Tuesday, March 17, 2009

the West for the East

Just as Salman Rushdie is a product of cross-cultural contact, so is his East, West. The novel effectively works to bring together the two. Through his stories, Rushdie exposes many of the ways in which the cultures influence each other and the way each one perceives the other. After the first two stories of the East section, he takes significant works in Western culture and alters them; he does what he wants with the stories (i.e. Hamlet, The Wizard of Oz) in order to reveal a commonality and closeness between the two cultures. Through humor and seriousness, he conflates the stories and remakes them; he suits them to fit the East.

East and West, in reality, literally meet. On a globe, East and West will eventually run into each other; they will come together (a consummate union). I particularly liked the Christopher Columbus and Queen Isabella story. The obvious background served to depict what Rushdie is trying to get at. The way the world was viewed before the discovery, and the disbelief in the fiction surrounding the known world (the world is flat), highlights the significance between fiction and reality and how each play into people’s lives. The possibility that Columbus and Isabella share an understanding of a world beyond the accepted, known world ties them together. The differences in culture are pointed out initially, but despite this, Columbus and Isabella realize the dependence they have on one another. Columbus needs Isabella as a patron and is therefore reliant upon her. The mystery of the new, western world is desirable for its very mystery: “Only the Unknown, perhaps even the Unknowable, can satisfy” (116). Isabella, wanting the unknown always, recognizes Columbus as the man who may take her to the places she yearns to go. New and different people, cultures, and places are always intriguing and point out things about one’s own cultural identities and ties as well. Crossing cultures is a learning experience.

The Western voyage is literally the desire to, and success of, conquering the West for the East. The way Columbus and Isabella dance around the topic of ‘consummation’ also brings about the sexual tension between the two. Columbus likens the quest of love, physically as well, to that of a Western voyage or discovery as well as what such an encounter may yield.

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