Enchanting Histories of the Empires in Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence.
As a product of the late twentieth century Western philosophy, postmodernism is based on post-structuralist linguistic studies and deconstruction. Regarding everything as text and studying all intellectual disciplines like pieces of literature, post-structuralism problematizes the concept of truth and points out its multiplicity (Onega 12). In this context, the unquestionable accuracy of history is questioned as well. In contrast to the traditional approach to history that defines history as an objective and scientific study on the past events, postmodernist thought points out the subjective, textual and political content of history writing. As stated by Carr, "[t]he facts speak only when the historian calls on them: it is he who decides to which facts to give the floor, and in what order or context" (11). Namely, a history text is the subjective account of a historian, and thus it cannot present an objective account of the past. Similarly, Hayden White calls historical texts "verbal artifacts", since they are "as much invented as found on the forms of which have more in common with their counterparts in literature" (192). Further, he claims that historians use the technique of "emplotment" meaning "the encodation of the facts contained in the chronicle as components of specific kinds of plot structures" (193). In other words, historians and literary writers work in the same way. Each composes a story line to form their texts, which creates a continuous narrative and inevitably includes interpretation. Montrose also underlines the parallelism between fiction and history, putting forth the concept of "the textuality of history". He explains the concept as follows: "By the textuality of history, I mean to suggest, firstly, that we can have no access to a full and authentic past [...]; and secondly that those textual traces are themselves subject to subsequent textual mediations when they are construed as the 'documents' upon which historians ground their own texts, called 'histories'" (20). Both White and Montrose deal with history as human constructs; as a result, it cannot be objective while recording the past events from a particular perspective. In parallel to these arguments, postmodern writers set off to highlight the fictional nature of history texts by mixing the real with fantasy, historical accounts with fictional accounts, and official history with individual histories, and they end up with "historiographic metafiction", a postmodern form of expression in fiction (Hutcheon ix). Hutcheon defines the concept as "theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constructs" (5). Historiographic metafiction, characterized by intertextuality, parody, self-reflexivity, pastiche and fragmented narration, deliberately juxtaposes fact and fiction, questions the concept of the real and rejects the superior position of history texts over literary texts, labelling both as the product of language.
In a 2008 interview on The Enchantress, Rushdie claims that the details in the novel that people will presume as magic realism are available in history books while the details people will consider truth are pure fiction (in Mustich 2). His statement refers to the textuality of history as well as the transgressive aspect of his narrative style that blurs the boundary between fact and fiction. In order to reveal the textuality in history texts, Rushdie makes use of Baburname (Memoirs of Baber), the sixteenth century historical autobiography penned by Emperor Babur, analyzes it like a historian and makes it the major source for The Enchantress (Kangulec 81). The fragmented information, missing points and subjective accounts in Baburname form the necessary textual space where Rushdie questions and plays with history to subvert its authority. The Mughal characters of Rushdie's narrative are drawn from Babur's writing, and thus they are real. However, these characters including Akbar, Qara Koz, Shah Ismael stand side by side with the fictional characters like Mogor and Argalia the Janissary, which is a subversion of the real in an attempt to introduce new realities.
Rushdie continues to play with history by including magic into his narrative. He attributes magical powers and fictional events to historical characters, which is another method to fictionalize history in Rushdie's writings, for instance, Rushdie makes Abul Fazl, Akbar's vizier and the author of the Akbarnama--the official historical account of Akbar's rule, the writer of a spell book. When Abul Fazl encounters Mogor, his power breaks Mogor's spell stemming from his fragrance.
The yellow-haired Mogor dell'Amore intuited that Abul Fazl was the original author of the spell-book of unguents whose formulas Mohini the Skeleton had become adept at using, so that these olfactory enchantments had no power over him, and as a result they lost their influence over everyone as well. The guards with goofy grins at the four entrances to the House of Private Audience suddenly came to their sense [...]. (Enchantress 84)
Metaphorically, turning an official historian into a spell book writer, Rushdie points out the magic in history writing; that is, the creation of new realities. In another instance, two historical characters Qara Koz and Il Machia, namely Machiavelli, meet in Italy. As a result of this meeting in Rushdie's textual space, Qara Koz becomes the reason for Machiavelli's writing of The Prince. When Argalia entrusts Qara Koz to his friend Il Machia before leaving for a battle, Il Machia falls in love with her. With Qara Koz's departure, he feels a great depression and The Prince is the product of those depressive days.
