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"The battle for the Enlightenment": Rushdie, Islam, and the West

Perchard, Adam Glyn Kim (2014) "The battle for the Enlightenment": Rushdie, Islam, and the West. PhD thesis, University of York.

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Abstract

In the years following the proclamation of the fatwa against him, Salman Rushdie has come to view the conflict of the Rushdie Affair not only in terms of a struggle between “Islam” and “the West”, but in terms of a “battle for the Enlightenment”. This polarised worldview uses an unhistorical idea of the European Enlightenment – often invoked with reference to Voltaire – to equate the West with freedom of speech, secularism, progress, reason, disputation, and literariness, and the Islamic East with despotism, oppression, fanaticism, stasis, and silence. Rushdie’s construction of himself as an Enlightened war-leader in the battle for a divided world has proved difficult for many critics to reconcile with the Rushdie who advocates “mongrelization” as a form of life-giving cultural hybridity. This study suggests that these two Rushdies, the Rushdie of the joined-up world, and the Rushdie of the divided globe, have been in dialogue since long before the fatwa. It also suggests that, beyond the brash invocations of Enlightenment which have followed the fatwa and 9/11, eighteenth-century modes of writing and thinking about, and with, the Islamic East are far more integral to the literary worlds of Rushdie’s novels than has previously been realised. This thesis maps patterns of rupture and of convergence between representations of the figures of the Islamic despot and the Muslim woman in Shame, The Satanic Verses, and Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and the changing ways in which these figures were instrumentalised in eighteenth-century European literatures. Arguing that many of the harmful binaries that mark the way Rushdie and others think about Islam and the West hardened in the late eighteenth century, this study folds into the fable of the fatwa an account of European literary engagements with the Islamic world in the earlier part of the eighteenth century. Through the analysis of texts including the Arabian Nights and Montesquieu’s Persian Letters, I suggest that this was a time when the literary orient functioned as a space in which to explore European despotisms and female empowerment as well as what Rushdie terms “eastern unfreedoms”. By complicating Rushdie’s monolithic Enlightenment with accounts of plural eighteenth centuries, Wests, and Islams, this thesis writes against the discourses of cultural incommensurability emblematised and catalysed by the Rushdie Affair.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Salman Rushdie, Enlightenment, Islam, Eighteenth Century, Orientalism, feminism, postcolonial, Voltaire, Arabian Nights
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.647738
Depositing User: Mr Adam Glyn Kim Perchard
Date Deposited: 02 Jun 2015 15:50
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2018 15:20
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/9034

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