2007) constantly stresses the dependence of modern man’s identity and religion, using different social studies. From this interdependence he draws the framework that the personal I needs (Taylor 1995b: 173; 196: 7). He notices that modern man’s identity turns flat because of the absence of moral values. He talks about a central aspect within the novels presented, because Islam and Islamic fundamentalism are regarded as permanent or temporary alternatives to the Western framework in which the main characters have to live. Here another dilemma of modern man becomes obvious. His moral background provided by family, state or religion are in a flow, they become dynamic in the sense that they loose their (former) positive influence. Religion and fundamentalism seem to be the last sources for any orientation in the process of identity formation. In short, Taylor (1996) points out the following aspects:- Identity can only be found in a background marked by morality.
- This background is characterized by structures that offer orientation.
- These offers can be accepted.
- This is done in a decision making process marked by self-interpretation.
This self-interpretation or self-definition takes place in surroundings in which the human being has to cope with “transzendentale Bedingungen” (ibid.: 63). Taylor calls this background moralische “Landkarte” (ibid.: 28; 59).
7 At the fringes of this map, one can find the longing for a sense in life, failure, powerlessness and identity formation. It is also here where man and religious offers meet. The result of this meeting is either a weakening or a strengthening of man’s identity. For the status of weakness, the terms ‘illusion’ and ‘blindness’ are used. If one transfers these terms to the novels analyzed here, it is striking to see that they correspond more to male Muslim characters than to the female ones. One reason for this seems to be that they try to find their identity in a permanent quarrel with Islam. The final results from this are either a strengthening of the character or the decision for an illusionary way (fundamentalism). In the final analysis, however, modern man’s identity is characterized by dialogue. Thus, individuality can only be reached with others. Bredella (2010b) here differentiates between the liberal I (the personal I decides how it wants to live) and a communal concept of the personal I (the cultural framework decides how the personal I is constituted (ibid.: 15). The consequence from Taylor’s ideas on the term identity is shown by the desire of radical Moslems for acceptance, shelter and their struggle for a collective identity, which is a permanent element of their own identity (ibid.: 138). This notion, which also has a psychological background, is marked by a clear going away from the political notion of an intercultural life of people coming from different religious or cultural backgrounds. It is the Noble prize winner Orhan Pamuk, who takes Taylor’s ideas up: “Was die Literatur in erster Linie erzahlen und erforschen sollte, das ist der Mehrheit grundsatzliches Problem, namlich Minderwertigkeitsgefuhle, die Furcht ausgeschlossen und unbedeutend zu sein, verletzter Nationalstolz,Empfindlichkeiten verschiedenster Arten von Groll und grundsatzlichen Argwohn, nicht enden wollende Erniedrigungsphantasien und damit einhergehend nationalistische Prahlerei und Uberheblichkeit.” (Pamuk, 2006-12-09) What has already been pointed out is the fact that human identity today is bound to the changes taking place at the moment along with their influence on man. One result of this is the facing of and the suffering from this condition (Glomb 1997: 7).
8 The importance of the religious concept of identity has, above all, been pointed out by Friedman (2008). Friedman here distinguishes between faith, religion and belief. All three distinctions can be found in the novels presented here. They are used as reflections for the search for a meaning in life.
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