"Fictions where a man could live": worldlessness, utopia, and the void in Rushdie's Grimus.
A common justification for the critical neglect of Griffins is its apparent obliviousness to the disciplinary shibboleths of what was, throughout the 1980s, the developing field of postcolonial studies. From the vantage of the early 1990s institutionalization of the discipline, Griffins is not a successful novel because it is not yet an identifiably postcolonial one. Mujeebuddin Syed writes in 1994 that "in spite of its brilliant attempt at creating an ironic meta-histoire, a sardonic philosophia perennis, Grimus falters in its failure to countenance postcolonial concerns." Rushdie's Joycean narrative experiments, Syed further argues, "prove inadequate in providing Grimus with a mooring, an anchor that can provide its high profile a well-defined identity" (148). Similarly, Catherine Cundy suggests in 1992 that the true value of Grimus is simply that it "offers an important insight into the stylistic and thematic preoccupations developed more fully in the author's later work," thus allowing us to see in embryo the "areas of debate which are handled with greater depth and maturity in Rushdie's later work" (128). At this apprentice stage, she suggests, the thematic concerns that will inform subsequent novels (hybridity, the emigre experience, the quest for postcolonial identity, and the ambivalent cultural legacies of imperialism) appear as yet frustratingly inchoate: "the diversity remains just that; the elements insufficiently blended to make the novel appear a skillfully amalgamated whole." Griffins is, Cundy contends, "clearly a novel from a period when Rushdie had not yet achieved the synthesis of diverse cultural strands and narrative forms" (137), and it takes only "tentative steps towards an examination of post-coloniality," a subject that she describes as "submerged" in the novel's mercurial structure (129). (2)
But what if such readings judge Rushdie's debut novel according to the wrong criteria, by standards derived from the disciplinary habits of thought that his later work helped to instantiate? Indeed, these critical approaches. consider Griffins in the light of both Midnights Children and a poststructuralist-inflected postcolonial hermeneutic. If, however, we disregard this interpretive consensus and its fundamental narrative of authorial entelechy, we might read the novel's unapologetic rejection of a national-cultural habitus not as a failing--as a failure to situate the book's multiple dislocations within the ambit of the postcolonial nation state--but rather as the register of an altogether different creative aim.
At least one recent critical response to Grimus has taken important steps toward such a reconsideration and provides its a useful point of departure. In an essay tellingly titled "From Science Fiction to History," Andrew Teverson attempts to reclaim Grimus as a politically interested work of fiction by distinguishing between the thematic preoccupations of "science fiction"--expressed variously in its futuristic effects, its exposition of alternative causalities, and its "desire to postulate and explore the existence of parallel dimensions"--and the imaginative interventionism of the SF sub-genre "speculative fiction," the techniques of which, Teverson notes, "fulfill distinctive political aims" through the operation (though he does not use the term) of a Suvinian cognitive estrangement (112). In attempting to redeem Rushdie's underappreciated first novel, then, Teverson nevertheless rehearses many of the old academic prejudices against SF so frequently used to dismiss Grimus in the first place. (3) For instance, his observation that Rushdie does not regard SF "as an end in itself, however, but as a springboard for the exploration of philosophical and political concepts" tacitly assumes that SF "as an end in itself" (111) does not typically provide for such explorations without conceptual or critical supplementation. Such suppositions, I argue, both limit our capacity to read Grimus on. its own terms and neglect the dialectical dynamism that is the hallmark of SE Despite its many productive insights, then, Teverson's analysis is fundamentally hampered by its reluctance to countenance the novel's all-important generic affiliations.
Recognizing in the novel's "Conceptualist" philosophical system--by which the Gorfs "create" by simply reconfiguring the sequence of what already is--elements of a familiar post-structuralist epistemology, Teverson suggests that the novel might be read as a self-reflexive "covert analysis" of the limits of post-structuralism itself. The post-structuralist privileging of discourse as anterior to and thus constitutive of both the self and experiential reality is "only a whisper away from the Gorfic assertion that reality is constructed by thought forms and can be transformed by the anagrammatical rearrangement of these thought forms" (116). To this philosophic trend, which was by the mid-1970s rapidly becoming the dominant critical and philosophical discourse in the West, Grimus thus poses the central question: "if post-structuralist thought does describe reality as it is, what is that reality and what are its implications for the human condition?" Teverson's analysis here begins to uncover, I think, the primary formal and political contribution of Grimus--and perhaps a substantial reason for the book's neglect--though even he reads it as a literary experiment that remains too generalized and culturally incoherent to realize its greater ambitions: "the intellectual explorations conducted in this fiction remain abstract, because they are never explicitly connected to a coherent, identifiable, historical moment" (120).
Thus confronted with the same problem as previous commentators, Teverson offers the strategic compromise that Grimus distinguishes between two conflicting forms of post-structuralism, one that is politically enabling and one that is decidedly disabling. The differences between these can be most clearly perceived in the Gorf's Divine Game of Order and its important lesser branch, Conceptualism, which originates in a response to a "rare" philosophical pronouncement from the Gorfic leader Dota: "I think, therefore it is" (66). As Rushdie writes, "Dota had intended it to mean simply that nothing could exist without the presence of a cognitive intellect to perceive its existence." The heretical Gorf Koax cleverly "reversed this to postulate that anything of which such an intellect could conceive must therefore exist," after which he conceives into existence other dimensions (Endimions) populated with various forms of life, an unprecedented act that understandably unnerves his fellow Gorfs. For Teverson, working through the philosophical differences and political implications of these primary postulates is the central concern of the book. In the orthodox model of Dota, he claims, "we engage with an independently existing material world using the structures of thought and structures of narrative that we have available to us," whereas the more heterodox locution of Koax "represents a dangerous form of self-delusion, because it detaches human actions from a material reality, and so relieves human beings of the need for a responsibility to that reality" (120). The problem posed by the novel, Teverson rightly suggests, is clearly that of political agency in a postmodern world.
While Teverson's reading does much to illuminate previously overlooked dimensions of the book, both repositioning it as a politically engaged fiction and underscoring the importance of material history in our understanding of it, I recommend that we might also recognize in Koax's radical founding of Conceptualism the initial step in the novel's dialectical unfolding of a specifically utopianist figuration, one that takes place against the "worldless" backdrop of an emergent globalization, the acknowledgment of which restores for us the novel's "missing" cultural context and hermeneutic ground.
Prior to the heretical pronouncement of Koax, our narrator tells us, Gorfic reality consisted of a vacuum-like stasis in which the stony beings sat trapped in "near-immobility and total isolation" (65). Because they lacked a self-substantiating other, the Goth could scarcely even verify the presumed superiority of their own culture and so succumbed to a "philosophy of despair" summed up in another of the celebrated utterances of Dota: "And are we actually to be the least intelligent race in our endimions?" In a move that anticipates his subsequent major revision of the Divine Game of Order, Koax rejects the inherent pessimism of this worldview in an anagrammatical reformulation of the question: "Determine how catalytic an elite is; use our talent and learning-lobe." This response, our narrator observes, is
a perfect use of Anagrammar; for not only does it contain all the letters of the Chiefest Question and only those letters, but moreover, it enriches the Question itself, adding to it the concept of elitism and its desirability, the concept of catalysis and its origins, and instructions about how the question should be answered.
