There was a smell of burnt belongings in [Naipaul’s] books as well as the smell of burning icons. But the icons he burnt were mine, those of the colonised not of the coloniser. Them he preserved, mine he burnt for them.
Which imperial gestures must [a postcolonial writer] perform before he can delineate the relation of his language to the canon of fiction written in English? […] [Naipaul’s] fascination […] with the readily available colonial myth may be his only means to arrive at an idiom in which to address his perception of himself as a postcolonial cliché.
If Naipaul’s position may be characterized as one of eternal exile, Rushdie’s may be defined as one of permanent migrancy. [The latter, unlike the former,] emanates an exuberance that dissipates the pain of multiple dislocation and translates migrancy into a positive and prolific idiom. Instead of disempowering the self, dislocation opens up an abundance of alternative locations, allowing the individual to own several homes by first becoming homeless. Notwithstanding these differences, there is one feature shared by both paradigms: a deterritorialized consciousness freed from such collectivities as race, class, gender, or nation, an unattached imagination that conveniently can become cosmopolitan and subaltern, alternately or simultaneously.
A ‘Mammoth-Trunked’10 Raleigh
I. Many critics11 have commented on the major reliance placed by Rushdie’s text upon a ‘organicist’ conception of the ‘body politic’ in terms of a grotesque imaging of a system of correspondences between the body and biography of Saleem, Midnight’s Children’s protagonist and narrator, and the geographical space12 and political history of the subcontinent. Indeed, it has been argued that the literalization of the ‘life history’ of the nation through a ‘synecdochical identification’13 with the embodied postcolonial citizen-subject works to reclaim the ‘imperial topos’ of the erstwhile colony by inserting ‘the colonized body’, heretofore constructed as an ‘allochronic other’,14 into ‘a syntax of history’.15 For Aruna Srivastava,16 the discursive articulation of the postcolonial body and history into an exorbitant, non-linear, encyclopaedic, and highly digressive17—or, in Rushdie’s own words, ‘multitudinous’18—fictional form represents a conscious attempt on the author’s part to wrench the ‘time’ of the ‘nation’s narration’19 out of the ‘monologic’ epic20 of Britain’s Civilizing Mission and and its linear-time frame of historical progress. Further, as Neil ten Kortenaar, Jean Kane and others have noted,21 Rushdie is also acutely aware of the fact that the nationalist reprise of the (Hobbesian) paradigm of ‘the Commonwealth’ often operates ‘to reassemble the fragments of the nation’,22 the multitudes of subaltern bodies, under the aspect of a spurious coherence and totality. Thus, ten Kortenaar considers that while Rushdie’s text aims to discredit the process of political myth-making that commonly accompanies the project of nation-building—through the satirical treatment23 accorded to the epic themes of ‘[single] origins, peak times, ancestors, founders of families’24 and the like—it nevertheless retains ‘a sceptical, provisional faith’ in these same myths it openly subverts.25