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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The politics of Salman Rushdie’s fiction Parreiras-Horta, Luis Paulo


This thesis seeks to explain the politics of Salman Rushdie’s fiction and situate the principal debates over the publication of The Satanic Verses within political and literary theory. I argue here that Rushdie is a modern rather than a post-modern writer, and detail how as a writer he is drawn to the philosophies and aesthetics of modernity: secularism and socialism, modernism and surrealism. The modernity he espouses in The Satanic Verses, I suggest further, differs significantly from that he advocates in the Booker Prize winning Midnight’s Children. In Midnight’s Children Rushdie espouses a Western secularlism which is not, to him, alien to the Bombay and the India he was born into -- no less Indian, that is, than his family’s faith in Islam. In The Satanic Verses, in contrast, Rushie seeks nothing less than to articulate a modernity of the East. As a short of rival Qur’an, The Satanic Verses envisions -- and itself seeks to help bring into being -- a secular Muslim culture. Fundamental to the blossoming of said culture, the novel proposes, are secular reclamations of the grand narrarives of Islam. Rushdie invites Muslims to celebrate their own sceptical philosophers and secular writers in addition to their Western counterparts, and warns against the embrace of Western secularlism at the expense of Muslim culture. Provocatively, Rushdie suggests that given the Western intelligentsia’s current espousal of post-modernism, one must now travel to the intellectual circles of the East to find strong defenders of modernity -- as does Saladin Chamcha in The Satanic Verses. Within the realm of literary theory, I conclude that post-colonial theory, with its expectation that the post-colonial writer celebarate rather than question his home culture, and post-modernism, with its assumption that one cannot interpret novels such as The Satanic Verses, offer inadequate explanations of the politics of Rushdie’s fiction. Within the realm of political theory I differentiate Rushdie from left-leaning philosophers such as Cornel West and Charles Taylor, who believe that modernity cannot stabilize itself without recourse to faith. If Rushdie can be said to have an affinity with a political philosopher, than that philosopher would be Jurgen Habermas, quintessential defender of modernity and critic of post-modernism.

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