Presentation on theme: "Frontiers and Contemporary Thinking: Zygmunt Bauman and Salman Rushdie By Dana Bădulescu Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi Romania This work was supported."— Presentation transcript:
Frontiers and Contemporary Thinking: Zygmunt Bauman and Salman Rushdie By Dana Bădulescu Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iaşi Romania This work was supported by the strategic grant POSDRU/89/1.5/S/62259, Project Applied social, human and political sciences co-financed by the European social fund within the Sectorial Operational Program Human Resources Development 2007-2013
Motto Rather than homelessness, the trick is to be at home in many homes, but to be in each side and outside at the same time, to combine intimacy with the critical look of an outsider, involvement with detachment – a trick which sedentary people are unlikely to learn. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity Born into one language, Urdu, Ive made my life and work in another. Anyone who has crossed a language frontier will readily understand that such a journey involves a form of shape-shifting or self-translation. Salman Rushdie, Step across This Line
An Interdisciplinary Approach The discourses of Salman Rushdie in Step Across This Line (2002) and Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity (2000) are frontier-crossing: Rushdie, a novelist, translates sciences and literature into a meditation; Bauman, a sociologist, translates other sciences and literature into sociology. This paper looks into ways in which the notion, sense and metaphor of frontier are reflected by these two frontier-crossing writers, whose discourses echo each other. Baumans and Rushdies metaphors meet and cut across the frontiers of human thinking and imagination, reflecting not only each other but also what the human mind has created of late, i.e. a space of transit, mobility and hybridity.
Liquidity and Liquefaction Baumans master metaphor is liquidity and his thesis is that all the major aspects of our lives are now liquefying or already liquid. According to Bauman, liquidity is the stage of our modernity, which follows one of initial liquefaction, whose next stage was solidification. An essential characteristic of liquids is that they cannot be contained, they spill out, they have no duration, they are only snapshots time/space, and important aspects of our reality are liquefying or liquid. Liquidity defies bonds and borders of all sorts: from the borders of the self to borders between the self and the world, social bonds, space/time borders. Although Bauman and Rushdie signal the existence of frontier and highlight it, more often than not their perception renders frontiers as permeable, liquid, melting, shifting, in the process of being reshaped or even collapsing.
Frontiers Passages about frontiers, barriers, borders, thresholds, demarcations of all sorts between realms of all kinds are replete in Rushdies fiction and non-fiction writings. In Step Across This Line, the frontier is the master metaphor. In Rushdies oeuvre, frontiers separate: East from West permeated by migration; dream / illusion / imagination / fiction from reality permeated by magic realism; the physical from the spiritual permeated by aesthetics of transgression; skin from skin (i.e. race) permeated by politics and aesthetics of transgression. Rushdies own destiny is that of a translated man, which he projects onto his narrators and characters. His own experience of having to step across lines, move across borders and then live in the translated space between them makes him and his characters aware of cracks, faults, crevices, edges. In Baumans Liquid Modernity, the emblem of cultural statelessness is Derrida, amétèque, a cultural hybrid, who, along with Beckett, Borges and Nabokov, writers Rushdie values and frequently references, have more than one homeland, building a home of ones own on the crossroads between cultures. (Bauman, 2000: 207)
Liquid Frontiers and Borders In Step Across This Line, Rushdie argues that the first frontier was liquid: The first frontier was the waters edge, and there was a first moment, because how could there not have been such a moment, when a living thing came up from the ocean, crossed that boundary and found that it could breathe. (Rushdie, 2002: 75) Our own births are re-iterations of that originary moment of genesis: Our own births mirror that first crossing of the frontier between the elements. As we emerge from amniotic fluid, from the liquid universe of the womb, we, too, discover that we can breathe; we, too, leave behind a kind of waterworld to become denizens of earth and air. (Rushdie, 2002: 75) The progress of human culture and civilization is steeped in the same archetype of crossing liquid borders and (as of late) air space borders: In its victorious transition we recognize and celebrate the prototype of our own literal, moral and metaphorical frontier crossings, applauding the same drive that made Christopher Columbuss ships head for the edge of the world, or the pioneers take to their covered wagons. The image of Neil Armstrong taking his first moonwalk echoes the first movements of life on earth. (Rushdie, 2002: 76)
Frontier Crossing as a Transgressive Act Both Bauman and Rushdie see border-crossing as a transgressive act par ecxcellence: Rushdie points out that our essentially transgressive spirit prompts us to break down all boundaries that hold us in, surpass the limits of our own natures and embark on archetypal quests. (Rushdie, 2002: 77) Bauman relates our transgressive nature with the Zeitgeist of modernity advocated by Nietzsche: Being modern means being perpetually ahead of oneself, in a state of constant transgression (in Nietzsches terms, one cannot be Mensch without being, or at least struggling to be, Übermensch); it also means having an identity which can exist only as an unfulfilled project. (Bauman, 2000: 28-29) In his novels, Rushdie sees the individuals propensity to metamorphose as an essential aspect which he relates to hybridity and migration. Bauman also connects this state of constant trangression with the nomadic spirit of liquid modernity.
