In The Book of Disquiet, the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa writes the following lines: “Each of us is more than on person, many people, a proliferation of our one self. That’s why the same person who scorns his surroundings is different from the person who is gladdened or made to suffer by them. In the vast colony of our being there are many kinds of people, all thinking and feeling differently.”
As it is well-known, the Portuguese writer is especially famous for his heteronyms and games of identity. The fragment above brings into discussion the multitude of selves existing within one person and the way these multitude of selves relate to each other and one another and to the world outside. Later on, the same Pessoa writes about the journey such a person makes in life, by stating that the life itself is an experimental journey and that if one wants to travel, he or she needs simply to exist. Moreover, one, according to Pessoa, is the landscapes he or she creates through imagination, and by travelling through these landscapes, he or she actually travels through his or her own self, through the multitude of his or her own existence who projects the world outside. He also adds that “In the countries I have visited I have been not only the secret pleasure felt by the unknown traveller but the majesty of the king who rules there, I have been the people who live there and their customs, and the whole history of that and other nations. I saw those landscapes, I have been the people who live there and their customs, and the whole history of that and other nations. I saw those landscapes and those houses because I was them, created in God from the substance of my imagination.”
My beginning this paper with Pessoa’s lines is not at random; it is first due to the very special meaning he gave the word identity through his heteronymic work, and second, because the fragments above approach some important aspects I am going to analyse: the manifold identity living within one person and the way the possible self/selves of one person render life the meaning of a journey by means of imagination, and last but not least, how all this journey takes the form of a personal mythology Salman Rushdie creates in at least two of his novels i.e. Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet. The act of writing itself means actually embodying the imagined characters and places and journeying through them in search of your own self and in search of the Other, whatever form the latter might have. Consequently, I am going to deal with two forms of journey: one to the Self, in search of the Self, and second, the journey to the Other in search of the Other/the Self. Definitely, all along this journey that characters in the novels of Rushdie and Naipaul take are journeys that rely both on the foundation or vision of the Other as a mirror of oneself, but also the Other seen as the prolongation of oneself. Such a perspective consequently also implies the idea of limit and limitation in the assertion of one’s identity and the relation identity and journey can have with the limits, borders, and limit/border transgression. The overuse of the concepts of One and the Other today, beyond today’s fashionable thinking trends, articulate and underline more the fluidity of limits and boundaries, which have become inconsistent and shifting, just as the concepts of identity and alterity/otherness themselves. Hence, the aim of this paper would be to analyse the way identity and alterity are defined by the diverse forms of limits/ boundaries themselves and to see according to what rules one shapes or is shaped by the mythical journey itself, and by the Other who awaits at the end of the journey, irrespective who this Other might be. This paper, in other words, will attempt to answer the question asked by Brian McHale when addressing the problem of the postmodern writer and character: “What world is this?... What is to be done in it?... Which of my selves to do it?... What is a world?... What is the mode of existence of the world it projects?...”
In the book entitled Figures of alterity, Jean Baudrillard and Marc Guillaume approach the theme of journey and the way the impossibility of an authentic journey today shapes the identity/alterity of a person, starting from one important characteristic of the self, and that is spectrality. They believe that increased forms and effects of spectrality today are especially due to the disappearance of otherness in its original form and the need of humans to reinvent a type of radical otherness which would maintain the solid character of one. . According to them, spectral means the new way of being and of changing, as a need to reinvent the stranger, the absolute otherness, which is very hard to find today . Some of the examples of spectrality given are the carnival, the travesty, the transgressions or the shadow games. Consequently to be spectral means to be multifaceted, but to engage only one facet in the communicational interface, for example, in the social common world, while for other situations to engage other facets of the being. Thus, the whole process consists in the Self’s pretending to be Another, and thus approach Another as the Other. According to Jean Baudrillard, spectrality in such cases means neither the disappearance of the subject, nor its destruction, but only its dispersion, as the being becomes dispersed through the spectral relations it develops. Hence the postmodern man’s first confrontation in this case is, I would add, the spectrality of both himself and the world around, all perceived in spectral terms and forms. The two philosophers underline the important role of heteronyms and pseudonyms that the postmodern technology facilitates for the postmodern man: virtual identities which are more than anonym identities, they represent a form of identity elision which paradoxically facilitates relations. On the other hand, if people today reinvent themselves at the level of form, which they can produce endlessly as the system permits them to, that is a real proof of Baudrillard’s theory according to which the true rarity today is the Other.