That is, Koax's response, while admitting nothing materially extrinsic to the given framework of the original, nonetheless allows, in true dialectical fashion, for the faint recognition of a potentially contradictory impulse within it.
Perhaps even more useful here is the concept that contemporary French philosopher Main Badiou calls the void, the indiscernible excess that "inexists" in the field of the known as the "non-term of any totality" (Being 55). Badiou contends that any situation or field of knowledge also contains within it the not-yet-known, that which can figure into the existing structure only as the unaccountable or impossible. He notes, for instance, that for the ancient Greek Pythagoreans, the numerable domain was composed solely of whole, rational numbers. The discovery that the diagonal of a square to its side is a number neither whole nor rational therefore presents a particularly vexing aporia, especially given that Pythagorean ontology is built on the premise that being is consonant with number (Badiou, Theory 202-23).The paradoxical existence of that which is not number within the ontological realm of number figures a void, or that which exceeds the existing symbolic order and therefore provides an alternate perspective on the present situation, now revealed as contingent and finalized, even as it beckons toward an as yet unsymbolizable future configuration. For Badiou, the unnamable nature of the void has specifically political implications because the emergence of the politically agential subject can occur only, as Oliver Feltham glosses it, "through an act of nomination that baptizes the point of impossibility in a structure and forces the latter to accommodate it" (55). The properly political subject is thus the excess of the existent order, the uncompromising and impossible demands of which at once rend the fabric of the social totality and clear space for the production of a new one. (4) This is Badiou's (early, Maoist-inflected) version. of the historical dialectic, a structure, I believe, also very much at work within the narrative composition of Grimus. (5)
Calf Island, Anagrammar, and the return of the subject
We can first observe the utopian operation of the void in Grimus as a philosophical dilemma borne out of the construction of the novel's primary setting, the chronotopically circumscribed, explicitly "utopian" space of Calf Island. Following his rogue act of Conceptualization, Koax reassures his grousing fellow Gorfs by conceiving an Object for each new Endimions that allows its possessor to control access to all other Endimions, a kind of networking system that secures the authority of the Gorfs over their creations.The Object created for Earth, fortuitously discovered by Virgil the gravedigger, is the Stone Rose, contact with which allows Virgil and his later associates Deggle and Grimus to discover the secrets of trans-dimensional "travelling," obtain the elixirs of eternal life and death, and ultimately construct and populate Calf Island, a haven where those "who tire of the world but not of life" may spend eternity indulging their respective intellectual and physical passions (211).
Serving as the Dantean guide to protagonist Flapping Eagle--who is on a quest to find the now tyrannical Grimus and to rescue his lost sister--Virgil disagrees with. Grimus, his erstwhile partner, on the crucial philosophical nature of Calf Island's creation. As Virgil notes in his journal: "We have been building a world. Impossible to say whether we found the island or made it. I incline to the latter, Grimus to the former. He holds that Conceptual Technology merely reveals existences which mirror your concepts. I am not so sure" (211). Grimus's view, that is, corresponds to the orthodox one delineated by the Gorfic law of Anagrammar, which, until the dramatic reformulation authored by Koax, limited the act of creation to the meager reshuffling of an already existent content. Conversely, Virgil allows for the radical act of creation ex nihilo, for the emergence of the pre-theoretical or pre-conceptual, that which has not yet, in Lacanian argot, been inscribed into the Symbolic order but rather bursts upon it as a traumatic irruption of the unsymbolizable Real. Badiou offers us a useful concept here as well, for Koax's revolutionary revision of the divine law of Anagrammar, as piogressive as it seems in its immediate context, bears a striking resemblance to what Badiou criticizes as the "structural dialectic," which, through an overly deterministic theory of transformation that privileges the immobilizing circular symmetry of the dissolution of opposites, disallows both contingency and novelty and limits the process of (periodizing, historical) change to local modification rather than systemic transformation (Theory 54). Such a mechanistic/formalistic model collapses the evental void of the situation that marks the site of the subject and thus of authentic political agency. Structural dialecticism, which Badiou comes to associate primarily with the thought of his mentor Althusser, (6) serves only as a way station in the more comprehensively dialectical trajectory (the historical) charted by Badiou's ongoing project and, I want to suggest, Rushdie's first work of fiction. So while Koax's revision is a necessary first step, the novel cannot allow it to be the last.
In what is perhaps the most thorough critical treatment of Grimus to date, Roger Y. Clark reads the novel's self-conscious appropriation of various cyclical cosmologies as an index of its poststructuralist sympathies, of its presumed repudiation of the linear and dichotomous in favor of the circular and the plural. Flapping Eagle, whose birth name is Born-From-Dead due to his mother's expiration during childbirth, completes the cycles of his life and of the universe, symbolically returning the latter to a state of cosmic nullity out of which the next age can rise and likewise decline. Thus, according to Clark's interpretation, the novel rehearses a characteristically postmodernist cynicism with regard to emancipatory grand narratives: "Thinking in terms of the Divine Comedy, one might see Eagle's fate as a return from the light-tilled realms of Heaven to the obscure forest of this world" (60). For Dark, Rushdie's patchwork interpolation of global mythologies simply reinforces the dominant motif of an inescapably recurrent historical cycle:
Keeping in mind Attar's Qaf, one might note that Attai's pilgrim returns to die mundane world after his union and annihilation. Given returns to die mundane world after his union and annihilation. Given the Hindu references in the text, one might conclude that Eagle remains on the wheel of death and rebirth, and that after his heavenly experience with Media he will proceed to a less exalted state of being. This fits with the references to Germanic myth as well, for the afterlife of Girnie is not nearly as exciting as the heroic battles and the eschatological chaos which precede it. (60)
Yet, what if this cyclical worldview, as perfectly consonant with the nonlinear, perpetual present of postmodernity (and the structural dialectic) as with the Gorfic doctrine of Anagrammar, is precisely what Grimus undertakes to challenge? Applying Badiou's concept of the void, we can determine that the governing structure of the novel is not that of the cycle but rather that of the spiral. As Ernst Bloch reminds us, the cycle, which flatly refuses the radical alterity of the novum, and in which "the Last thing appears simply as the attained return of an already completed First Thing which has been lost or relinquished" (203) is a favored trope of conservative, pseudo-utopian discourse. Conversely, Flapping Eagle's journey to (and beyond) the stronghold of Grimm is punctuated by a series of transgressions and traversals of the dominant structure that Badiou might recognize as the spiraling are of a truly political subject, which, as he writes, "stands at the crossing between a lack of being and a destruction, a repetition and an interruption, a placement, and an excess" (Theory 139). By positing and then pointedly violating a series of "absolute" horizons, the novel establishes a dialectical pattern that grows increasingly more elaborate as the narrative unfolds and as Flapping Eagle approaches the object of his quest.
To begin his journey, Eagle wrenches himself free of the exclusive and static order of the Axona and attains a consciousness of the present as present The opening of chapter two introduces us by way of flashback to the young Eagle as he drowses in the effectively timeless enclosure of the Axona: "The day had begun well enough. That is to say, it resembled the previous day sufficiently (in terms of weather, temperature and mood) to give the half-sleeping young man the illusion of continuity" (16). This sense of continuity is tempered by just enough superficial variation "to produce an equal and opposite illusion of temporal movement." Flapping Eagle basks "pleasurably in these conflicting and harmonious mirages, drifting slowly up towards consciousness, which would banish both and substitute a third illusion: the present." The seeming whole of the present is therefore unmasked by the narrator as a conflict of oppositional tendencies (difference emerging here out of repetition), and Eagle's fleeting meditation on this constitutive contradiction signals the emergence of a discerning historical consciousness, one which will eventually lead him to violate the foremost Axona prohibition. "to be a race apart and have no doings with the wicked world."
