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March 27, 1989 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1989-03-27

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Monday, March 27, 1989

Page 8

The Michigan Daily


musings flaw

the Satanic Verses
By Salman Rushdie
Rushdie has followed his
"history" of India (Midnight's Chil-
dren) and his dissection of Pakistani
"politics" (Shame) with something
broader and more ambitious. The
Satanic Verses is clearly his attempt
to construct a fable, a moral tale the
basic message of which is: good and
evil are really two sides of the same

The Satanic Verses follows their
adventures, probes into their histo-
ries, their lives and their loves, and
most controversially into the dreams
that send Gibreel into a state of
paranoid schizophrenia. Farishta
dreams that he is in the city of
Jahilia in the seventh century. In
Urdu a "Jahil" is an uncivilized
brute; Islamic scholars will readily
admit that when the Prophet first re-
ceived the Message, Mecca was a
Jahilia, a city of idolators, decadence


The Satanic Verses is really two books. Rushdie's
"ruminations" on Islam don't gel with his commentary
on Britain. This unwieldiness and lack of cohesive
structure is what weakens the novel.

coin - hence the cruel parody of
early Islam, a religion which the au-
thor claims makes too straightfor-
ward a distinction between the two
forces. To be accurate, this book is
profane rather than blasphemous.
In the beginning (as all good fa-
bles start), Indian film star Gibreel
Farishta and Saladin Chamcha, Man
of a Thousand Voices and the king
of voice-overs, both fall from the
sky following a bomb explosion on
a Boeing 747 hijacked by Sikh ex-
tremists. From 29,002 feet, Gibreel
and Saladin land on the English
coast. Both are unscathed, except
that Saladin has sprouted horns and
developed cloven hooves on the way
down. His legs have suddenly be-
come hairy too. Gibreel Farishta, on
the other hand, has merely acquired a

and vile practices. So Rushdie has
named his fictional Mecca quite
aptly. Another of Gibreel's recurring
dreams is that of Ayesha, a butterfly-
shrouded visionary who who leads a
village on a ridiculous pilgrimage.
This dream is a little ambiguous,
though it appears to be a colorful
fairy-tale involving the clash of ra-
tionality and faith.
The offending passages in the
book are found in the chapters
"Mahound" and "Return to Jahilia."
Most western readers will not have
any idea how deeply these chapters
offend Muslims, since they are
largely ignorant of Islam and its
history. Rushdie parodies particular
incidents and individuals held in high
esteem by Muslims. Irreverently, he
gives the early Muslims a modern
colloquial longue. The prophet re-

ceives a false revelation - the sa-
tanic verses - which mingle with
the true revelations of Allah.
Muslims know that the Prophet
was an illiterate man, and believe
that the Angel Gabriel (Gibreel) was
the intermediary between Allah and
the Messenger. Gabriel recited the
verses to the Prophet, who learnt
them by heart and then dictated them
to scribes. That text is the Quran. In
Rushdie's narrative, Salman Farsee
makes alterations and falsifications
to the words the Prophet dictates to
him. This is anathema to Muslims,
since the Quran is not just a text but
The Text - the Word of Allah, the
truth. As a postmodern writer,
Rushdie could not be more
antithetical to this position. For him
a text is always a human construct,
value-laden, suspect, and never the
absolute truth. The narrator of the
book remarks that "where there's no
belief there's no blasphemy" and this
seems to be where Rushdie stands.
Where he particularly simplifies
and unjustly criticizes Islam is in his
discussion of the concept "Ooopar-
Neechay" (Urdu: upstairs-downstairs,
"heaven-hell") and "the notion of
separation of function, light versus
show a decaying, parochial nation
under the heels of Margaret
Thatcher's jackboots. One of the
novel's many colorful characters,
Hal Valance, remarks:
She's radical all right. What she
wants - what she actually thinks she
can achieve - is literally to invent a
whole goddamn new middle class in
this country. Get rid of the old woolly
incompetent buggers from fucking
Surrey and Hampshire, and bring in
the new. People without background,
without history. Hungry people. Peo-
ple who reallywant and who know
that with her, they can bloody well
get. Nobody's tried to replace a
whole fucking class before.... And
it's not just the businessmen... The
intellectuals, too. Out with the whole
faggoty crew. In with the hungry
guys with the wrong education. New
professors, new painters, the lot. It's
a bloody revolution. Newness coming
into this country that's stuffed full of
fucking old corpses. It's going to be
something to see. It already is.
Valance's statement is the boldest
literary deconstruction of what
Thatcherism is all about; the impor-
tant body of The Satanic Verses
deals with life for immigrants in this
new England. In the novel,
immigration officers insult and beat
up Saladin Chamcha, a Black man
dies mysteriously in police custody,
and there's race rioting. One reason
for the deeply entrenched racism in
British society is forwarded by stut-
tering film producer S. S. Sisodia:
"The trouble with the Engenglish is
that their hiss hiss history happened
overseas, so they dodo don't know
what it means."
Rushdie gives the incidents in
CALL 764-0557