On the other hand, if we think of Salman Rushdie’s question in The Satanic Verses: “Who am I? Who else is here?” , we can see it also as a confusion of the contemporary man faced with a network of spectral relations. Moreover, these lines can be interpreted at more different levels: beside the disorientation of the contemporary man, it can also be the state of mind and the call of the Migrant, whatever type of migrant that would be, especially if we think that any contemporary man is a migrant in a way. A possible answer to, and also a continuation of the questions above could be some other lines from Midnight’s Children: “Please believe that I am falling apart. I am not speaking metaphorically; nor is this the opening gambit of some melodramatic, riddling, grubby appeal for pity. I mean quite simply that I have begun to crack all over like an old jug-that my poor body, singular, unlovely, buffeted by too much history, subjected to drainage above and drainage below, mutilated by doors, brained by spittoons, has started coming apart at the seams. In short, I am literally disintegrating, slowly for the moment, although there are signs of acceleration. I ask you only to accept (as I have accepted) that I shall eventually crumble into (approximately) six hundred and thirty million particles of anonymous, and necessarily oblivious dust.”
Falling apart is a process that speaks about the partition of the being in different anonymous parts that yet do not lose contact with the initial unity, they are like the different images of a person scattered in a broken mirror. On the other hand, these particles that Saleem parts into are similar to the multiple selves Pessoa speaks about in the opening fragment of the chapter. In a way, Saleem is the prototype of Rushdie’s characters, who all have the tendency to disintegrate themselves in a spectral process, in Baudrillard’s terms. According to Baudrillard, this dispersion of the being opens for the experience of diversity, of the Others, of the infinity of differences, but also to the diversity of the inner world. Consequently, Saleem is the prototype of character, who disperses himself and his self to encounter the difference, the other, actually he employs the multifaced sides of his self and finally he is in the danger of losing contact with the unity of his self. Nevertheless, all along his journey, Saleem, like all Rushdie characters, moves in a structure that allows this spectrality to be always revigorating, always only the refreshing of the initial structure of the self. This structure is rendered by the mythical frame Rushdie often gives to his narratives, a mythical frame in which his characters move in spectral forms and create spectral relations, but spectral in the sense of what Baudrillard names prismatic spectrality.
According to Baudrillard, the term spectral can have two meanings, which are rather incompatible with each other. One of them is the prismatic spectrality, which means not necessarily breaking up with the entity of the being, but rather a multiplication of the being in different transparent aspects of the same initial entity. The second spectrality is the ectoplasmic spectrality, that is the spectrality of the ghost, that is playing the Other under an assumed mask, but in which, although the idea is to break up with the initial identity to assumedly play the Other, the initial identity, the double, will always haunt the second/third assumed masked identity. One problematic aspect of this ambiguous spectral situation, as suggested by Baudrillard, is whether the pseudonymic identity is a spectral identity and a spectral game or is more than transparency, is a game of metamorphoses. In this point, I would like to underline the yet spectral aspect of the pseudonymic identity. I believe that even the game of metamorphoses initiated through the employment of pseudonyms or nicknames is above all spectral, in the sense of employing a shadowy-like image in the world of the subject. Nevertheless, I would argue that the cyber-avatars imply a breaking-up with the corporeal identity of the subject, creating a sense of alienation for the projected and for the left identity, thus the cyber-avatar really creating an Other interface of the subject. Consequently, in such cases as the ones Baudrillard refers to, the metamorphosed self meets the Other in a virtual form, but renouncing the corporeal, physical identity.
