Cultural Hegemony and Narrative Strategies of Resistance in Midnight’s Children, Marabou Stork Nightmares, and Muriel at Metropolitan
By Rachel Whitford
This dissertation explores the different narrative strategies that writers under global structures of domination employ to disrupt hegemonic narratives of truth. In comparing Indian Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Scottish Irvine Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmares, and South African Miriam Tlali’s Muriel at Metropolitan, I explore how each writer critically reacts to culturally dominant forms, such as European literary realism, to destabilize the colonial, capitalist, and patriarchal frameworks of oppression of their respective nations and the world at large. Following Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s assertion that discourses that understand all postcolonial subjects as standing in the same relation to hegemony are essentialist, I argue that these writers’ very different narrative strategies of resistance are specific to their own positions under Western structures of cultural dominance. Taking each writer’s individual subjectivity as the basis for their literary approach, I demonstrate the need for postcolonial discourses to treat the subjects of their analysis as a heterogeneous category to avoid extinguishing the voices of less privileged or subaltern figures.
The superiority of all things Western under systems of colonial rule became so far-reaching and all-pervasive in the twentieth century that its status as a discursive narrative was rendered invisible, and it thus became truth. This assumption can be understood in light of Edward Said’s pioneering postcolonial study, Orientalism (1978), which analyzes the way that the global West discursively constructed the East as its “Other” as a powerful technique of culturally, politically and socially dominating it. For Said, universal ideas pertaining to the Orient, grown out of historical and scholarly studies, were “based more or less exclusively upon a sovereign Western consciousness out of whose unchallenged centrality an Oriental world emerged” (8). Through declaring the East as constructed imaginatively in hegemonic Western consciousness, Said presumes a postmodern approach.
Postmodernism then, in this context, can be defined as the “breaking down [of] historical and narrative certainties” to expose the individual subject as, not unified as in Enlightenment thought, but as shaped by its encounter with structural frameworks (Luburić-Cvijanović and Muždeka, 438; Waugh, 123). Writers from nations with a history of colonization, or postcolonial writers, are concerned with interrogating these certainties, rewriting dominant historical narratives that produce and contain postcolonial subjectivities as the “Other.” Thus, while postcolonialism as a movement has generally referred to attempts by “formally colonized peoples to mark out their place as historical subjects,” in this paper, it will also refer to efforts to rewrite or reclaim “all the culture affected by the imperial process from the moment of colonization to the present day” (Sanga, 2; Ashcroft, et al., 2). Studies in postcolonialism, therefore, not only are concerned with the struggle of postcolonial subjects to rebuild nations after independence is accomplished, but also explore a pushing back against widespread assimilation into the cultural codes of the European imperial center.
Dominant European narrative forms that make up the literary canon, such as the bourgeois realist novel, have conventionally been seen as a “touchstone of taste and value” as a result of lingering Western dominance (Ashcroft, et al., 7). Narrative strategies characteristic of the Victorian realist novel include omniscient narration in a Standard English register, linearity, a commitment to totality, and a closeness to the “truth” of “lived experience” (Levine, 85; Robinette, 4). Not only is the realist genre associated with Victorian Europe, but it is also a tradition that has emerged from the center of the established order. For example, Robinette comments that “bourgeois forms of realism” came “to be seen as out of sync with a social reality” due to representation repeatedly originating from the same privileged voice in society (4).
For the postcolonial writer, to speak within the literary frameworks of the colonizer, such as the bourgeois realist form, may actually work to reinforce hegemonic narratives of truth rather than destabilize them. As a result, there has been a trend within postcolonial literary modes to adopt narrative strategies that resist a European realist style. Through adopting innovative strategies which depart from Eurocentric realist traditions, many postcolonial writers feel they have been more adeptly able to deconstruct dominant discourses of colonial rule by operating outwith the paradigms which these rulers have set.
In contrast, some argue that postcolonial literature lies in a liminal space between competing cultural forms. Indeed, Homi K. Bhabha’s The Commitment to Theory (1994) attests that the postcolonial writer is influenced both by colonial cultural domination and its native customs, forming a hybrid identity. Thus, the hybridity of the postcolonial subject more effectively destabilizes hegemonic narratives of truth by offering a more authentic outlook which recognizes culture as having “no primordial unity or fixity” (2371). However, neither those who support a formally innovative stance of expression, nor those, such as Bhabha, who champion a hybridized mode of resistance, recognize efforts by those who have self-consciously employed realist narrative strategies of writing, such as writing in Standard English, in a critical way. However, McLeod, who asserts that “postcolonial literature is often a distinctly hybridized literary endeavour,” does concede that “it is the level of the writer’s self-conscious engagement with form that really matters” (7, 4).
