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

  • James Procter

Abstract

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

Keywords

Political Content Ordinary Folk Magic Realism Postcolonial Study Prevailing Discourse 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Paul Gilroy, ‘Frank Bruno or Salman Rushdie?’ in Small Acts (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1993), pp. 86–94; pp. 87, 88–9.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    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
  3. 9.
    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
  4. In collections like Merle Collins and Rhonda Cobham (eds), Watchers and Seekers (London: The Women’s Press, 1987)Google Scholar
  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
  8. 10.
    Salman Rushdie, Midnight’s Children (London: Picador, [1981] 1982)Google Scholar
  9. and Shame (London: Picador, [1983] 1984).Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Salman Rushdie, ‘Outside the whale’ in Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism, 1981–91 (London: Granfa Books, 1992), pp. 87–101.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    See James Procter (ed.), Writing Black Britain 1948–1998: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2000), pp. 261–5.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    Syed Manzurul Islam, ‘Writing the Postcolonial Event: Salman Rushdie’s August 15th, 1947’, Textual Practice, 13:1 (1999), pp. 119–35; p. 119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 21.
    See for example, John McLeod, Postcolonial London: Rewriting the Metropolis (London: Routledge, 2004).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 22.
    Linton Kwesi Johnson, Mi Revalueshanary Fren: Selected Poems (London: Penguin, 2002), pp. 55–60.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (London: Viking, 1988).Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    Sankofa, Territories (1984).Google Scholar
  17. 27.
    For Rushdie’s review and the response it provoked, see James Procter (ed.), Writing Black Britain 1948–1998: An Interdisciplinary Anthology (Manchester University Press: Manchester, 2000), pp. 261–5.Google Scholar
  18. 32.
    Fredric Jameson, Marxism and Forms: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories of Literature (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 111.Google Scholar
  19. 33.
    Hazel Carby, ‘Multicultural Fictions’ (Birmingham: Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, Paper no. 58, 1979).Google Scholar
  20. 36.
    If, as John McLeod has rightly argued, a transnational focus allows us to attend to the canonical constrictions of black British (see ‘Some Problems with “British” in “a Black British Canon”’, Wasafiri, 36, Summer 2002, pp. 56–59), this essay has argued black British may also help us locate and negotiate (rather than a resolve) what I take to be some of the canonical constrictions and slippages of ‘transnational’, and its tendency to smooth over, or simply not linger for long enough, on local/national formations.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 37.
    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
  23. 39.
    Revathi Krishnaswamy (1995) ‘Mythologies of Migrancy: Postcolonialism, Postmodernism and the Politics of (Dis)location’, Ariel, 26:1 (1995), pp. 125–46; p. 132.Google Scholar
  24. 40.
    Peter Widdowson, Literature (London: Routledge, 1999), p. 23.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Procter

There are no affiliations available

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