If he had been able to formulate any sort of idea of what to do with his life after such a desertion, perhaps he would even have gone through with it. Instead, abjectly, he poured his lifetime of thought and knowledge into the short book he was writing in the hope of regaining favour at court, his little mirror-of-princes piece, such a dark mirror that even he feared it might not be liked. (Enchantress 361)
Through the juxtaposition of fiction with facts, Rushdie composes a continuous story line proceeding in a cause and effect chain. Besides, this juxtaposition problematizes the concept of the real and highlights the textuality of historical accounts.
Intersecting the destinies of historical characters with fictional ones, Rushdie rewrites the sixteenth century Mughal history and fills in the gaps in Babur's historical account. As a human construct, Babur's autobiography is limited in knowledge, subjective and full of gaps. Despite its defects, it is studied as a part of history within historiography. In this respect, Rushdie's narrative is not different from Babur's; his text also includes historical knowledge, subjective accounts, as well as a story line to fill in the gaps. Like a historian, Rushdie reads the source books on the Mughal court as can be understood from the bibliography attached to the novel, collects the fragmented information, then sketches the characters, and finally transforms the available data into a continuous narrative with a story line. In the end, he ends up with a subjective account of the past into which he adds his own commentary and viewpoint, for instance, Babur states that Qara Koz, who is a minor character in his account, dies after getting married to Jani Beg Sultan. In Rushdie's version of Qara Koz's story, she becomes the central character and does not pass away (Kangulec 82). Instead, she becomes Shah Ismael's wife before getting married to his statesman, namely to the fictional Argalia in Rushdie's narrative. Rushdie's seemingly fictional claim is not a baseless one, but recorded in history books (Peirce 37). In other words, it is rooted in history, yet it seems fictional. Rushdie's fictional character blends fact and fiction in his own story, and as a result the reader loses track of the historical fact.
Equating fact and fiction as human constructs, Rushdie deliberately confuses the reader and undermines the dominance of history texts.
In addition to filling in the gaps by combining fragmented information available in different history texts, creating a cause and effect chain is another method for Rushdie's employment. Rushdie interprets Babur's account under the guidance of his imagination and explains Qara Koz's minor role in Baburname with her brother Babur's anger at her
In his fury Babar the Beaver cast his younger sibling out of history, decreeing that her name be stricken from all records and never spoken again by any man or woman in his realm. Khanzada Begum herself obeyed the order faithfully in spite of her great love for her sister, and slowly the memory of the hidden princess and her Mirror [Qara Koz's servant] faded. So they became no more than a rumour, a story half heard in a crowd, a whisper on the wind, and from that day until this one there had been no further word. (Enchantress 139)
In The Enchantress, Qara Koz's decision to stay with Shah Ismael enrages Babur who uses his power as the law-maker and removes Qara Koz from history. As can be seen, Babur's decision is highly personal and subverts the accuracy of history texts. Therefore, even an objective account of the present becomes inaccessible to the reader as the writer of the text rewrites it in line with his own discourse (2) and conditions each time he attempts to put it into words. Here, Rushdie's point is to show the human factor affecting the history writing process. Since man is born into a linguistic system and becomes a social being shaped by his environment and language, he develops a particular discourse which precludes an objective account. As argued by Rushdie, "built on prejudices, misconceptions and ignorance as well as on our perceptiveness and knowledge", the concept of the real is subjective and described by authority from the very beginning (1992, 25).
To reveal the manipulative power of authorities on the process of history writing, Rushdie uses the tales of Jodha and Qara Koz, both of which create alternative realities, rejecting the Western concept of the real. The European Enlightenment of the eighteenth century foregrounds the guidance of the Reason as "a fundamental and simple order in the world" and adopts an "empirical, experimental approach to reality" (Conkin and Roland 47, 50). In other words, the real must be tangible and explainable through science. Yet, Rushdie subverts this fundamentalist definition by including nonexistent magical characters into his narrative. These two queens "influence the masses and drag them into their fictional world through the speculations and the tales produced about their beauty, magical powers and non-physical existence" (Kangulec 90). Despite their lack of corporeality, they are regarded and extolled as real by people and become the main characters of the alternative textual worlds created by the dominant discourse.