While each perspective offers a valuable interpretation of postcolonial writers’ response to cultural hegemony, I would argue that what emerges from debate between varying scholars of postcolonial thought is the problematic suggestion that all subjects under dominant power structures must respond to grand narratives of truth through one particular medium or method. Far from liberating or vocalizing postcolonial subjectivities, I argue that instead this works to further silence subaltern figures by subsuming their diverse experiences into one homogenizing discourse. Following this argument, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak has declared that postcolonial scholars engage in essentialist discourse through their tendency to present all colonized voices as standing in the same relation to global corporate capitalism (2118). Instead, Spivak contends that “one must […] insist that the colonized subaltern subject is irretrievably heterogeneous” (2118). In light of Spivak’s argument, I will examine how postcolonial writers deconstruct hegemonic notions of truth through narrative strategies of resistance and how each writer adopts a specific strategy which responds to their position as a postcolonial subject.
This paper will explore the works of three writers from nations with a history of colonization: Salman Rushdie, Irvine Welsh, and Miriam Tlali, and their specific positions under colonial hegemony. First I will turn to Salman Rushdie and his Man Booker Prize-winning novel Midnight’s Children (1981). Midnight’s Children is a magical realist novel that tells the tale of Saleem Sinai, a child with telepathic powers, born at the exact moment of India’s independence from the British Raj on the fifteenth of August 1947. Rushdie’s novel is firmly situated in the postcolonial “counter-canon” with its self-conscious play with form and rejection of Eurocentric literary realism held up as an example of the archetypal and essential narrative strategy of the postcolonial writer (Ahmad, 1461). Aijaz Ahmad criticizes this postcolonial counter-canon for its repetition of the same exclusionary tactics of the conventional Western canon, such as the privileging of male, middle-class writers (1461). Indeed, Rushdie’s bourgeois upbringing in India combined with his Western education means that he embodies this criterion and thus it is not surprising that Midnight’s Children (henceforth abbreviated as MC) has emerged as an example of the quintessential postcolonial novel. Bearing in mind Ahmad’s argument, I will discuss in what ways Rushdie actively destabilizes colonial constructs of truth through his narrative composition, drawing attention to how his own subjective experience has shaped this.
Scottish writer Irvine Welsh occupies a very different position under the same global power structures which produce and contain Rushdie. In contrast to Rushdie, Welsh comes from a lower strata of the economic order, having grown up in a council scheme in Scotland, one of the UK’s “peripheral” nations to English cultural hegemony (McNeil, 8). Yet, in a similar way to Rushdie, Welsh also obtains privilege from the dominance of the colonial center due to Scotland’s complicity in the British Empire and its membership firmly within the global West. The paradox of Welsh’s position as a postcolonial writer and subject manifests itself in the radical experimentalism of his 1995 novel Marabou Stork Nightmares (abbreviated hereafter as MSN). Welsh’s novel is articulated from the voice of Roy, a working-class boy from Edinburgh who, after attempting suicide due to his participation in a violent gang rape, lies in a coma. In discussing MSN, I will demonstrate how Welsh’s narrative strategies integrate Scotland’s cultural assimilation into hegemony while exploring Scotland’s benefit from that hegemony and how Welsh’s craft also intersects with issues of class and gender.
In the third chapter, I will turn to the novel of a black South African female author, Miriam Tlali, who published her work under apartheid rule. Tlali’s identity as a black, female colonized subject makes her the most voiceless out of the three authors I will discuss, and thus she embodies Spivak’s notion of the subaltern figure. For Spivak, within “the effaced itinerary of the subaltern subject, the track of sexual difference is doubly effaced” (2120). Indeed, upon its release in 1975, Tlali’s first novel, Muriel at Metropolitan (henceforth abbreviated as MaM) became the first novel to be published by a black woman in South Africa, signifying the bias instilled against both gendered and racial subjectivities in systems of colonial dominance (Boswell, 415). MaM describes the racism faced by the black female narrator Muriel through her work for a pro-apartheid company in South Africa. Unlike the other two writers, Tlali’s silenced subaltern position means that she must destabilize hegemonic narratives of truth through strategies of subversion coded within the narrative framework. Thus, I will discuss how Tlali confronts the various structures of patriarchal and racial domination which deny her and other subaltern figures the opportunity to speak and how she works within the frameworks of oppression to offer a narrative that defies dominant notions of the truth.
