Discover more from Out of It
I don’t know what to say about what happened: I don’t have anything to say that lots of other people haven’t said already. The only things that come to my mind are angry thoughts and garbled images. Not just about Rushdie and what happened to him, but the world now and forever—a place Rushdie has depicted more deeply than most, in thoughts and bursting, chaotic images, the sense of multiple realities layering each other.
Here is a bit from his 1983 novel “Shame;” it is about artificial boundaries specifically applied to countries, more specifically applied to Pakistan and the separation of Muslims and Hindus. It is about a country insanely divided, how “two countries, real and fictional” can “occup[y] the same space, or almost the same space.” It is also about how the emotional violence of shame can create shameless physical violence. It is also, I think, about the grotesquery of human identity/existence, how people can become monsters. It seems apposite to quote from now, but even if it’s not, its beautiful:
“Have you heard of those wolf-children, suckled—we must suppose—on the feral multiple breasts of a hairy moon-howling dam? Rescued from the Pack, they bite their saviours vilely in the arm; netted and caged, they are brought stinking raw meat and faecal matter into the emancipated light of the world, their brains too imperfectly formed to be capable of acquiring more than the most fundamental rudiments of civilization…Omar Khayyam, too fed at too-many mammary glands; and he wandered for some four thousand days in the thing-infested jungle that was “Nishapur,” his walled-in wild place, his mother-country; until he succeeded in getting the frontiers opened by making a birthday wish that could not be satisfied by anything lifted up in the machine of Mistri Balloch.”
"Drop this jungle-boy business," Farah sneered when Omar tried it on her, "you're no fucking ape-man, sonny jim." And, educationally speaking, she was right; but she had also denied the wildness, the evil within him; and he proved upon her own body that she was wrong.
First things first: for twelve years, he had the run of the house. Little (except freedom) was denied him. A spoiled and vulpine brat; when he howled, his mothers caressed him . . . and after the nightmares began and he started giving up sleep, he plunged deeper and deeper into the seemingly bottomless depths of that decaying realm. Believe me when I tell you that he stumbled down corridors so long untrodden that his sandalled feet sank into the dust right up to his ankles; that he discovered ruined staircases made impassable by longago earthquakes which had caused them to heave up into tooth-sharp mountains and also to fall away to reveal dark abysses of fear ... in the silence of the night and the first sounds of dawn he explored beyond history into what seemed the positively archaeological antiquity of "Nishapur," discovering in almirahs the wood of whose doors disintegrated beneath his tentative fingers the impossible forms of painted neolithic pottery in the Kotdiji style; or in kitchen quarters whose existence was no longer even suspected he would gaze ignorantly upon bronze implements of utterly fabulous age; or in regions of that colossal palace which had been abandoned long ago because of the collapse of their plumbing he would delve into the quake-exposed intricacies of brick drainage systems that had been out of date for centuries.
On one occasion he lost his way completely and ran wildly about like a time-traveller who has lost his magic capsule…”
It might be a nightmare of Pakistan, but, well, it’s also a nightmare version of us, spoiled and vulpine, biting arms, biting just to bite, brains too imperfectly formed to grasp anything more than the basics (but advanced enough to twist the basics into something unrecognizable), wandering around in thing-infested places, our mothers infusing us with their multiple, multi-leveled essence, stupefied by the implements of past fabulous ages, walking up ruined staircases and collapsing colossal palaces—and dear God, where is our magic capsule?