Consequently, in the case of Saleem Sinai, the character in Midnight’s Children and the prototype of Rushdie characters, we can see that he simultaneously employs different nicknames, according to the type of person he has a relation or he simply changes his names that follow actually the Hinduist belief in the deep relation existing between the name (in Sanskrit – nama) and the form (Sanskrit – rupa) , as the name and the form create the united structure of the self. Consequently, Saleem Sinai understands the world and its inhabitants according to the Hindu belief that “Our names contain our fates; living as we do in a place where names have not acquired the meaninglessness of the West, and are still more than mere sounds, we are also the victims of our titles” Thus, all Rushdie’s characters move along with the symbols and the value their names carry, and every time one of the characters changes his or her name, this marks the beginning or/and an end. Moreover, Rushdie’s characters not only change their names so as to mark a new stage in their life, but the names they carry, are embedded with world and Hindu mythological (either old or new) values, which, due to the mythological value, renew both the world of the bearer, and his or her identity. Thus, in the novel Midnight’s Children, the change of names creates a network of spectral relations between and among characters. However, all the nicknames that characters acquire in their journey to the Other have mythical echoes, and although the relations between and among characters develop and emerge out of this game of identity change, the spectral identities that characters employ having a prismatic nature, as all of them maintain the initial structure of the self, that penetrates all the prisms of the identities. The prismatic types of identities, that is the identity that prevents the disintegration of the being is rendered by the archetypal and mythological source of the characters’ names. Saleem is on the verge of physically disintegrating, but the identities he acquires on his journey of spiritual development refresh and empower his spiritual self that reaches the state of Buddha so that later on he would reach his new self again. And most importantly, both Saleem and the other characters he comes into contact with manage to preserve their inner selves untouched by the challenges of spectrality due to the network they are all entangled in.
Saleem Sinai knows the symbol of his name Sinai, which means the “master magician” and “the son of the moon”, but, unfortunately, also the end. He is the chosen one of the one thousand and one children, the one that was born exactly at midnight, as his life had been foretold to his mother long ago. Saleem has a double valence. He represents the supreme identity as physical individual, and also the supreme identity of the nation of India. Amina, Saleem’s mother, was offered a gift of a son in exchange of the gift of a life. Thus, soothsayers said: “A son...such a son! A son who will never be older than his motherland-neither older nor younger. [...] There will be two heads- but you shall see only one-there will be knees ad a nose, a nose and knees. [...] Washing will hide him-voices will guide him! Friends mutilate him - blood will betray him! [...] Spittoons will brain him-doctors will drain him-jungle will claim him-wizards reclaim him! Soldiers will try him-tyrants will fry him... [...]. He will have sons without having sons! He will be old before he is old! And he will die... before he is dead.” These words announce the future of Saleem Sinai and, at the same time, of his alter ego, Shiva, the other boy who was born at the same miraculous hour as him, and the representative characteristics of their identities: nose and knees. The time of Saleem’s birth is of great importance Historically speaking, the date of Saleem’s birth is a metaphorical coincidence with the birth of the nation of India. But midnight is also the primordial hour, of absolute rest, when the spiritual sun is in power and opposed to the physical sun of noon. Since midnight represents the supreme hour, midnight’s children represent the supreme beings of India. Saleem Sinai was given several other names together with his birth-name, some nicknames related to the appearance of his body, prolonged with a huge nose like his grandfather, though he was not at all the real son of his mother Amina. Later he started being called Snotnose, Stainface, Sniffer, Baldy, or Piece-of-the-Moon. This is another sign of the potential multiple identities the boy has within himself. Though only a little boy, Saleem starts to ask himself a lot of questions about self-defining: ”Even a little boy is faced with the problem of defining itself; and I’m bound to say that my early popularity had its problematic aspects, because I was bombarded with a confusing multiplicity of views on the subject, being a Blessed One to a guru under tap, a voyeur to Lila Sabarmati [...]”. As his name contains the name of the moon, Saleem Sinai will always live under its sign. The moon is the protector of the magicians, of the super-natural powers, since the protector of the children of midnight. Considered to be the shelter for those who die until their rebirth, the moon shelters Buddha (Saleem’s new name after he leaves the army) in the period he cannot remember his real name. Thus, Saleem gives up his old identity to discover a superior one within himself, that of the reason and wisdom, he himself representing Buddha’s archetype. The problem is that Saleem, who cannot remember his name, sees the Saleem-Buddha as a different person, he manages to keep himself at a certain distance so that, though in identity with himself, he perceives himself as different, as the other one: ”So, apologizing for the melodrama, I must doggedly insist that I, he, had begun again; that after years of yearning for importance, he (or I) had been cleansed of the whole business [...] that, emptied from history, the buddha learned the arts of submission and did only what was required of him. ” Finally, the woods sequence, the rain and the rest in the ruins with the phantasms of Kali represent, in a way, an initiation phase for the man who finally managed to leave behind the human identity to take on the godly one. Purified by the rain, Buddha who started bit by bit to lose the characteristics of Saleem, and who could not talk anymore now, emerges to a superior phase of life, the sphere of Buddha’s enlightenment. It is also curious that the purification process is started by one of Buddha’s companions who are the reminiscences of his early human-hood, and whom he himself sees as one being only, though they have separate bodies: “Open-mouthed, unable to tear themselves away, the child-soldiers [...] Ayooba Shaheed Farook would have (once upon a time) given anything to know that those rumours had been true.” However, his companions die on the way, one by one, after a last sequence of body pleasures.