In bringing these three very different texts into conversation, I will show how each writer employs strategies of narrative resistance that are specific to their own relation to cultural hegemony. In doing so, I will illustrate the importance of treating postcolonial subjectivities as a heterogeneous category within a global sphere that has adopted homogenization as a powerful tool of cultural control.
Chapter One: Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children
Alongside the likes of Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Salman Rushdie has become one of the most distinguished and influential figures in postcolonial literature and thought. Due to his birth in Bombay and adolescent education in England, critics have classified Rushdie as occupying the voice of the migrant in the postcolonial canon (Sanga, 8). Yet others, such as Aijaz Ahmad, have criticized Rushdie’s prominence, attributing it to his position among an elite class of metropolitan migrants, and voicing skepticism for his writing of the postcolonial experience from above and afar (126). Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children has therefore been a site of dissection for the ongoing conversation in postcolonial analysis.
MC is a largely hybridized text that blends together characteristics of the European realist novel with narrative strategies of innovation that oppose the literary codes of the West. Rushdie’s novel presents Saleem Sinai, a boy born in Bombay at the moment of India’s independence from the British Empire. Due to the coincidental alignment of Saleem’s birth with the dawn of a new era in India, the protagonist finds his life is so inextricably “handcuffed to history” that he asserts himself as manipulating the trajectory of modern India itself (MC, 3). Not only does Saleem’s birth coincide with the birth of an emancipated Indian nation, but he also often finds himself present or influencing what he deems as major events in the postcolonial Indian subcontinent. Even his appearance, we are told, resembles a map of India. Through his self-identification with his native state, Saleem begins to pose himself as a metaphor for the Indian nation. However, as the multifaceted nature of India struggles against Saleem’s attempt to contain it into one unified self, Saleem begins to splinter and crumble into fragments at the novel’s close. MC is a novel that defies grand narratives, exposing the delusory nature of claims to objective truth through representing a multiplicity of perspectives that offer either alternative or contradictory courses of history that juxtapose orientalist narratives of the West.
Many critics have highlighted this effort by Rushdie to challenge orientalist discourses. Jaina C. Sanga asserts that one of Rushdie’s principal aims is to destabilize notions of truth, arguing that the “dismantling or calling into question of the idea of certainties is fundamental to Rushdie’s vision of the world” (20). Sanga supports Said’s vision, recognizing truth as discursively formulated rather than objective fact. Similarly, Ashcroft, et al. take a postmodern approach, declaring that postcolonial writers like Rushdie “deliberately set out to disrupt European notions of ‘history’ and the ordering of time” (34). In accordance with these ideas, I contend that, in MC, Rushdie aims to break down grand narratives of truth that have been constructed and supported by colonial hegemony, an idea that clearly informs his narrative strategies of choice.
As argued above, Rushdie employs specific narrative strategies which resist “European notions of ‘history’’’ (Ashcroft, et al., 43). These “European notions of history” refer to dominant narratives of human progress prescribed by a European consciousness, which endorse their authority through institutional research or official documentation and thus become conflated with the “universal” experience of history and truth. When Saleem, who not only functions as a character in the story but as the narrator too, declares himself :handcuffed to history,” he repeats this trend by European elites, endorsing his own authority to tell India’s tale, despite the multitude of contradictory and diverse perspectives that India’s history encompasses (MC, 3).
Indeed, Saleem’s authority as a narrator is made dubious through his insistence of his tale as historical truth juxtaposed against the narrative fabrications, lapses in memory, and textual contradictions that run throughout his tale. There are several historical inaccuracies within the pages of MC, such as the false relation of the events of the Amritsar massacre alongside Saleem’s misdating of Gandhi’s death: “Re-reading my work, I have discovered an error in chronology. The assassination of Mahatma Gandhi occurs, in these pages, on the wrong date” (229). Furthermore, in many instances throughout the novel, Saleem admits to his own limitations as a narrator, confessing that his supposedly truthful narrative has been filtered through several subjective voices before reaching the reader. In telling the life story of his rival Shiva, Saleem reveals, “I pieced the story together from Parvati’s accounts, which I got out of her after our marriage. It seems my arch-rival was fond of boasting to her about his exploits, so you may wish to make allowances for the distortions of truth which such chest-beating creates” (569). Hence, Rushdie’s self-conscious crafting of Saleem’s unreliability as a narrator, such as his presenting of second-hand material and his misinformation, makes us wary of the authoritative position he occupies. And so, in adopting this narrative technique of unreliable narration, Rushdie seems to be warning against any claims to objective truth or established accounts of history that Said would criticize for being orientalist.