Metamorphosis and Automorphosis Our inner maps, like the maps of the territories we inhabit, are fluid, their boundaries continuously blurring and melting. Bauman describes our biographies in terms of a permanent quest for our identities whose solidity we might trust, but which we can never achieve. Our liquid modernity has liquefied our identities and now these are more like the spots of crust hardening time and again on the top of volcanic lava which melt and dissolve again before they have time to cool and set. (Bauman, 2000: 83) Selfhood is losing authenticity and becomes not just a glossy surface with a rather unmanageable liquid underneath, but an ironic selfhood in the sense that it no longer fuses its bits and pieces but it highlights incongruities and gaps instead. (Bauman, 2000: 87) In his novel Fury, Rushdie coins the term automorphosis to refer to this transformation of the self while travelling and crossing borders. In Step Across This Line, Alice the migrant at the gates of Wonderland cannot cross the border until she has altered herself to fit into her new world. (Rushdie, 2002: 79)
Hybridity and (Self-)Translation Both Rushdie and Bauman are hybrids and migrants who cross borders of language and culture. In Imaginary Homelands, Rushdie explains that translation comes from the Latin for bearing across, and he situates himself, other writers like him and his own characters in the border-crossing interstitial space of translation as translated men. (Rushdie, 1992: 17) Bauman argues that language and culture are the most permeable frontiers. Referencing George Steiner, who is also a hybrid, Bauman shows that it is because these hybrid or translated men (in Rushdies terms) were at home in and moved easily across several linguistic and cultural universes that they are the greatest among contemporary writers. (Bauman, 2000: 207) Indeed, cultural and linguistic hybridity, self-translation, migrancy, and liminality (in the sense used by Homi Bhabha, 1994) are essential marks of the self, space and time in liquid modernity.
Travelling and Migrancy The main characteristic of liquids which recommends them to Bauman as defining for our stage of the modern is their ease of travelling and travelling light. This ease to travel gives contemporary power, war, the individual, community, space and time their liquid nature. For Rushdie, the migrant, the man without frontiers, is the archetypal figure of our age. (Rushdie, 2002: 81) According to Bauman, the communities of the present are so liquid that they have become communities of shared worries, shared anxieties or shared hatreds – but in each case peg communities, a momentary gathering around the nail on which many solitary individuals hang their solitary individual fears. (Bauman, 2000: 37) Bauman gives a rather dark description of liquidity, whose time and space is always transit, but he celebrates the cultural hybridity of a migrant like Derrida. Rushdie, who is one of the greatest hybrid writers of our times, declares: … the most precious book I possess is my passport. (Rushdie, 2000: 91)
Rushdies Migrants Looking back on The Satanic Verses in Imaginary Homelands, Rushdie celebratesmélange, hotchpotch, a bit of this and a bit of that is how newness enters the world. /…/ The Satanic Verses is for change-by-fusion, change-by-conjoining. It is a love- song to our mongrel selves. (Rushdie, 1992: 394) Moraes Zogoiby, the protagonist and narrator of The Moors Last Sigh is a hybrid through whose veins a mixed blood runs and who steps across more than one line. His mother Auroras palimpsestic paintings of which the Moor is the centre are an epitome of aesthetic and political hybridity, which reflect the Moors hybrid soul and migrant self. The three protagonists of the disorienting story in The Ground Beneath Her Feet travel through the membrane of the sky from India to England and then to America. Ormus Cama, the Orphic character, develops double vision of this and another world and fuses the two worlds in music. In Shalimar the Clown, Max Ophuls, a French Jew who leaves Europe for America, where he becomes the ambassador of the US in India, and his daughter India, who never meets her Kashmiri mother, and who is an American for whom India is alien, are hybrid characters moving across frontiers because in civilization there are no borderlines (Rushdie, 2005: 141) Qara Köz-Lady Black Eyes, the narrator Mogor dellamore, the emperor Akbar in The Enchantress of Florence are all migrants and hybrids.