In fact, Flapping Eagle himself embodies the indiscernible within the Axona community. While the troubling circumstance of his birth from his mother's dead body marks him as ill-omened and his indefinite sex as a child proves an irreducible complication for the Axona's binary gender categories, it is his pigment that ultimately alienates Eagle from his tribe. A dark-skinned people who have never before encountered outsiders, the Axona can interpret Eagle's whiteness only as a horrifying sign of his absolute difference, the acceptance of which would require the utter dismantling of the Axona doctrine of homogeneity. This early exclusion prepares him, he later admits, for his long journey to Calf Island, the first step of which is a willful transgression of the obsessively guarded Axona border. Thus, when the Whirling Demons who, according to Axona legend, both defend and define the tribal boundary are exposed as "nothing but air" (or ideology), what Eagle previously perceived as an absolute limit is revealed as merely the first in a series of barriers to be overcome (21). (8) It is not then surprising that the first stop on his journey is the city of. Phoenix, the significance of which would seem to validate the cyclical reading offered by Clark except that we are given no return here but instead the passing of yet another horizon, the forcing open of another asphyxiating circuit into a new space.
Eventually, after many years of travel, the outer boundaries of the world itself become confining and Eagle imagines himself into the dimension of Calf Island through an impossible hole in the sea. Even on the island, however, he is confronted with complex strata of supposedly unbreachable boundaries. Virgil and Dolores occupy the lowest such stratum of Calf Island along the coastline, where they have come to escape the steadily spreading Grimus Effect, a kind of debilitating hyper-awareness of both the existing and potential inner and outer dimensions, a condition that can result in mental derangement or even death.
Higher up on the forbidding slopes of the mountain is the island's single settlement of K. To approach K, Eagle must overcome the paralyzing delirium of the Grimus Effect, and his efforts to do so both indicate the novel's critical engagement with poststructuralisrn and an incipient postmodernity at the same time that they reveal the utopianism inherent to Virgil's guiding philosophy. In explaining the novel properties of interdimensionality, Virgil notes that Eagle must cultivate "a different set of tools of perception," that he must come to the recognition that "the limitations we place upon the world are imposed by ourselves rather than the world" (52). Apart from its basic philosophical idealism, inherent in such recognition is the perception of the myriad potential realities present within the visible limits of the actual:
Is it not a conceptual possibility that here, in our midst, permeating all of us and all that surrounds us, is a completely other world, composed of different kinds of solids, different kinds of empty spaces, with different perceptual tools, which make us as non-existent to its inhabitants as they are to ours? In a word, another dimension. ... If you concede that conceptual possibility, said Mr. Jones, you must also concede that there may well be more than one. In fact, that an infinity of dimensions night exist, as palimpsests, upon and within and around our own, without our being in palimpsests, upon and within and around our own, without our being in any wise able to perceive them.
Eagle's arrival on Calf Island, one of these "million possible Earths with a million possible histories," signals his special receptivity to such unseen possibilities, a characteristic that, even as it reveals the existence of the Calf Island Endimions also renders him acutely vulnerable to the disori-entations of the Grimus Effect and its accompanying "dimension-fever."
Virgil recognizes in Eagle's unique sensitivity, however, the essential utopian characteristic of untinishedness, or what Bloch calls the "prospective horizon" (223), the critical vantage of which incompletes the inert structure of the present and disturbs its isotropic vectors. As Virgil informs the young hero, "Mr. Eagle, you are not a realized man. That is your weakness and also your power" (70). It is, we learn, only their relative "completion" that insulates the inhabitants of K from the maddening Effect even as it renders them incapable (indeed, because it renders them incapable) of resisting the quiet tyranny of Grimus, who resides on the mountain's peak behind an impenetrable "wall of cloud" that "never lifts" (100-1). "Where the prospective horizon is omitted," writes Bloch, "reality only appears as become, as dead, and it is the dead ... who are burying their dead here" (223); it is not surprising that we find a strikingly Blochean formulation in Grimus: "That which is complete is also dead" (232). Inclusion of the prospective horizon within the reckoning of reality, Bloch writes, reveals the "path-network of dialectical processes which occur in an unfinished world, in a world which would not be in the least changeable without the enormous future: real possibility in that world" (223). Eagle's fraught journey into K may therefore be read as nothing short of the return of the dialectic itself.
Mounting the slopes of Calf Mountain with Virgil as guide, Eagle is suddenly overcome with dimension-fever, significantly described here as a "temporary loss of imagination," and faces his next major challenge in the form of the Abyssinian twins Mallit and Khallit, who are engaged in an argument "without beginning or end, its very lack of purpose or decision undermining Flapping Eagle's ability to think clearly" (77). The mystifying closed circuit of this interminable debate, in which the twin interlocutors exchange positions and perfectly rebut one another, creates yet another airless enclosure, an absolute limit and seemingly insuperable deadlock. As Clark describes it, the twins "throw irreconcilable opposites at Eagle and then make his survival depend upon reconciling them" (47). In so doing, Mallit and Khallit rehearse the defining conflict of Flapping Eagle's existence as well as the formal preoccupations of the novel: "But here's a paradox, said Khallit. Suppose a man deprived of death. Suppose him wandering through all eternity, a beginning without an end. Does the absence of death in him mean that life is also absent?" (78). Thus, they determine, Flapping Eagle is one of the living dead, "Incapable of influencing his own life" and utterly without purpose. But for the timely intervention of Virgil, whose whirling "Weakdance" dissolves the conceptual doublebind, Eagle would certainly have succumbed to the ensnaring and enervating logic of this most postmodern of puzzles, the effectiveness of which derives from a simple paucity of imagination, from Eagle's inability to deny the intolerable terms given him and to choose the seemingly impossible option. After he is rescued and reflects on the anagrammatical rationale of the Mallit/Khallit puzzle, Eagle realizes that the way out, based on a pun told him by the trickster figure Deggle many years earlier, was before him all the time: "Ethiopia ... Abyssinia ... I'll be seeing you. ... Goodbye. All he had to do was say Goodbye and the puzzle was solved" (79). In other words, confronted with the absolute foreclusion of agency, all he need do is assert it.