She was an imaginary wife, dreamed up by Akbar in the way that lonely children dream up imaginary friends, and in spite of the presence of many living, if floating, consorts, the emperor was of the opinion that it was the real queens who were the phantoms and the nonexistent beloved who was real. He gave her a name, Jodha, and no man dared gainsay him. Within the privacy of the women's quarters, within the silken corridors of her palace, her influence and power grew. Tansen wrote songs for her and in the studio-scriptorium her beauty was celebrated in portraiture and verse. Master Abdus Samad the Persian portrayed her himself, painted her from the memory of a dream without ever looking upon her face [...]. (Enchantress 33-4) (emphasis mine)
The quotation once again problematizes the concept of the real and points out the existence of alternative realities within Akbar's own discourse. Jodha is Akbar's imaginary queen, so she lives in his imaginary realm. Yet, the power of Akbar's imagination inspires the court artists, establishing a dominant discourse in the court and attributing Jodha a physical appearance. In The Archeology of Knowledge, Foucault develops a critical view on the essence of truth, emphasizing that discourses are shaped within the scope of power-knowledge relation. In other words, power-holders create a dominant discourse which produces knowledge and defines truth. As explained by Stuart Hall, discourse "influences how ideas are put into practice and used to regulate the conduct of others [...] it rules out, limits and restricts other ways of talking, of conducting ourselves in relation to the topic or constructing knowledge about it" (44). In this context, Akbar, as the power-holder, imposes his own discourse on his subordinates and introduces a different reality, namely an imaginary Jodha.
Interpreting Akbar's imaginary realm as the space of his "self-imposed, personal exile" where he can disregard dogmas and traditions, Sasser argues that Akbar's absolute ruling power also liberates him from the sanctions of the law (122-23). Thus, he makes use of his freedom and enables the production of a new reality. The works of art about Jodha are produced, for instance, which give her a physical existence under his patronage. In the end, she even gets a place in history (Kangulec 83). Jodha'a case exemplifies how fiction is recorded as the real or vice versa in history. The irony is that while Qara Koz loses her place in history upon Babur's decree, Jodha is included into history by Akbar, which undermines the reliability of history texts. In parallel to Akbar's decision, his minister says "for in the end none of the queens will exist anymore than she [Jodha] does, while she will have enjoyed a lifetime of your love, and her fame will echo down the ages. Thus, in reality, while it is true that she does not exist, it is also true to say that she is the one who lives" (Enchantress 56). Aware of the power of history, the minister claims that history will immortalize her and she will be regarded as a part of reality ages later. The story of Jodha is an example of White's "verbal artefact" as it blurs the boundary between fact and fiction.
In the same way with Jodha who comes into existence through texts, Qara Koz is revived in Mogor's tale later on. The European traveller Mogor's real name is Niccolo Vespucci and he claims that he is the son of the lost Mughal princess Qara Koz. When Mogor comes into Akbar's court and starts to tell her mother's magical tale, Akbar falls in love with this lost princess. Here, it is important to note that Mogor is not an omnipresent narrator; he does not know dates and places, and there are many missing and misleading information in his historical tale. Therefore, the Emperor and other audience question the truth of Mogor's account as the eldest lady of the Mughal court, Gulbadan, interrupts his tale to correct the mistakes (Enchantress 138). Still, the gripping plot of Mogor's tale persuades its audience to stay with him. In the end, Mogor's tale takes the whole Mughal court under its influence and even Dashwanth starts to paint Qara Koz portraits. Once again, Rushdie emphasizes the narrative power of histories and transgresses the boundary between fact and fiction while entrusting a historical character like Dashwanth with Qara Koz paintings. Creating an alternative history on his canvases, Dashwanth merges fantastic details with historical characters and events. Important historical events like the fall of Umar Sheikh Mirza, the battles of Babur, and Khanzada Begum's fall into the hands of Wormwood Khan are depicted by Dashwanth (Kangulec 85). His paintings do not deal with the victories of history but with individual histories. In this respect, they equate official history with individual histories.
