Narcissistic Narrative in Rushdie’s Novels

Narcissistic Narrative

Rushdie shows a lifelong passion for cinema and often uses metaphors of movie theatres in his narrative. There is a special mention, in The Satanic Verses, of Mother India, a spectacular and highly successful 1957 film directed by Mehboob Khan. Rushdie says of the film that it was the big attempt to make a kind of Gone With the Wind myth of the nation, and took the biggest movie star in India at the time, Nargis, and asked her, basically, to impersonate the nation. There is quite an interestingly suppressed incest theme. Some of these crops up in The Moor’s Last Sigh.

There is, in Midnight’s Children, a chapter entitled ‘All-India Radio’. The following passage from this chapter captures not only Saleem’s self-awareness of narcissistic narrative but also invokes one of the many intentional errors in the text, bringing it to the foreground and imploring the reader to situate this error in the realm of a reality created by human memory.

Postmodernism dismantles the concept of absolute truth, Linda Hutcheon’s concept of the “narcissistic narrative” exemplifies the postmodern undermining of prior traditions: “The origins of the self-reflecting structure that governs many modern novels might well lie in that parodic intent basic to the genre as it began in Don Quijote, an intent to unmask dead conventions by challenging, by mirroring” (18).

Go back to Chapter 1

Narcissistic narrative exhibits a narratorial awareness that invites the reader to participate in stripping prior conventions and traditions. Hutcheon argues that “What narcissistic narrative does do in flaunting, in baring its fictional and linguistic systems to the reader’s view, is to transform the process of making, of poiesis, into part of the shared pleasure of reading. […] it is the human imaginative process that is explicitly called into action, in both the author and the reader” (20). Saleem speaks thus here:

Reality is a question of perspective; the further you get from the past, the more concrete and plausible it seems — but as you approach the present, it inevitably seems more and more incredible. Suppose yourself in a large cinema, sitting at first in the back row, and gradually moving up, row by row, until your nose is almost pressed against the screen. Gradually the stars’ faces dissolve into dancing grain; tiny details assume grotesque proportions; the illusion dissolves — or rather, it becomes clear that the illusion itself is reality.[x]

Critically reading Midnight’s Children, any reader will discover several errors in chronology. To cite just one example, the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi occurs, in these pages, on the wrong date. About this, the author has this to say:

[…] in my India, Gandhi will continue to die at the wrong time. Does one error invalidate the entire fabric? Am I so far gone, in my desperate need for meaning, that I’m prepared to distort everything […] to re-write the whole history of my times purely in order to place myself in a central role? Today, in my confusion, I can’t judge. I’ll have to leave it to others.

Read: Chapter 2

Rushdie visualizes of himself as a historian who dilates on what history is and how it is to be written. Stated thus, his fiction is as historiographic metafiction or metafictional historiography. Metafiction is inter-textual, self-reflexive fiction. It shows foreshadowing, foregrounding novelistic narrative conventions. The post-modernist representation of history is self-conscious. And, the post-modernist fiction is metafiction. Historiographic metafiction bridges the fissure between history and fiction as it recombines the two genres. It

plays upon the truth and lies of the historical record. Certain known historical details are deliberately falsified in order to foreground the possible mnemonic failures of recorded history and the constant potential for both deliberate and inadvertent error.[xi]

Go to Start of Chapter 3

In his theory of drama, Bertolt Brecht discusses A-effect or Alienation effect. It is equally applicable to the novelistic genre. It stresses strategic detachment of audience from the work of art, which is a mere representation of life. In the tradition of historiographic metafiction, Salman Rushdie adopts a self-consciousness that immediately divorces him from the historical period he so meticulously creates. It thus highlights its fictiveness. He introduces real historical personages into the stories, for example, Midnight’s Children, Shame and The Moor’s Last Sigh. He gives deliberately false information or misinformation through his narrators and confesses the truth later in the novel by the novelist himself. Every history is written from a particular point of view. To cite Rushdie himself:

every story one chooses to tell is a kind of censorship, it prevents the telling of other tales…[xii]

Rushdie’s novels are admittedly political. Even Shalimar the Clown is a powerful love story and yet it is intensely political as well as historical. He says:

However, I have found myself, in my fiction, unable to avoid political issues; the distance between individuals and affairs of State is now so small that it no longer seems possible to write novels that ignore the public sphere.[xiii]


[x] Midnight’s Children, p. 197

[xi] Linda Hutcheon

[xii] Shame, p 71

[xiii] In God We Trust, Imaginary Homelands, 376

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