Flapping Eagle's passion for the real
Upon finally arriving in K, Flapping Eagle is obligated by the Doctrine of Obsession to declare a specific personal interest. Under the instruction of resident philosopher Ignatius Quasimodo Gribb, "the petrified, Simplified Men of K" (199), whose collectivity is defined by national-cultural plurality as much as by the unifying absence of Grimus, have devoted themselves single-mindedly to the objects of their respective personal "obsessions," which, as Virgil notes, "close the mind to dimensions" and their array of implied social alternatives: "Often [the people of K] fix themselves a time in their lives to mull over. Live the same day over and over again. ... Still. If a false front's thick enough, it serves. To protect" (82). As he is told by one of the inhabitants, "We in K ... like to think of ourselves as complete men. Most, or actually all of us have a special area of interest to call out own. I don't think we could accept anyone otherwise" (123). The paralyzing inertia of K (as well as the utopian agenda of the novel) is most clearly and poignantly epitomized by the arrested pregnancy of Irina Cherkassov, who, after drinking the blue elixir of eternal life and retiring to Calf Island, discovered that she was with child: "Can you understand, Flapping Eagle, how that feels? What it is to have a second life stagnant within one's womb, perhaps a genius, perhaps a second idiot, perhaps a monster, as frozen within me as the lovers on the grecian urn?" (146). 1. Q. Gribb's personal obsession of choice, the cliche, likewise reinforces the circular (and circumscriptive) logic that characterizes the town of K, its foreclusion of invention: "This, said Gribb, jabbing a finger at the pages, is my great endeavour. The All-Purpose Quotable Philosophy. A quote for all seasons to make life both supportable and comprehensible. A framework of phrases to live within, pregnant with a truly universal meaning" (129).
While this obsessionalism and lack of historical consciousness is conspicuously concentrated in the settlement of K, it defines more broadly the postmodern reality of Calf Island as a whole. Before the catalyzing advent of Eagle as the island's unassimilable surplus, Virgil, along with his lover Dolores, had succumbed completely to the torpor and absolute relativism of the island's perpetual present: "We live wholly in the microcosm, you see; the state of my corns and the state of nations are to me of equal concern. I don't want to preach but I would recommend that you adapt yourself to minutiae; they are so much less confusing" (44). Virgil's worldview rehearses here almost exactly Fredric Jameson's observation that the ideally schizophrenic postmodern subject is "easy enough to please, provided only an eternal present is thrust before the eyes, which gaze with equal fascination on an old shoe or on the tenaciously growing organic mystery of the human toenail" (Postmodernism 10). As Virgil goes on to counsel, "Concentrate on the here, Mr. Eagle, that's my advice to you . ... Don't worry about the there. Or the Past. Or the Future. Worry about dinner and your corns. Those are things you can affect" (44).
It is Eagle's threat to this perpetual present that most troubles Dolores, who keeps history safely contained in a locked trunk that is never opened:
Sure, sure, sure, as fixed in the fluid of the years as her immortal body, immortal now as souls, replenished daily, neither growing old nor young, static. The present is tomorrow's past, as fixed, as sure, nor young, static. The present is tomorrow's past, as fixed, as sure, the trunk would tell her so. ... There, the past. Put him in the trunk, dear gravedigger poet, put him there to stay unaltered, put him in the trunk and keep him, folded, enfolded, the same for ever and ever, world without end, our men. (57)
Dolores' fears prove justified in that Flapping Eagle's arrival almost immediately rouses Virgil both to recall the history of the island and to risk what he later describes as "a return to a long-lost war" (101), thereby abandoning the crippling and ahistorical monotony of his life on the shore with Dolores, who subsequently loses what is left of her tenuous mental equilibrium and commits suicide, the first of several deaths on this island of eternal life.
To the astonishment of everyone in K, Eagle declares his obsession to be Grimus himself, the absent center (or Real) of Calf Island's existence. This choice is particularly disturbing to Gribb, who understands that the pluralistic, individualistic society of K depends for its structural integrity on the amnesiac suppression of the very force that subtends it.The people of K, rapt by the euphoria of their individual obsessions, have so successfully forgotten the existence of Grimus that he has become myth, his disavowed phantasmic presence concealed as much by the perceptual limits of cognitive specialization as by the invisible wall of his sub-dimension. In a structural analogue to the anagrammatical snare of Mallit/Khallit, Flapping Eagle must then search for the symptoms that reveal Grimus's presence while resisting the powerful temptation to succumb to the comforting oblivion of K's perpetual here-and-now.
Eagle's task thus exhibits striking parallels to the "impossible" operation of ideology critique within the smooth space of postmodernity, where reification has pierced every dimension, where no uncolonized locus remains from which to mount a proper critique, and where ideology as such is believed no longer to exist. Noting. this crisis in his seminal discussion of postmodernism, ameson writes that with the collapsing of a "minimal aesthetic distance" and the lost "possibility of the positioning of the cultural act outside the massive Being of capital, from which to assault this last," we face an unprecedented historical situation in which "some of our most cherished and time-honored radical conceptions about the nature of cultural politics may ... find themselves outmoded" (Postmodernism 48). The limitations of the traditional leftist critique, the perceptual apparatuses of which are no longer commensurate to the enormity and plasticity of late capital and its penetration of the formerly extrinsic spheres of nature, culture, and the unconscious, are revealed (almost a decade before the appearance of Jameson's essay in 1984) in the character of Rushdie's P.S. Moonshy, whose Marxist burlesque functions not as an absolute dismissal of the leftist critique but rather as a critical dramatization of the insufficiency of the structural model (Marxism as a "science of history") to address the as yet untheorized problematic of late or globalized capital. In fact, the amnesiac settlement of K is itself founded upon a nostalgic preservation of the former model of imperialist/monopoly capitalism and its structural preference for the nation state: "To be in K was to return to a consciousness of history, of good times, even of nationhood. O'Toole, Cherkassov ... like them or not, the names conjured a past world back to life" (130).. But as Eagle's quest reveals, this reality is already obsolete, its old certainties and "structures of feeling" secured only by the absent center of Grillins, who later makes explicit his immanently material relationship to the fantasy-space of the island: "And who do you think it is that watches over K? Do you not think those aged houses would have fallen down by now? Do you not think that muchtilled soil would be exhausted by now? Did you ever wonder why Mr. Cribb never ran out of paper or where the metal hinges which held the doors on were made?" (237).
Grimus thus reveals itself as an allegory not of postcolonial national or cultural identity but of the perceived decline of the statist problematic and the rise of what would gradually reveal itself as the new global order.The structural crises of the capitalist system in the late 1960s and early 1970s, characterized by precipitous global stagflation, the waning influence of the Bretton Woods regulations, and the ultimate abandonment of the Keynesian compromise between labor and capital, led finally to the rise of the neo-liberal policies and institutions that, by the late 1 970s and early 1980s, had achieved full consolidation as the new economic dispensation. From Nixon's abandonment of the gold standard in 1.971 to the conclusion of the last imperialist war in 1974 (9) to Milton Friedman's Nobel Prize for economics in 1976, the 1970s saw the end of the old order and a seismic shift in global economic practice that would establish the foundations of the transnationalist capitalism we now call globalization. In Calf Island's orientation toward an outmoded political and economic model, Grimus offers both a pre-conceptual mapping of this new reality--taking shape at the very instant of the novel's composition--as well as a necessarily critical engagement with forms of resistance now rendered structurally obsolete.
In his perfunctory protests against the island's aristocratic Cherkassov family, therefore, the limits of Moonshy's resistance are thrown into pathetic relief, as are the ways in which his resistance is itself both complicit in and determined by the encompassing system by which this older antagonism has been subsumed. As Badiou notes, what eludes those Marxists who, like Moonshy, honor the ineluctable laws of "bourgeois society" and the "science of history," is the fact that the politicized "proletarian society" for which they wait is determined by the inert structural whole of bourgeois society itself as its internal and sustaining contradiction (Theory 30). This dialectical perspective ultimately dissolves its "weak" constitutive contradiction and favors/anticipates the return of the Whole. This, Badiou writes, is a "dialectical materiality without leverage" because it cancels the force of the contradiction and, in its renewing plenitude, forecloses the radical possibilities of the void. We must, Badiou insists, "dialecticize the structural dialectic beyond itself" (96).