Rushdies Bombay Masala For Rushdie, his birthplace Bombay is the epitome of cosmopolitanism, hybridity and multiplicity. Rushdie celebrates Bombay for its unsettling of historical and geographical fixity in Midnights Children, The Satanic Verses, The Moors Last Sigh, The Ground beneath Her Feet. Bombay is also an omphalos, an axis mundi by virtue of its hybridity, which attracts and includes everything there is in its protean, borderless and liquid geography: Bombay was central, had been so from the moment of its creation: the bastard child of a Portuguese-English wedding, and yet the most Indian of Indian cities. In Bombay all Indias met and merged. In Bombay, too, all-India met what-was-not-India, what came across the black water to flow into our veins. Everything north of Bombay was North India, everything south of it was the South. To the east lay Indias East and to the west, the worlds West. Bombay was central; all rivers flowed into its human sea. It was an ocean of stories; we were all its narrators, and everybody talked at once. (Rushdie, 1995: 350)
Frontiers and Culture Rushdie argues that during the Middle Ages, frontiers created new lands of European culture and new peoples. Looking into the history American culture, Rushdie shows that the frontier is the concrete physical expression of the American spirit; it is around it and from it that the American nationalism, the American political institutions, the American intellectual life and a whole frontier literature of migration and free frontier-crossing emerged and developed. Bauman argues that nomadism has supplanted the settled cultures of solid modernity, which is a reinforcement of his governing thesis of the liquidity of our modern times.
New Frontiers Both Rushdie and Bauman connect the frontier universe of control with emigration, an often desperate form of migration. Rushdie in Step Across This Line and Bauman in a whole chapter (Humanity on the Move) of Liquid Times and in his most recent book Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age argue that although emigrants melt frontiers, the societies they seek to penetrate erect new walls and frontiers, maybe even more insurmountable than those melted. In their turn, the emigrants or refugees build a confining stockade of their own, the walls of their own culture they have both brought along and left behind. (Rushdie, 2000: 81-82) In Collateral Damage, Bauman shows that the mobility and fluidity of movement in the city is prevented by the new gated communities developing an increasing fear of strangers, who are potentially dangerous. However, behind the walls, anxiety grows instead of dissipating. (Bauman, 2011: 66- 67)
Frontiers and Beyond Rushdie translates the spatiality of frontier into temporal terms, and what for Bauman is liquid time, for Rushdie is frontier time, in which great changes are coming about at great speed (Rushdie, 2002: 104) Bauman does the same space/time conflation and accounts for time in modernity in terms that associate it with space. This space/time, according to Bauman, is not the space within borders, but crossing borders: In modernity, time has history, it has history because of the perpetually expanding carrying capacity of time – the lengthening of the stretches of space which units of time allow to pass, cross, cover – or conquer. (Bauman, 2000: 9) Baumans thesis in what concerns this liquefaction of time is that time, i.e. compressing space so that it can be crossed in the nick of time, is the ultimate limit which has now been conquered. Meeting Baumans idea and almost echoing it without ever referencing Baumans book, Rushdie considers that the final frontier those who are on a quest need to cross is not space, but time. Rushdie, 2000: 78)
Conclusion The frontier, and collateral ideas of migrancy, travelling, hybridity with all their implications, in a period when changes happen at accelerating speed, are compelling issues for intellectuals whose identities, destinies and careers have been shaped by them. Bauman and Rushdie take to meditating upon the frontier which is, in Rushdies account, an illusive line, visible and invisible, physical and metaphorical, amoral and moral. (Rushdie, 2002: 78) In other words, like our liquid modernity, the frontier is a creation of the human mind, with which the mind feels the need to get to grips despite and beyond its illusiveness and shiftiness. While Rushdies focus is the frontier in Step Across This Line because his experience has been so shaped by it since very early in his life, and especially in the fatwa years, Bauman stresses the liquid nature of modernity. However, the two writers meet across the space charted by their ideas, and thus we see Rushdies frontiers liquid or liquefying, and Baumans liquid modernity as a space of melting frontiers.
