UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cosmology, mythology and mysticism in the novels of Salman Rushdie Clark, Roger Young


Otherworldly constructions such as "the Mountain of Qaf1 or "the Serpent" are seldom the focus of Rushdie criticism, yet they are integral to Rushdie's narrative structures and to his assault on coercion, division and violence. In particular, Rushdie uses Attar's Sufi poem Conference of the Birds to supply Grimus and Haroun with narrative structure, cosmic topography and iconoclastic ideals, and to supply Midnight's Children and The Satanic Verses with mystical ideals which persist in symbolic opposition to tyrannical and demonic figures. In the fantastical other world of Grimus, the iconoclastic journey of Flapping Eagle to the peak of Mount Calf/Qaf structures the novel and provides an ontological and epistemological framework for a multidimensional universe, a conflated cosmology made up of Sufi, Dantean, Germanic and Hindu elements. In the magical yet historical world of Midnight's Children, otherworldly constructions create a shifting, uncertain cosmos, one in which mysticism furnishes Saleem and his nation with moon-high ideals and with paradoxical meanings, and one in which clashing mythic constructions exacerbate the ambiguity with which the novel ends. In contrast to Midnight's Children, Shame depicts a focused dynamic between the worldly and the otherworldly: Raza's fundamentalist regime forces democratic, sexual and other expressions beneath the geographic and psychological "landscape" of Pakistan, from where they rise in the demonized form of the Beast/Kali, a satanic yet scourging counterforce to Raza's God-centred, monotheistic regime. In The Satanic Verses Rushdie pushes the role of the Beast a dangerous step further by allowing a "satanic narrator" to swoop in and out of a text dominated by satanic revisions of cosmology and morality, by a rhetoric which makes Satan look heroic, and by the hellish visions of the conveniently schizophrenic "archangel" Gibreel Possessing Chamcha and manipulating events so that Chamcha plays the parts of Iago and the Devil, the satanic narrator drives the archangel to murder Alleluia, who yearns to ascend Everest/Qaf. Rushdie's fiction thus becomes increasingly dominated by coercive, violent, divisive and demonic figures, yet the children's fantasy Harotm and the Sea of Stories marks a return to the triumphant mystical values and to the conflated cosmologies of Grimus.

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