The person who finally gives his name back is, surprisingly, a companion of his in the midnight’s conferences, Parvati-the-witch, who, despite never seeing him in her life recognizes him after the description he sent the children through his thought-forms. But his destiny turns in such a way that his bitter foe, Shiva, his alter-ego, appears once again in his life and Shiva’a son becomes Saleem’s son. Shiva is here the archetype of Shiva, the god of destruction and renaissance and, every time he appears, Saleem’s life changes. Parvati-the-witch loses her old identity too, and becomes Laylah: “[...] she took a name which I chose for her out of the repository of my dreams, becoming Laylah, night, so that she too was caught up in the repetitive cycles of my history becoming an echo of all the other people who have been obliged to change their names...like my own mother Amina Sinai, Parvati-the-witch became a new person in order to have a child.” It seems that every person Saleem meets change his or her name as he or she changes his life, obliging in a way Saleem to change his life too.
Another important character of the novel is the Brass-Monkey, Saleem’s supposed sister, an awkward child and later a beautiful charming lady. In fact, the Brass-Monkey is not a name at all, it is a mere nickname and her passion for fire may be linked in a way with an ancient myth of the Bororo Indians , which describes the monkey as a civilizing hero that discovers the fire. The-Brass-Monkey is a very interesting human-being, always too smart to show it and always as if playing a role, and is perceived by the others in the way a monkey is: “[...] the Brass monkey was as much animal as human; and, as all the servants and children on Methwold Estate knew, she had the gift of talking to the birds, and to cats.” Nevertheless, she was very intelligent, but because she had to get away from her brother who had fallen in love with her, she changed her name into Jamilla and became a singer; we have here a similar situation to the above ones, when Rushdie’s characters have to change their names in order to be able to move on with their lives.
The last character that changes her name is Padma, Saleem’s listener, a special woman due to both her destiny with Saleem, and due to her initial name that in Sanskrit means born out of the lotus, the lotus being a sacred plant for the Hindi and the representing the symbol of the spiritual evolution. Padma, the pink lotus, is the solar emblem of perfection. Saleem in his purified status now meets his match, Padma, whom he marries and who gives him a son. However, she has to change her name too in order to pass to the state of wife and becomes Naseem ”in the honour of Reverand Mother’s watching ghost” . But this point in which both Sinai and Padma, newly named Naseem, meet, they do so after a long process of distancing and closeness, after both of them become the Other for each other. This evolution and adventures that mainly Saleem goes through is provided by the mythical structure the narrative has, and by the fact that in spite of the fact that the change of identity and name is necessary for the self to survive, the being is only physically disintegrated, as the spiritual self finds the path and modality in which to preserve both the individual and the national history. Neither Saleem, nor Padma, nor the-Brass-Monkey or the other characters want to get rid of their old identity or to hide it as it happens in the case of the ectoplasmic identities which appear in Postcolonial literature, for example in Naipaul’s novels, as in The Bend in the River, where characters live according tot the rule of the mask and of the role, both assumed in order to establish a new identity, but in this case, the ghost of the former identity haunts the next one and creates fluid, ectoplasmic identities: “That was how we all felt, though: we saw our lives as fluid, we saw the other man or person as solider. But in the town where all was arbitrary and the law was what it was, all our lives were fluid. We none of us had certainties of any kind. Without always knowing what we were doing we were constantly adjusting to the arbitrariness by which we were surrounded. In the end we couldn’t say where we stood.”
