Time, History, and Narrative in Rushdie's Shame

[Added by George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University]

All this happened in the fourteenth century. I'm using the Hegiran calendar, naturally: don't imagine that stories of this type can always take place longlong ago. Time cannot be homogenized as easily as milk, and in those parts, until quite recently, the thirteenth-hundreds were still in full swing. [6]

"But no, ends must not be permitted to precede beginnings and middles, even if recent scientific experiments have shown us that within certain types of closed systems, under intense pressure, time can be persuaded to run backwards, so that effects precede their causes. This is precisely the sort of unhelpful advice of which storytellers must take no notice whatsoever; that way madness lies. [but he immediately follows this by a sort of flash-ahead, rather than a flashback, about Sufiya Zinobia, after which he blurts out "a plague on this disobedient Time! I command this death scene back into the wings at once: Shazam!"] [16]

--which is the unhelpful advice? what is effect of using terms like "Shazam" from comic books and other pop culture in a literary work? of referring to contemporary physics?

When a few pages later our narrator again presents himself at center stage and also discovers that his story (or storytelling) has gained control of him: "But I have been out of doors for quite long enough now, and must get my narrative out of the sun before it is afflicted by mirages or heat-stroke. -- Afterward, at the other end of his life (it seems that the future cannot be restrained, and insists on seeping back into the past), when he got his name into all the papers over the scandal of the headless murders" [18].

And Bilquis's prophecy came true, after all. She, whose life had blown up, emptying her of history and leaving in its place only that dark dream of majesty, that illusion so powerful that it demanded to enter the sphere of what-was-real -- she, rootless, Bilquis, who now longed for stability, for no-more-explosions, had discerned in Raza a boulder-like quality on which she would build her life" [69].

History was old and rusted, it was a machine nobody had plugged in for thousand years, and here all of a sudden it was being asked for maximum output.

Pinkie knows that "History had been waiting for Iskander Harappa to notice Her, and a man who catches History's eye is thereafter bound to a mistress from whom he will never escape. History is natural selection. Mutant versions of the past struggle for dominance; new species of fact arose, and old, saurian truths go to the wall, blindfolded and smoking last cigarettes. Only the mutations of the strong survive. The weak, the anonymous, the defeated leave few marks: field-patterns, axe-heads, folk-tales, broken pitchers, burial mounds, the fading memory of their youthful beauty. History loves only those who dominate Her; it is a relationship of mutual enslavement. No room in it for Pinkies; or, in Iskie's view, for Omar Khayyam Shakil" [134].

Postcolonial Web Pakinstan OV Rushdie OV Shame OV