Dashwanth painted the five-, six- and seven-year-old Qara Koz as a supernatural being cocooned in a little egg of light while all around her the battle raged. Babar captured Samarkand but lost Andizhan, then lost Samarkand, then recaptured it, and then lost it again, and his sisters with it. [...] Wormwood Khan had heard the legend of the beauty of Babar's elder sister Khanzada Begum and sent a message saying that if Khanzada was surrendered to him then Babar and his family could leave in peace. (Enchantress 154)
It is evident that Dashwanth edits the historical information that he received from Mogor's tale and creates another continuous story line. As can be seen in the quotation, his story is more like a mythical story composed out of historical details and his version forms another form of reality within the framework of Rushdie's narrative that equalizes fact and fiction. Dashwanth's mythical version of Qara Koz's story becomes so real that he eventually transgresses the boundary between fact and fiction, and vanishes into his own narrative.
A week and a day after Dashwanth's disappearance the wisest of Akbar's courtiers, who had been scrutinizing the surface of the last remaining picture of the hidden princess in the hope of finding a clue, noticed a strange technical detail which had thus far gone undetected. It seemed as if the painting did not stop at the patterned borders in which Dashwanth had set it but, at least in the bottom left-hand corner, continued for some distance beneath that ornate two-inch-wide frame. [...] and under the supervision of the two Persian masters the painted border was carefully separated from the main body of the work. When the hidden section of the painting was revealed the onlookers burst into cries of amazement, for there, crouching down like a little toad, with a great bundle of paper scrolls under his arm, was Dashwanth the great painter [...], Dashwanth released into the only world in which he now believed, the world of the hidden princess, whom he had created and who had then uncreated him. (Enchantress 158-59)
O'Gorman argues that "the bringing of unreality into realty through textual representation has a consuming power that may be dangerous if left unacknowledged" (36). In this respect, Dashwanth case proves the influence of storytelling on people as well as its ability to produce new realities. His alternative visual space that depicts his own account of history is very similar to the textual space of Rushdie's narrative. Indeed, Dashwanth's paintings mirror Rushdie's writing style, because its intertwined narrative types lure people to a magical world where historical accounts are hidden under the mask of magic. In this way, the hierarchical order of the texts, which favours history texts over literature, is shattered as well and all texts are equalized in the eyes of the reader. Like Babur and Mogor who rewrite the Mughal history, Dashwanth creates another reality as the master of his canvases.
As can be understood from his other novels like Midnight's Children, The Moor's Last Sigh or The Satanic Verses, Rushdie believes that history is the product of a cumulative process and is always subject to change. In other words, it is palimpsestic in nature. As each writer compiles and edits the historical information learnt from other texts, the past changes in line with the historian's discourse and reappears in new forms. When Rushdie creates alternative narrators and narrative spaces for the hidden princess Qara Koz, he projects the multiplicity of truth in history writing. As Akbar's court learns of Qara Koz's story from Mogor, Rushdie complicates the storyline and adds a preceding narrator whose nickname is the Memory Palace. She turns out to be the lost French princess whose path is crossed with Qara Koz's lover Argalia the Janissary in Istanbul.
The name Memory Palace is a direct reference to Cicero's De Oratore and an unknown Greek writer's The Rhetorica. In these works, the memory palace is explained as the building in man's head where the memories are stored (Enchantress 205). Rushdie's views on the concept of memory and the symbolic function of the Memory Palace for the rest of The Enchantress must be detailed at this juncture. Rushdie emphasizes the failure of memory in an interview, saying: "I was only remembering certain things very vividly, sometimes accurately and sometimes not, that, because they were fragments of the past, they became somehow much more powerful, as though they were bits of archaeological remains one had discovered and from which one was trying to reconstruct what the vanished civilization was like" (in Durix 12). Rushdie implies that memory is the archive of an individual's past moments which is used to reconstruct the past in the present, but it is an unreliable and misleading source. As argued by Ender, memory is also "a site of continuous activity" (5). In other words, the images of the past are constantly reproduced in line with the subject, his/her mood during the remembrance process and the context of his/her narrative. The memory keeps fragmented information, and while the information is recalled in the present, it is re-interpreted and edited within a new discourse and the missing points are restored through fictionalization. Therefore, memory works like a historian and may contain both facts and fiction together. In this context, Rushdie's character, the Memory Palace, symbolizes the subjective and linguistic nature of memory and draws attention to the main subversion in the Qara Koz tale.