Nonetheless, Eagle is inevitably drawn to Moonshy because he is the only inhabitant of K to doubt openly Gribb's blithe assurance that Grimus does not exist. As Moonshy observes during a characteristic pantomime of slogan-wielding protest in which he declares (presumably not for the first time) his impossible departure from Calf Island, "It is your ideas, Mr. Gribb, that are chiefly responsible for our bondage" (142). Moonshy's "faith" in an invisible oppressor is quickly dismissed by Gribb, who notes that he'd always understood the Marxist position to be that it was "superstition that was supposed to provide the opiate of the masses." This exchange is especially remarkable in its anticipation of the work of recent thinkers from the left like Zizek and Badiou, both of whom in fact reclaim the radical structure (if not the substance) of Pauline Christianity as a way to counter the postmodern condition of fragmentary contingency. (10) It is significant then that Eagle's sympathies, revealed here by way of interior monologue, clearly lie with Moonsny's conspiratorial suspicions: "Unless the superstitions are grounded in tact. in which case, to deny them would indeed be a form of bondage" (142). Thus, following a final discouraging exchange with Gribb in which the diminutive collector of cliches rehearses the standard postmodern prohibition against origins ("origins, beginnings, are valueless. Valueless. Study how we live, by all means. But leave, for goodness' sake, this womb-obsession of yours, this inquiry into birth" ), Eagle seeks out Moonshy, who "has struck [him] as a man worth talking to, if only because he had questioned the sovereignty of Gribb's ideas" (150). However, upon visiting his home and observing the fading. placards on Moonshy's walls, "screaming defiance at long-gone tyrannies," Eagle conies to the crucial realization that Moonshy "differed from the rest only in his choice of obsession," that his predictable challenges to the system were, first, challenges to an already superseded system, and, second, already assimilated within the routine operation of the existing one. As Eagle observes of Moonshy's presumably endless deferral of revolutionary action, "He was secure in his attitudes., as he would never have to carry them to their logical conclusion."
Awaiting the evolutionary politicization of K's inhabitants, Moonshy's complacency recalls Zizek's reformulation of Lacan's knave/fool opposition. The knave, which Lacan defines as the "conformist who considers the mere existence of the given order as an argument for it," could formerly be identified with the conviction of the traditional Right that there could be no viable alternative to the free market (Zizek, "Holding" 324-25). On the other hand, the traditional Leftist (Moonshy) assumes the role of the fool, who, while exposing the limitations and contradictions of the existent order, "suspends the performative efficiency of his speech" (325). In the moment of postmodernity, however, Zizek contends that we must view these traditional roles as having been complicated if not wholly inverted: the "radicalism" of the postmodernist Left (for Zizek here, manifest in the work of Laclau and Butler) results in a "cynical resignation" to the unalterable fact of global capital, while the Right assumes a "more attractive" Pascalian commitment that simultaneously reveals the essential hidden mechanisms of the system.The way out of this crippling impasse, Zizek argues, is. for the postmodern Leftist knave to reject the pseudo-activity of a merely revisionist hegemonic struggle within the horizon of the present system and to "hold this utopian place of the global alternative open, even if it remains empty, living on borrowed time, awaiting the content to fill it in." If Moonshy's traditional Leftist position of the fool is insufficient to address the situation of an emergent globalization, so too is the knavist strategy of the postmodern Left. Once more, Eagle must resolve an impossible deadlock and manifest what Badiou might characterize as the lack of that which is lacking, the dialectical exposure and abolition of the disavowed founding exclusion (Grimus himself) upon which rests the existent order.
Thus, while Teverson recognizes the way in which the "logic of the novel seems to reflect the charge leveled against postmodernism and post-structuralism" (118) by thinkers like Jameson and Aijaz Ahmad (the two he cites), allowing for a reading in which a totalizing political agency is not wholly abandoned, by framing Eagle's activity as a form of "good" postructuralism, he nevertheless reduces Eagle's disappointing encounter with Moonshy to a recapitulation of what he implicitly identifies as the novel's ultimate thematic imperative, the futility of resistance:
Eagle believes that he is acting according to his own free will. When he reaches Grimus's home, however, it is revealed to him that his entire adventure, from the moment he left home to his confrontation with Grimus, has been plotted by the magician. Even his revolutionary desire to destroy Grimus and liberate the people of his revolutionary desire to destroy Grimus and liberate the people of Calf Island, Flapping Eagle discovers, is part of Grimus's plan to complete the mythic structure of his life by making Flapping Eagle his "death." Flapping Eagle's act of resistance is, thus, like Moonshy's, because it becomes nothing more than a confirmation of Grirnus's absolutist agendas.
We can identify this tendency in many postmodern SF narratives of the West, including the Matrix trilogy, in which the revolutionary promise with which the first film concludes is betrayed by the realization in the two sequels that Neo's resistance is perhaps a function of the system's routine self-maintenance, reducing "revolution" to merely cyclical "revolutions." It is precisely at this point of what appears to be a purely negative dialecticism, however, that a reconsideration of the book's generic link to utopia/SF can offer an alternative perspective on the seemingly forlorn conclusion of Grimus. To this end, I suggest that the lesson Eagle learns from his encounter with Moonshy--that the terrain has fundamentally shifted--is indispensable for our understanding of Eagle's final, heroic act.
Space, subsumption, neutralization
After visiting Virgil's ex-wife Liv (11) and enduring the requisite sexual humiliation (Lives indirect vengeance on Grimus for a previous slight), Eagle receives a startling invitation to the otherwise inaccessible fortress of Grimushome itself:
The house was wildly irregular, its walls anything but straight, no corner at a right angle, but it was a designed eccentricity, a deliberate folly. The zigzag patterns it wove on the mountaintop were purposeful, reflections of their creator. Reflections: the house gave them of in all directions, for every window in its wandering walls was also a mirror. This combination of undulating stone and blind, gleaming windows made the house curiously difficult to focus upon, as if his eyes refused to accept it, as if it was an illusion that would not harden into fact. (224)
This incredible description recalls avant la lettre postmodern architecture's much-discussed production of hyperspace, the structural bewilderments of which impose a disjuncture between the individual and her (social or natural) environment. Like the reflective "glass skin" discussed in jameson's famous account of the Bonaventure Hotel, the exterior of Grimushome also "achieves a peculiar and placeless dissociation" from its surroundings, making it impossible to fix one's gaze on the physical contours of the building, reflecting instead "only the distorted images of everything that surrounds it" (Postmodernism 42). As Jameson observes, this disconnection "itself stands as the symbol and analogon of that even sharper dilemma which is the incapacity of our minds. ... to map the great multinational and decentered communicational network in which we find ourselves caught as individual subjects" in the cultural moment of late capital (44). In the architectonic complexities of Grimushome, Eagle confronts physically the "deliberate folly" of an emergent globalization's disjunctive spatial logic and reveals the novel's tendency toward a critical cognitive mapping of postmodern space itself. Thus, when Grimus reveals to him the Rose Room at the hidden geometric center of Grimushome, Eagle observes of the structure's obfuscating design, "So that was why the house was such a crazy shape. Its labyrinthine excesses fogged the brain to such an extent that the presence of this small room went completely unnoticed (241).
