Harnessing the Currents of Textual Fluidity: Salman Rushdie's Making of East, West"

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Russell McDonald


Ever since Ayatollah Khomeini sentenced Salman Rushdie to death in 1989 for, in essence, remaking the story of the Prophet Muhammad in The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has repeatedly explored in his works how bringing newness into the world and securing the right to freedom of expression both require challenging traditional assumptions about textual purity. This theme in Rushdie testifies to the real-world implications of current efforts in textual scholarship to represent texts not as authoritative repositories of sacrosanct wisdom but as, in John Bryant’s word, “fluid” conveyors of ever-shifting intentions and meanings. This article focuses on Rushdie’s deployment of textual fluidity in his shaping of his 1994 short story collection East, West. It analyzes selected examples of his revisions by comparing the texts of the volume’s first six stories as they appear in East, West to their earlier published versions, and also by examining unpublished typescripts and proofs relating to East, West in the Salman Rushdie Papers at Emory University. By tracing the evolution of his stories through multiple versions and considering his revisions in light of his conception for East, West as a whole, we learn that Rushdie employs textual fluidity as both a multivalent literary motif and an empowering compositional strategy, often in synergistic ways that affect the work’s interpretive possibilities and yield a deeper understanding of the fluidities not only of language but also of concepts vital to identity for him and his characters, especially East, West, culture, and race.

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Author Biography

Russell McDonald, Georgian Court University

Assistant Professor of English