London an unreal, fantastic edge, and
a black humor that's like Gabriel
Garcia Marquez on overdrive. He
creates an array of beguiling charac-
ters each embodying particular atti-
tudes and responses to life in modern
Britain. Most of the book is quite
negative, though the final note is
one of rebirth and rejuvenation. Sal-
adin Chamcha is reclaimed by India.
He ceases to deny his heritage, his
past, his Indian identity, in effect
becoming Salahuddin Chamchawala
The Satanic Verses is really two
books. Rushdie's "ruminations" on
Islam don't gel with his commentary
dark, good versus evil" which he
says are too straightforward in the
religion. Contrary to Rushdie's as-
sertions, Islamic thought does not
deny that attributes of both Allah
and Shaitan (Satan) are inherent in
all men and women. Really, with
his background, Rushdie should
know better! Most of the book's
sections on Islam leave one with the
impression that, under the claim of a
pretty simple (and hardly
revolutionary) "philosophical" posi-
tion, Rushdie launches a few very
cheap and tasteless shots at the reli-
gion of his forefathers.
Nevertheless, what really makes
The Satanic Verses an interesting
and arresting novel is its document-
ing of the immigrant experience. It
joins the few notable works which
investigate the lives of immigrants
from the Indian subcontinent. We
hear voices that have remained un-
heard in the vast body of "literature,"
and we see the different responses
they have to the "host" nation
For example, Saladin Chamcha
has tried to shed his Indianness; he's
enamoured of the England of hockey
sticks, garden parties, gentility and
fine culture. He marries Pamela
Lovelace because she's upper class,
has been to the right schools and
talks with a plum in her mouth,
even though Pamela, a Trotskyist
actress, despises her class origins.
Saladin Chamcha (Urdu: "Chamcha"
= "spoon" but also "Uncle Tom")
has anglicized his name Salahuddin
Chamchawala, and worked on mak-
ing his accent as pukka as possible.
He is an actor with an uncanny abil-
ity to mimic voices, thus succeeding
in the voice-over business but never
actually getting good parts.
Gibreel Farishta has an opposite
view of the British and of London;
as Rushdie puts it: "Where Chamcha
saw attractively faded grandeur,
Gibreel saw a wreck, a Crusoe-city,
marooned on the island of its past,
and trying with the help of a man-
Friday underclass to keep up appear-
ances." This seems to be the au-
thor's perspective on Britain, and
much of these sections in the book
on Britain. This unwieldiness and
lack of cohesive structure is what
weakens the novel. Overambition
again plagues his work. If he hadn't
dwelt on Islam, but rather concen-
trated solely on the immigrant expe-
rience, Rushdie would have written
an engaging and insightful modern
-Nabeel Zuberi


Antonia (Alexa Eldred, center) tries to divert attention from her
stolen groceries in We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay!
We Won't Pay! fails
to achieve potential
441F you don't like what you see, cover your eyes. If you don't like what
you hear, cover your ears..." So exhorts the prologue of the University
Players' production of Dario Fo's We Won't Pay! We Won't Pay! Thus is
the audience prepared for the political farce that follows.
It is not the fault of the text that we never have to take advantage of his
advice, which is prudent, given the political nature of the play. More about
that later. For now, suffice to say that the play satirizes many targets, in-
cluding class relationships, the government (of Italy) and the conjugal rela
tionship. Even for a self-consciously liberal Ann Arbor audience at pains to
appear politically correct, there are a few zingers.
This is all accomplished through a basic story which begins as a work-
ing-class woman, Antonia (Alexa Eldred), returns home with groceries she
refused to pay for. It turns out that she has been part of larger uprising of the
working class, but that makes little difference to her law-and-order husband'
Giovanni (Ken Weitzman), from whom she must hide her deed with the help
of her neighbor, Margherita (Ella Foley). The story takes off as complica-
tions ensue involving the two husbands and several look-alike police (played
by Andy Robertson).
The cast combines in a fine ensemble effort (Robertson, playing five
characters, is an ensemble in his own right). In comedy of this sort, it is es-
sential that the relationships between all the characters are clearly defined.
Eldred and Foley accomplish that definition exceptionally well, presenting
two clearly drawn individuals that play hilariously off each other's foibles.
Weitzman and David Wilcox (Luigi) are also funny together, although their
roles tend to blur. All the actors handle the demanding physical comedy wel
and are entertaining.
But entertaining is all the production manages to be, which is certainly
no mean achievement. Nevertheless, the show leaves a sense of unfulfilled
potential. The prologue warns that we may find some of the text offensive;
that it will affect us, make us want to respond actively. And indeed, the text
is designed to include us in the action. We are meant to be compelled to
think about issues in terms of how they relate to us. Unfortunately, this
production fights against the text's intention.
For one thing, the "fourth wall" remains firmly in place. The audience is
in the dark while the play is in the light, making us feel like invisible ob-
servers apart from the action. This effect is enhanced by the box set; which,
while very functional and clever, is curiously far upstage of the audience and
confines the action. The cast's job is therefore made difficult as they try to
break through to us with the many asides the text provides.
Further preventing our active participation in the show are several
"special effects" (mainly lighting) that are designed to enhance the produc-
tion's verisimilitude. But most of the technical elements of the show seem
aimed at making us forget that we are in a theater - the opposite of what
the text is crafted to accomplish.
That conflict dulls the final message of the play. At the end, the tone be
comes serious as the characters narrate a gun battle. A child is even shot,
they tell us. It is here that the author tries his hardest to rouse the audience
through a demonstration of injustice. In the production, this section i
merely jarring and does not arouse us because of the passivity and detach-
ment enforced by the rest of the show.
We Won't Pay! manages to be entertaining, and is well-executed despite
these problems. There is simply a potential for much more than that inher
ent in the text. The farce and satire cannot break through, and the audience
cannot break in to participate actively in the fun. We can only passively ob
serve and enjoy, exiting happy but unmoved, because the production forces
us to leave the play's message in the theater.
WE WON'T PAY! WE WON'T PAY! runs one more weekend, Thursday.
Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. March 30 and 31, and
April 1 and 2.

I :




Spring concert
UAC/Aazin' Blue present
satirayA ril 1, 1989
Michiga Union Barroom


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