The novel's rise en scene is here again revealed to be the nexus of space, ideology, and resistance. Just as he has violated the inviolable taboos of his Axona home and ventured beyond the whirling demons to the ends of the earth only to pass beyond even that absolute boundary, just as he has entered the invisible fortress of Calf Island's non-existent oppressor, Eagle makes his way past the mystifying veils of Grimushome to the totemic source of Grimus's power, the object that represents both the island's link to myriad potential dimensions and its assimilation within the multidimensional dominion of the Gores: the Stone Rose.
Naturally, Eagle's first impulse is to destroy the object that has generated so much grief, a course of action not without considerable risk, as Virgil forewarns: "It is possible that this dimension cannot survive without the Rose. What is certain is that no-one will survive here, except for spiders, Hies and animals, unless the Rose is broken. So it is a risk we must take" (191). Led to the secret chamber of the Rose, Eagle announces his intent to destroy it, to which Grimus responds with a curious final plea: "I foresaw I would have great difficulty in getting you to see my point of view, he said. It was for this reason that I conceptualized the Subsumer. If you take the other handle, we can. communicate telepathically. Through the medium of this sphere" (242). Grasping the handle of the device, Eagle's mind is immediately penetrated by the invading consciousness of Grimus. As their psyches inextricably combine, his last coherent thought is of Grimus's smug words: "My old mother always told me you've got to trick people into accepting new ideas."
More important than the mere recognition of ideological manipulation, though, is the precise form that Grimus's maneuver assumes. Closely following Eagle's disillusionment with Moonshy's obsolescent model of the gradual politicization of the proletariat, the violent sublation of his mind by Grimus's machine explicitly anticipates the recent resurgence of interest in Marx's theory of subsumption. Describing the process by which capital internalizes that which is exterior or autonomous, Marx distinguishes betweenformal and real subsumption.The former he designates. as the requisite expansion of capitalist markets and the incorporation of the means of production outlying capital's immediate reach. The latter, however, marks what Hardt and Negri characterize as an "intensive" lather than "expansive" integration of labor such that capital folds in on itself and thoroughly penetrates and transforms its own relations of production (255). Comparing Foucault's account of the passage from the society of discipline to that of control to Marx's theory of subsumption, Hardt and Negri note that the radical internalizing force of real subsumption incorporates "not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself" (25). By reconfiguring the "linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development," the real subsumption of globalization/postmodernity sees the full absorption of global society in the transition from imperialism to Empire and the consequent relocation of resistance from the former margins of the centralized power structure to the "thousand plateaus" of its now thoroughly deterritorialized network. Simply put, under postmodernity, Hardt and Negri claim, "there is no more outside" (186). And this is the crucial (and, for some, controversial) point for Hardt and Negri's theorization of a "postmodern" political agency: real subsumption is not the victorious culmination of the internalizing processes begun by an earlier formal subsumption; rather, formal subsumption itself creates the conditions of emancipatory struggle, in the form of class consciousness, which its disciplinary practices and institutions then prove insufficient to contain.The emergence of real subsumption is thus a consequential--and necessarily defensive--response to the new desiring subjectivities brought about by the processes of formal subsumption. Moonshy's resistance, therefore, is no longer effective because he continues to misdirect his political ire at the conscriptive forces "out there," because, unlike Eagle, he fails to recognize that the system has no exterior. Thus, after his consciousness. is subsumed by Grimus, Eagle can no longer distinguish between himself and his foe; he has become the very thing he opposed and faces the last and most insuperable boundary, the suffocating closed circuit of the structural dialectic in which the apparently oppositional forces of Eagle and Grimus are reunited in a synthetic whole.
This impasse brings us to the novel's ostensibly cynical conclusion. In the final confrontation with his adversarial double (just prior to his revealing of the Subsumer), Grimus details for Eagle the impossibility of resistance: "Since you do not know how to conceptualize the coordinates of your Dimension, you cannot leave the island. ... You cannot stay among the Kaf's inhabitants, bearing my face. Your only alternative is suicide, and once I have shown you my marvels you will not wish to do so" (233). In an explicit rehearsal of the cyclical motif identified by Clark, Grimus reveals that Eagle has been carefully selected and groomed as his replacement as ruler of Calf Island and keeper of the Stone Rose: "It is both psychologically and symbolically satisfying. The period of stability containing within itself the seeds of its own downfall.The cataclysm being followed by a new and very similar order. It is aesthetic. It is right" (240). Free will, Grimus goes on to say is illusory One's behavior is governed by a limited number of flux lines suggestive of a finite number of potential actions, all of which Grimus has anticipated through the power of the Rose (239).
Eagle's response to these revelations is notable not simply for its obvious posture of defiance, but for the particular manner in which it rejects the delimitations of Grimus's forced choice: "But in the end it all depends on me, Grimus, in some way which you haven't yet explained. It all hangs on my choice and I tell you now that I am not going to play" (236). This refusal to (re)act both repeats the novel's fundamental debate regarding the possibility of radical agency in the vacuum of postmodernity and illuminates Eagle's dramatic final act of defiance: the unmaking of Calf Island. Faced with the futility of any action, either positively or negatively charged, Eagle refuses to act at all, a choice with profound implications. In his exploration of the concept of violence, Zizek discusses the revolutionary power concentrated in the mass repudiation of one of the essential "democratic rituals of freedom":
What happens is that by abstaining from voting, people effectively dissolve the government--not only in the limited sense of overthrowing the existing government, but more radically. Why is the overthrowing the existing government, but more radically. Why is the overthrowing thrown into such a panic by the voters' abstention? It is compelled to confront the fact that it exists, that it exerts power, only insofar as it is accepted as such by its subjects--ccepted even in the mode of rejection.The voters' abstention goes further than the intra-political negation, the vote of no confidence: it rejects the very frame of decision. (216 Violence)
Eagle's act is thus not one of simple passivity or surrender, but rather one that violently refuses the constraints of a forced "pseudo-activity" the purpose of which is to secure the operation and legitimacy of the existent system (Zizek 216-17).