Afterthought 1: Bauman and Rushdie Associative approaches across sciences and various fields of human thinking, either interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary, reflect the need of the human mind to enhance its horizons by cutting across disciplines traditionally considered distinct. They are frontier crossing endeavours, and they have resulted in new larger fields and protean discourses like Baumans and Rushdies. Interpenetrating fields of knowledge lead to hybridity of discourse. Thus, Bauman draws his concept of liquid modernity from a state of matter studied by the science of chemistry. Bauman translates the term used in chemistry into a metaphor, which serves him as a concept in his sociological thinking. Equipped with this kit of translated metaphors, he brings the literature of Orwell and Huxley to bear upon his newly created concept, the two writers dystopias providing Bauman with the contrast of solid modernity that he needs in his demonstration of liquidity. Rushdies text is hybrid in the same way. When he looks into the notion, sense and metaphor of frontier in Step Across This Line, the writer draws on biology, history, his own experience, and of course literature.
Afterthought 2: Beyond This interdisciplinary approach to Baumans Liquid Modernity in conjunction with Rushdies Step Across This Line looks at how two thinkers reflect on contemporary phenomena and highlight some of their essential aspects. Their discourses are frontier-crossing and thus charting a territory of fissures and connections at the same time, but readers often go beyond their beyonds, looking for ways in which their reflections cross frontiers and connect. Thus, interdisciplinary approaches are just a response to the border-crossing and polymorphic spirit of texts like Baumans and Rushdies. The more one reads in order to cross the frontiers of disciplines and to make connections, the more obvious further associations become. Thus, Baumans ideas around liquidity in Liquid Modernity and his theory of it in Liquid Love, Liquid Times, Collateral Damage, and Rushdies ideas around frontier in Step Across This Line and other fiction and non-fiction writings, which echo each other on the theme of hybridity, migrancy, translation, further connect with Homi Bhabhas postcolonial analyses of hybridity and liminality, and Arjun Appadurais examination of a transnational culture in Modernity at Large. Such is the perception of what is called horizon: from a distance, we see the apparent intersection (i.e. frontier) of the earth and sky, but the closer we move towards it, the frontier disappears, and the further we keep moving, the more horizons we see. Are they signs of limitation, or of free vistas? As we near each line, we realize that horizons are both limitations and invitations. They are also there and not there at the same time, i.e. projections of our minds.
References Appadurai, Arjun. Modernity at Large: Cultural Dimensions of Globalization. Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press, 1996. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Modernity. Polity Press, 2000. Bauman, Zygmunt. Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty. Polity Press, 2007. Bauman, Zygmunt. Collateral Damage: Social Inequalities in a Global Age. Polity Press, 2011. Bhabha, Homi. The Location of Culture. Routledge, 1994. Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. Viking, 1988. Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981-1991. London: Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, 1991. Rushdie, Salman. Midnights Children. Vintage, 1995. Rushdie, Salman. The Moors Last Sigh. New York: Pantheon Books, 1995. Rushdie, Salman. The Ground beneath Her Feet. Vintage, 2000. Rushdie, Salman, Step across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002. Random House, 2002. Rushdie, Salman. Fury. Vintage, 2002. Rushdie, Salman. Shalimar the Clown. London: Jonathan Cape, 2005. Rushdie, Salman. The Enchantress of Florence. London: Vintage Books, 2009.