Starting with the story of Argalia's childhood, the Memory Palace can be regarded as an allegorical character that stands for Argalia's memory. As a result, Argalia's story including his relationship with Qara Koz is a subjective account of the real from the very beginning. Once again, the Memory Palace's tale mixes fact and fiction by referring to the real historical events like the Ottoman siege of Treibzond, the Ottoman battle against Vlad Dracula of Romania as well as the education of the Janissaries (Kangulec 87). Like other individual histories in The Enchantress, her narrative is based on the historical facts in spite of its fictionalized texture. This time, Argalia's version of history that is complementary to the story of Qara Koz is presented. Another important point to note is that Mogor does not listen to Qara Koz's story from herself, but from Argalia's Memory Palace. Not an omnipotent narrator, Argalia is a mere observer of Qara Koz's life and feelings, and thus his memory does not include a continuous, objective and complete information about her, which makes one of the first narratives about Qara Koz a subjective account full of missing and subverted information. Since Mogor's tale is the rewriting of Argalia's memories, Qara Koz's tale is once again reproduced through Mogor's retelling of the story. In this way, Rushdie undermines the claims of objective history writing and repeats his support for the multiplicity of the real. Only after reading the different versions of the same past told by Babur, Mogor, Dashwanth and the Memory Palace, the story of Qara Koz gets completed. Still, the end product is not an accurate source of history.
To conclude, Rushdie uses different narrators and different textual spaces, all of which are interrelated to each other although they offer a different and fragmented version of the same past. Each version of the past is the product of a certain discourse, and thus they are subjective, manipulative and unreliable. Through the tales of Akbar and Babur, Rushdie questions the concept of the real and reveals the manipulation in history writing under the oppression of the power-holders. Mogor's tale focusing on Qara Koz exemplifies the power of story-telling over people, restores Qara Koz's place in history and proves that history can be rewritten as power changes hands. The Memory Palace's tale completes the missing parts of the Qara Koz tale and questions the reliability of memory. Together, these tales present a panorama of the sixteenth century Mughal court, revealing the textuality of history and introducing individual histories instead of the history.
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Kangulec, Kubra. "Treatment of Official History in the Context of Magical Realism: Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and The Enchantress of Florence". Unpublished MA Thesis. Hacettepe University, 2012.
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O'Gorman, Daniel. "His Open Sesame, His Passe-Partout: Deconstructing 'Difference' in Rushdie's The Enchantress of Florence". Bonds and Borders: Identity, Imagination and Transformation in Literature. Eds. R. Dewald and D. Sobolewski. New Castle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars P, 2011. 29-38.
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--. Imaginary Homelands. London: Penguin, 1992.
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Kubra Kangulec Coskun received her undergraduate and master degrees from the Department of English Language and Literature at Hacettepe University. During the 2013-14 Autumn Semester, she studied at the Charles University in Prague as a visiting student and completed her PhD courses there. In 2017, she obtained her PhD degree from Hacettepe University through her PhD dissertation based on contemporary Irish novel. Email: email@example.com
(1) This article is produced from my master's thesis entitled "Treatment of Official History in the Context of Magical Realism: Salman Rushdie's The Moor's Last Sigh and The Enchantress of Florence".
(2) Discourse is used in the Foucauldian context throughout the text. Thus, it refers to "a group of statements which provide a language for talking about--a way of representing the knowledge about--a particular topic at a particular historical moment [...]. Discourse is about the production of knowledge through language. But [...] since all social practices entail meaning, and meanings shape and influence what we do--our conduct--all practices have a discursive aspect" (Hall 291).
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|Title Annotation:||Salman Rushdie|
|Author:||Coskun, Kubra Kangulec|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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