Rather than validate the terms of the status quo through either capitulation or reactionary negation, Eagle instead imagines an altogether new set of terms. Momentarily tempted to preserve the Rose, to appropriate its limitless power for good, Eagle suddenly recalls the "people of K reduced to a blind philosophy of pure survival, clutching obsessively at the shreds of their individuality, knowing within themselves that they were powerless to alter the circumstances in. which they lived" (251). Instead of acting in reformist fashion from within (and thereby perpetuating) the stable coordinates of an assumed ground, Eagle simply re-imagines the ground itself, re-conceptualizing Calf Island from scratch and dismantling the ideological obstructions of Grimus's sub-endimions: "I made a picture grow in my head, a picture of Calf Island as one thing, Grimushome at its peak, the steps leading down to Liv's outcrop. No Gates, no barriers" (252). Next, he carefully re-imagines into existence every molecular detail of Calf Island save one, the Stone Rose itself. Elated by their continued existence in die absence of the Rose, guarantor of Calf Island's former reality, Eagle and Media spontaneously make love on the mountainside as strange mists begin to gather:
Slowly, slowly, they were descending, closing in upon the island on all sides, closer, closer, a dense grey fog now, closing, dosing. And they were not mists. Deprived of its connection with Dimensions, the world of Calf Mountain was slowly unmaking itself, its molecules and atoms breaking, dissolving, quietly vanishing into primal, unmade energy. (253)
By rejecting the fundamental framework of Grimus's system rather than merely opposing it (after the classic agonistic pattern represented by Moonshy), Eagle opens up the truly radical space of possibility, the literal no-place of utopian figuration or, in Marin's terms, the space of the neutral which he describes as a kind of consciousness that is not yet a consciousness of the definite. The virtuality of the neutral, in itself "unthinkable, imponderable" (14), reveals the limits of thought within the life-world of the system and thus traces a kind of "zero" that is not yet the third term beyond binary opposition but rather the non-space out of which such a third term might emerge:
it is the synthesis of the contraries reduced to a state of pure virtuality ... Neither one nor the other, waiting to be one and the other, it has the power (for it is no longer simply passage from one to the other) to allow both to recognize the figure of their unity and rnastery.The neutral is also the sign of the absolute 'polemicity' and the mark of their mutual destruction. (16)
Thus, we might also recognize the neutralization of Calf Island as the site of Badiou's void, what we have defined as the ruptural gap within a situation that marks the evental site, fidelity to which constitutes the new political subjectivity. Beyond the constraints of conventional or traditional significations, laws, and philosophies, the void is the pre-symbolic space of a situation yet to come. Necessarily founded upon the insubstantial and incommunicable, fidelity to the event demands a decisive act on the part of the subject, an act that, from within the enclosures of the present situation, appears nonsensical if not literally unimaginable. As the examples cited above demonstrate, this kind of fidelity to an unseen truth, punctuated by a series of impossible assertions, characterizes Eagle's quest from its beginning in Axona to its culmination on Calf Island, such that the no-place of the novel's conclusion realizes "a new coherence that is instituted by the interruption of the repetitive series that made up the whole previous social order" (Badiou, Theory 164). By situating the novel's conclusion within the context of a radical utopianism, we therefore complicate politically cynical (and cyclical) readings--Uma Parameswaran observes, for instance, that "at the end Eagle and Media presumably return to the world as we know it" (36)--and discover instead ways in which Grimus, by periodizing or historicizing the "worldless" present, opens imaginative space for a world yet to be.
During Flapping Eagle's mortal struggle with the Inner Dimensions, the narrator offers an important commentary on the exhilarating early days of Virgil's adventures with Grimus and Deggle:
There had been trips to the real, physical, alternative space--time continua. So close, yet such an eternity away. And there had been his own annihilating journey into the Inner Dimensions, like the internal inferno which now clutched Flapping Eagle, which had left him hollow and impotent and lucky to be alive. And there was the third kind. The Bridge between the first two kinds. With sutticient imagination, Virgil Jones had found, one could create worlds, physical. external worlds, neither aspects of oneself nor a palimpsest--universe. Fictions where a man could live. In those days, Mr. Jones had been a highly imaginative man. (74-75)
Virgil's theoretical "third space," a tangible, material reality that is neither the internal fantasy space of individual wish fulfillment nor the zero-sum reality of Grimus in which transformation is reduced to reorganization, defines for us the novel's underlying utopianist agenda. This gesture toward an interstitial third space, an impossible alternative situated between the absolute terms of a constrictive binary formulation, announces the dialectical project at the novel's heart as well as its attention not to the defined problematic of postcolonial national/cultural identity, but to the as yet uncharted topoi of an ongoing globalization.
Like Teverson, I argue that the tension between the opposed philosophical perspectives of Virgil and Grimus lies at the very center of the novel's socio-political engagement and, I would add, provides the fundamental contradiction from which emerges the book's radically utopian impulse. Unlike Teverson, however, I suggest that the developmental trajectory of Rushdie's fiction is not from science fiction to history" but rather to history through science fiction. (12) That is, Midnight's Children is the result not of the hard-scrabble lessons Rushdie managed to salvage from the submerged wreck of his first, failed novel but of the narrative strategies and historical sensibilities successfully worked out through its composition. Indeed, it is tempting to claim that we cannot properly read Midnight's Children without first having read Grimus as a work of utopian science fiction. And inasmuch as this later work helped to instantiate the field of postcolonial studies, we must likewise consider the implications of its having been a work of science fiction all along.
From that day to this, I have thought of myself as a wholly secular person, and have been drawn towards the great traditions of secular radicalism--in politics, socialism; in the arts, modernism and its offspring--that have been the driving forces behind much of the history of the twentieth century. But perhaps I write, in part, to fill up that emptied God-chamber with other dreams. Because it is,. after all, a room for dreaming in.
--Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands
Then, everything was possible. Now, nothing is.
Badiou, Alain. Being and Event. 1988. Trans. Oliver Feltham. London: Continuum, 2006.
--. Metapolitics. 1998. Trans. Jason Barker. London: Verso, 2005.
--. Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism. London: Verso, 2000.
--. Theory of the Subject. 1982. Trans. Bruno Bosteels. London: Continuum, 2009.
Bloch, Ernst. The Principle of Hope. Trans. Neville Plaice, Stephen Plaice, and Paul Knight.Vol. 1. Cambridge: MIT P. 1986.
Brennan, Timothy. Salmon Rushdie and the Third World: Myths of the Nation. London: Macmillan, 1989.
Clark, Roger Y. "Grimus: Worlds upon Worlds." Stranger Gods: Salmon Rushdie's Other Worlds. Montreal: McGill-Queen UP, 2001.30-60.
Cundy, Catherine. "Rehearsing Voices: Salman Rushdie's Grimus." Journal of Commonwealth Literature 27 (1992): 128-38.
Dell'Aversano, Carmen. "Worlds, Things. Words: Rushdie's Style from Grimus to Midnight's Children." Coterminous Worlds: Magical Realism and Contemporary Post-Colonial Literature in English. Ed. Elsa Linguanti, et at Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1999.61-81
Fathom, Oliver. Alain Badiou: Lire Theory. London: Continuum, 2008.
Freedman, Carl. Critical Theory and Science Fiction. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UR 2000.
Hardt, Michael and Antonio Negri. Empire. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2000.
Harrison, james. Salman Rushdie. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Jameson, Fredric. Archaeologies of the Future. New York: Verso, 2005.
--. Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1991.
Marin, Louis. Utopics: The Semiological Play of Textual Spaces. Trans Robert A. Vollroth. Amherst, NY: Humanity Hooks, 1984.
Parameswaran, Uma. "New Dimensions Courtesy of the Whirling Demons: World-Play in Grimus." Reading Rushdie: Perspectives on the Fiction of Salman Rushdie. Ed. M. D. Fletcher. Atlanta: Rodopi, 1994. 35-44.
Rushdie, Salmon. Grimus. 1975. London: Vintage; 1996.
--. Imaginary Homelands. London: Granta, 1991.
Suvin, Darko. Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. New Haven: Yale UP, 1979.
Syed, Mujeebuddin. "Warped Mythologies: Salmon Rushdie's Grimus." ARIEL 25 (1994): 135-51.