We deal with a similar situation in the novel The Ground Beneath Her Feet, one of the katabasist novels, according to Italo Calvino’s classification, that is “a narrative structure of a journey to look inward, downward, and back” The Ground Beneath Her Feet is a novel exactly about the action of looking back, of remembering, but, in a way, every new gesture of looking back means forgetting all the other looking-backs, so that the new narrative of remembering be new and fresh. Foreshadowed by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the novel is embedded by this myth in all forms, so much the more that each of the main characters is given an Orphic self at one moment, and repeats at least once the mythic gesture of looking back. In this case, the names of the main characters, Ormus and Vina, make direct and indirect references to the mythical characters Orpheus and Eurydice, and they escape the danger of ectoplasmic identities – which disintegrate the selves – (in our case the mythical sparagmos process is even more suggestive) through the continuous process of remembering ensured by thy mythical valences of the myth. Ormus or Ormuszd is the creator God with the Parsi. , and the Ormus in the novel, the name bearer, is the creator god of music. Moreover, Vina reaches the full meaning of her name – in Sanskrit Vina designates a music instrument similar to a lute. , only after she gets through the stages of other names, so, through other spheres of life: Nissy and Diana.
Vina and Ormus, the two characters that reiterate the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, become music themselves, and thus enter the cosmic time. Vina, the feminine identity of the novel and around whom everything lives and exists, tells a Mexican legend of music: “Once upon a time the winged serpent Quetzalcoatl ruled the air and the waters, while the god of war ruled the land. Theirs were rich days, full of battles and the exercise of power, but there was no music, and they both longed for a decent tune. The god of war was powerless to change the situation, but the winged serpent was not. He flew away towards the house of the sun, which was the home of music. He passed a number of planets, and from each of them he heard musical sounds, but there were no musicians to be found. At last he came to the house of the sun, where the musicians lived. The anger of the sun at the serpent’s invasion was a terrible thing to witness, but Quetzalcoatl was not afraid, and unleashed the mighty storms that were his personal specialty. The storms were so fearsome that even the house of the sun began to shake, and the musicians were scared and fled in all directions. And some of them fell to earth, and so, thanks to the winged serpent, we have music.”
Vina identifies herself with the winged serpent while Ormus, her lover, is music. According to the Dictionary of Symbols , in all civilisations music was considered to be the harmony of the cosmos, and man could take part to this harmony only through music. In all civilisations, the most intense actions of personal or social life took place in a musical background because it is music that created the communication with the divine spheres. Hermann Hesse in his The Glass Bead Game also offers an account of the role and meaning of music, underlining the same harmonious dimension that is to be found in Rushdie’s The Ground beneath Her Feet. Hesse recalls a Chinese legend regarding the divine origin of music, as it was born out of the great One, the generator that makes the great two poles move: the pole of light and the pole of darkness: “The origins of music lie far back in the past. Music arises from Measure and is rooted in the great Oneness. The great Oneness begets the two poles; the two poles beget the power of Darkness and of Light. ‘When the world is at peace, when all things are tranquil and all men obey their superiors in all their courses, then music can be perfected. When desires and passions do not turn into wrongful paths, music can be perfected. Perfect music has its cause. It arises from equilibrium. Equilibrium arises from righteousness, and righteousness arises from the meaning of the cosmos. Therefore one can speak about music only with a man who has perceived the meaning of the cosmos. ‘Music is founded on the harmony between heaven and earth, on the concord of obscurity and brightness. […]’ ”
In The Ground Beneath Her Feet, as well as in Hesse’s novel, music is given a mythical valence, its symbol making reference to the dual principles of the world: Yin and Yang. Vina and Ormus are, in fact, the light and the darkness of the music they create, and they can only accomplish their destiny through the music they sing together. Vina and Ormus are two selves that make the one and great identity which generates calm, order and happiness. Music also permits the two identities to get out of time and space, it is the channel to the vertical worlds the novel comprises. However, the direct mythical background which foreshadows all characters in the novel, not only Vina and Ormus, is the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. According to Rachel Falconer, “[…] every major character is given an Orphic side: Ormus (most obviously), because as a rock star he is the modern music god; Rai, because he is also in love with Vina (the novel’s Eurydice), and because her narration raises her memory from the dead; Vina because she rescues Ormus from silence and death several times; and, Mira, because after Vina’s death, she is the one who saves Ormus from despair and inspires his greatest ever music. The multiplication of Orphic identity in no way dissipates the focus on Ormus as faithful lover and god of sound.”
