‘The Ghost of Other Stories’: Salman Rushdie and the Question of Canonicity?

  • James Procter


In a piece first published in the New Statesman in 1990, Paul Gilroy compares the diverging fortunes of two heavyweights of the British media during the late 1980s: Salman Rushdie and Frank Bruno. Gilroy argues that, at the time of his first World Championship fight against Mike Tyson, Bruno became a potent symbol ‘of the future of blacks in this country’, while Rushdie and the ‘Affair’ that surrounded him came to symbolize the foreignness of Muslim settlers. What Gilroy calls the ‘canonization’ of ‘our Frank’ was contemporaneous with the marginalization of British Asians, who found themselves construed as utterly and irredeemably different:

For a while, Frank’s muscular black English masculinity became a counterpart to the esoteric and scholastic image of Rushdie — the middle-class intellectual immigrant — so remote from the world of ordinary folk that he was able to misjudge it so tragically.

For two weeks the stories were articulated directly together. They fed off each other, echoing, replying and re-working the same range of visceral themes: belonging and exclusion, sameness and assimilation … The image of each man stood as a convenient emblem for one of Britain’s black settler communities, marking out their respective rates of progress towards integration. Each image increased its symbolic power through implicit references to the other — its precise inversion.1


Political Content Ordinary Folk Magic Realism Postcolonial Study Prevailing Discourse 
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    Paul Gilroy, ‘Frank Bruno or Salman Rushdie?’ in Small Acts (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1993), pp. 86–94; pp. 87, 88–9.Google Scholar
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    Aijaz Ahmad, ‘Salman Rushdie’s Shame: Postmodern Migrancy and the Representation of Women’, in In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992), pp. 123–58; p. 123.Google Scholar
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    Prahbu Guptara’s Black British Literature: An Annotated Bibliography (Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1986) makes assertive claims for the term as an index for African, Asian and Caribbean writing.Google Scholar
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  5. and Lauretta Ngcobo (ed.), Let it Be Told (London: Pluto Press 1987) the editors appear to register a more cautious acceptance of the relationship between black and British through their respective subtitles: ‘Black Women in Britain’ and ‘Black Writers in Britain’.Google Scholar
  6. Early anthologists like James Berry use ‘Westindian British’ (see Bluefoot Traveller, London: Limestone Publications 1976 and 1981, and News from Babylon, London: Chatto 1984) rather than black British, while E.A. Markham speaks of ‘Caribbean poetry from the West Indies and Britain’ Caribbean’ in Hinterland (Newcastle-Upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1989).Google Scholar
  7. The first sustained study of black British writing, David Dabydeen and Nana Wilson-Tagoe’s important but critically neglected A Reader’s Guide to West Indian and Black British Literature (Mundelstrup: Dangroo Press, 1987) notes that ‘Black British is even more problematic’ than the term West Indian (p. 10).Google Scholar
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    See for example, John McLeod, Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis (London: Routledge, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    It is particularly interesting within the context of this chapter that if Rushdie’s phrase is conventionally regarded as a play on the Star Wars film, then it also has a more local, black British inter-text in the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies text, Paul Gilroy et al. (eds), The Empire Strikes Back (London: Hutchinson, 1982).Google Scholar
  22. 38.
    Salman Rushdie, Fury (New York: Random House, 2001).Google Scholar
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2006

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  • James Procter

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