Teverson, Andrew. "From Science Fiction to History: Grimus and Midnight's Children." Salman Rushdie. Contemporary World Writers. Ed. John Thieme. Manchester: Manchester UP, 2007. 111-35.
Zizek, Slavoj. The Fragile Absolute or, Why is the Christian Legacy Wirth Fighting For? Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.
--. "Holding the Place." Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left. Judith Butler, et al. London: Verso, 2000. 308-29.
--. Violence. New York: Picador, 2008.
(1.) My strategic collapsing of these two generic trends relies on Darko Suvin's influential claim that utopia is no longer a genre in its own right but rather "the sociopolitical subgenre of science fiction" (61).
(2.) Cundy further suggests that Grinms figures a merely "nascent and tentative study of migrant identity ... a chaotic fantasy with no immediately discernable arguments of any import" (131).The novel's fantastical "voyage of discovery," she claims, ultimately "buckles under the weight of the different elements it seeks to assimilate." Similarly, in a 1992 study, James Harrison gives this developmentalist account a curious nuptial twist by claiming that the reader who first encounters Gritims "after reading any or all of Rushdie's next three novels will, like a newly married couple exploring each other's family albums, recognize the early stages of what they are familiar with in the later version" (33). Harris further maintains that in Grimus Rushdie "has not yet found either the theme or the style that will allow him to be the writer he will in time become," that his first novel "lacks energy stylistic assertiveness, and confidence in what it is attempting to be, but the potential for most such qualities is there" (40).The arch skepticism of these readings of the early 1990s can be traced in each case to the groundbreaking analysis of Timothy Brennan's Salman Rushdie and the Third World (1989), the first scholarly monograph on the author and the first critical treatment to sound a timely note of caution regarding his cosmopolitan appeals to a modernist/ postmodernist aestheticism as well as his ability to speak to Third-World interests. For Brennan, the singularly fatal flaw of Grimus is its refusal to ground its profoundly dialogic narrative innovations in a definite national culture:
It would be hard to find a novel that demonstrated better the truth of Fanon's claim that a culture that is not national is meaningless. For if novels do not necessarily have to be set in one location, or be resistantly pure to foreign importations, they must be anchored in a coherent "structure of feeling," which only actual communities can create. ... Grimus fails even though it is carried off with professional brilliance simply because it lacks a habitus. (70)
As, a result, Brennan goes on to assert in an oft-quoted passage, Grimes "doesn't know where it is and 'tries on cultures like used clothing" (71).The problem thus seems to be that the polyphonic excesses of the novel's complex tropology cannot be sensibly interpreted within a postcolonial hermeneutic and its now familiar taxonomy of binaries. Indeed, as Brennan himself phrases it, "If the conflict between Third World peoples and European colonizers is evident here, it is carried out in terms so metaphorical as to be unrecognizable." Such an assessment, I contend, indicates not so much the limitations of Rushdie's novel as the unsuitability of the reading practices routinely applied to it.
(3.) Carmen Dell'Aversano remarks that Rushdie's literary style, "initially marked by a high degree of conformity to the rules and conventions of a well-defined literary genre of science fiction" will "later evolve into an unmistakenly personal narrative technique" (62). Similarly, while recognizing that "Rushdie's desire to draw on the genre of science fiction may account in part for some of the ingeniousness of the narrative," Cundy argues nonetheless that his justification for turning to SF (it is "traditionally a good vehicle for the novel of ideas") is ultimately "inadequate as a reason for employing the genre" (136). Citing Eric S. Rabkin's definition of SF as a form that elicits "feelings of alienation and transformation," Cundy contends that while both attitudes are present in the work, the alienating impulse of Grimus "is not as yet politicized," that its "transformation is still more of a fantastic than a social nature" (136-37). The novel's reliance on SF, these readings imply, is as little more than a set of literary training wheels for the artist who is as yet unable or unwilling to chart the aesthetic trajectories of postcolonial hybridity and marvelous realism. As Candy observes, "The desire to employ specific genres at this stage, however inappropriate they might ultimately prove, is perhaps a defense against the impending loss of narrative control that might come from the attempt to create the truly hybrid novel" (137). Postcolonial hybridity is thus routinely presented as the determinate telos, the point of artistic arrival, toward which Grimus (failingly) aspires, and not until Rushdie shrugs off the restrictive conventions of SF does he free himself for this progression.
(4.) For Badiou, the political subject is never an individual but rather a configuration of multiples situated around the Event on the void's horizon. As Feltham explains, Badiou's "subject is not so much an agent as a series of meetings, tracts, protests and occupations of parliament" (111), in essence a subject-effect. In this sense, Flapping Eagle is not himself a subject but rather an allegorical placeholder for a future subjectivity.
(5.) While Badiou later revises in Being and Event certain peripheral aspects of the argument first advanced in Theory of the Subject, particularly those concerning the link he initially posits between. destruction and the emergence of the new, I retain here his early advocation of a Benjaminian "divine violence" as a form of the imaginative neutralization (or subtraction) of the existent order necessary for authentic utopian figuration.
(6.)As he writes in Metapolitics, "there is no theory of the subject in Althusser, nor could there ever be one" (59). Althusser posits instead "only processes," and the subject is merely a product of the interpellating mechanisms of the State (59, 63).
(7.) This is an important formal element in that the novel's first chapter recounts the rescue of Flapping Eagle by Virgil and Dolores after he has already washed ashore on Calf Island. The descriptions in chapter two of the "real" world that Eagle has left behind are thus already at one remove from the world of the primary action, formally sealing off his past for the reader as a kind of insubstantial dream reality
(8.) It is perhaps not incidental that his first steps into the broader world also rehearse the universalizing impulses of modernization itself.
(9.) Indeed, "from the perspective of the United States, "Vietnam might be said to mark "the final moment in the imperialist tendency and thus a point of passage to a new regime of the Constitution," a transition, from another point of view, from the now "impassable" model of a coercive European. imperialism to the flexible hegemony of Empire (Hardt and Negri 179). As Hardt and Negri go on to argue, the Vietnam War crystallized, from the US perspective, the global "accumulation of struggles" that formed the "virtual unity of the international proletariat" (262-63). And though this virtual global proletariat never achieved actual political manifestation, the undeniable pressures it exerted in its shared struggle against international capital--causing in fact the crises of the late 1960s and early 1970s themselves--catalyzed the transformation of capital into its current form (276).
(10.) See Badiou's Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism and Zizek's The Fragile Absolute or, Why is the Christian Legacy Worth Fighting For?
(11.) Her name, in another coded inscription of Grimus's presence, replicates in Roman numerals his eternally static age.
(12.) Adducing convincing parallels between Midnight's Children and the Waverly novels of Walter Scott, Teverson draws upon influential theorizations of the historical novel offered by Avrom Fleishman and Harry Shaw. Only briefly, and on the essay's final page, does he reference the foundational work to which each of these later theorizations ultimately traces its derivation: Georg Lukac's magisterial The Historical Novel (1962). If we are to take seriously Rushdie's speculative turn in Grimus, however, we must acknowledge, as Jameson and Carl Freedman have done, the recent re-discovery of Lukac's historical novel beneath the cosmic raiment of narrative SF. See Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future and Carl Freedman's Critical Theory and Science Fiction.
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|Author:||Smith, Eric D.|
|Publication:||Twentieth Century Literature|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2012|
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