Thus, the myth of Orpheus could be extended to several characters, and thus all relations between and among characters are projections of and reiterations of the Orphic myth, only that in this case the myth prevents the characters from disintegrating from the point of view of the self, the Orphic archetype penetrates all the prisms like a light that penetrates glass and maintains the continuity of remembering for all the characters in the novel. Moreover, the Orphic music is the one which keeps everyone alive and in touch with passion. Even love is impossible without music. Vina and Ormus, the Yin and Yang, tell the world: “Love is the relationship between levels of reality./Love produces harmony and is the ruler of the arts. As artists we seek to achieve, in our art, a state of love./Love is the attempt to impose order on chaos, meaning on absurdity.[…] Songs are love’s enchantments. They are everyday magic./ […] Songs enchant away our pain.”
Ormus, the main Orpheus, and Vina, the main Eurydice of the novel, are entangled in the mirage of music and love, where music is love and love is music, and the process of the forbidden looking back takes place with each of their attempt of recovering the Other through the means of music: “He [Ormus] was burning himself up in the fire of his art, each night’s show was not only a gift for Vina but a step towards the oblivion, the not-being, where she lay with his joy in her keeping; he knew that when the show was over he would no longer need to sing or speak or move or breathe or be. After that the musicians began to think of him as a creature from another world, because they could see how hard he was trying to get there, maybe some world through a gash in the air, some variant dimension where Vina was still alive.”
Thus, music i.e. Ormus’s and Vina’s destiny, is that which permits them to escape the mortal world and the mortal time, they can meet even after the process of sparagmos, outside time and outside mortality. Their doubles, Rai and Mira, are to remember them to the world, and the process of narrative through remembering through which the novel is told by Rai is another gesture of looking back, of remembering the past and the mythical story as well. Thus, again, in Rushdie’s case, the process of remembering is meaning rendering, as it is through remembering that the selves of Ormus and Vina accomplish the one identity which is music, love, death, life i.e. art. “Death is more than love or is it. Art is more than love or is it. Love is more than death and art, or not. This is the subject.” In consequence, life becomes round, and with every turning back, looking back, humans recreate the Orphic gesture of both losing what is meant to be forgotten, yet with the aim of regaining it in a higher form, i.e. in art. So, he or she who wants to hear the music, will definitely say as Rai does, at the end of his narration: “I thought they were supposed to be dead, but in real life they are just going to go on singing.”
Everything starts with a journey. Because everything is a journey. Time implies a journey at least, if not several. Even Salman Rushdie says in one of his essays in Imaginary Homelands: “It may be argued that the past is a country we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity.” The recovery of such a loss, both at individual and national level through the process of narrative means one journey, or, in other words, with every look back, with any new narration, another journey is performed. The aim is just as simple, even if writers themselves deny or reject it: a search for the self which, anyway, cannot escape this journey. Moreover, these journeys both in Midnight’s Children and The Ground Beneath Her Feet create personal mythologies which enable characters such as Saleem Sinai, Vina or Ormus to move both temporally (as in Midnight’s Children, when Saleem relives and thus rewrites the story of his live, with the aim of pickling it and history as well) or spatially (as in The Ground Beneath Her Feet, where through a katabasic movement of immersion into the depth of memory and time, and a territorial transgression from India to the West, in a journey of music and in search of Another seen as the Other, with the ancient echo of the Sanskrit form of you, tu, which is accounted for also in Rushdie’s latest novel The Enchantress of Florence: “that tu which was reserved for children, lovers and gods […].”
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*Studiu publicat în volumul Incursiuni în imaginar 3, Imaginarul religios în literatură, Editura Imago, Sibiu, 2009. Volum apărut sub egida Centrului de Cercetare a Imaginarului „Speculum”, Universitatea „1 Decembrie 1918”, Alba Iulia.