“Migration and the Grotesque in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.” Crossing Borders: Ways of Constructing Identities. University of Augsburg. 10-12 May, 2012.
Even if Rushdie’s riotously hybrid and famously controversial Satanic Verses eludes formulaic reductions, the experience of migration and the traversing of boundaries, be they generic, geographical or (meta)physical, nevertheless emerge as central principles in the novel; both concepts, however, acquire characteristics in the course of the text which come to account for the novel’s cultural and creative potential, and which I propose to access through a focus on the grotesque body.
Understood as a phenomenon of crossing and transforming boundaries that is essentially tied to physical corporality, the grotesque allows envisaging the “angelicdevilish” protagonists’ migration as a transmutation that combines an allegorical note on the migrant’s self-estrangement with its emphatic physical actuality between the uncanny and the laughable. An even more important implication of interpreting migration as grotesque metamorphosis, though, is the concept’s performative dimension. Since Michail Bakhtin’s embedding of the grotesque in the carnivalesque, its proximity to sociocultural critique and capacity of mediating cultural change has lent a component of cultural energy to the grotesque that its playful mutations alone could not account for. In Satanic Verses, the migrants are thus empowered, by way of their grotesque features, not only to cross but effectively to displace borders; their chimerical forms question culturally fundamental categories such as, most obviously, the human – divine or heavenly – satanic dichotomies and open up these borderlines into spaces of hybridity and creative energy.
The grotesqueness of migration in Satanic Verses is therefore more than a form of postmodern playfulness; through its processes of merging and renewed formation, the dynamic of such postcolonial literature centers on the socially marginalized and transforms it into a prism for patterns of cultural flexibility.