Not only does Rushdie seek to break down established discourses but he also aims to collapse the binaries that structure these discourses. Said, for example, argues that orientalist narratives are “a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’” (2). Hence, through his narration, Rushdie rejects the “Self”/“Other” polarity evident in such discourses due to their reductive outlook that furthers postcolonial oppression. Rebuffing this notion, Rushdie presents Saleem as an example of the postmodern self that, unable to be unified, is split across plural facets. Alongside Saleem’s split between two personas that exist across different temporal structures, that of Saleem-the-narrator and Saleem-the-character, MC presents a polyphony of perspectives that are all accessed through the omniscient first-person narrator in a way that echoes the telepathic powers of the protagonist himself.
Just as Saleem attempts to encapsulate the multifarious Indian nation within himself as a metaphor, his first-person narrator “I” does not just represent one singular individual and struggles against efforts to paint it as such. At the beginning of his tale, for example, we see Saleem bemoaning the mass of voices independent of his own building inside him: “And there are so many stories to tell, too many, such an excess of intertwined lives events miracles places rumours, so dense a commingling of the improbable and the mundane! I have been a swallower of lives; and to know me, just the one of me, you’ll have to swallow the lot as well” (4). One of these voices is Saleem’s fiancée and audience, Padma. Padma is the contradictory voice of rationality, often offering skeptical or dismissive comments that undermine Saleem’s fantastical narrative: “‘O God, you and your stories,’ she cries” (290). Thus, the multitude of stories and subjectivities contained within Rushdie’s first-person narrator reacts against the objective omniscience of the European realist narrator. Rushdie deconstructs the notion of objectivity itself through highlighting Saleem’s unreliability while, at the same time, offering a pluralist approach through his inclusion of many contrasting voices. Each of these multiple voices provides a new perspective that offers greater illumination to the reader, and refuses the authority of the narrator as in realist fiction.
Grekowicz agrees with this notion of democratization of voice in MC’s narrative structure, highlighting Rushdie’s pluralist narrative as related to a postcolonial hybridity: “the more multiple the subject is, the greater the variety of insight possible […] Struggle is implicit in hybridity – each of these ‘angles’ competes against the others. Hybridity is the breaking down of binaries, and its greatest power – the power of multiple perspectives – comes from fragmentation” (222). Grekowicz’s argument is deeply informed by the postmodern disintegration of the self and Bhabha’s theory of the postcolonial hybrid as explained in the introduction. Indeed, when Bhabha argues that the :intervention of the Third Space of enunciation […] makes the structure of meaning and reference an ambivalent process” to challenge “our sense of the historical identity of culture as a homogenizing, unifying force,” he offers up the idea that the hybrid subject is able to break down grand narratives through its plural identity, which presents reality as “ambivalent” or in flux, not as truth (2371). Thus, following Grekowicz, Rushdie’s strategy of offering a polyphonic narrative relates to his position as hybridized migrant. Positioned in the liminal “Third Space” between his Western education and his upbringing in a postcolonial city emerging from colonial rule, Rushdie crafts a narrative voice which, like him, is able to interrogate many different identities, each casting a greater “variety of insight” to break up unified certainties.
While Rushdie presents his multiple narrative voices in the language of the colonizer, many critics have applauded the use of English as his voice of narrative authority for displaying the very same hybrid subversion of the dominant that Grekowicz praises. Sanga argues that Rushdie “seems to be skeptical of any notion of an essential linguistic identity; […] For Rushdie, it is almost imperative to write in English, because through its appropriation he can make a statement about what it means to be a member of an ex-colonized community, living as a migrant in the country of the colonizer” (31). Thus, according to Sanga, as a postcolonial migrant, Rushdie is especially well-situated to express how enforced languages, such as English, exist in a liminal space between binaries as a relic of colonial rule that has transformed in the wake of postcolonial agency.
Indeed, Saleem speaks in a Standard English that is punctuated with words and phrases unrecognisable to the general Western reader. Among Saleem’s English narration are “ayah”s, “cousinji”s, “baba”s, “jawan”s and “djinn”s alongside many more words taken from different Indian languages. This interspersing of words native to the Indian subcontinent amongst the largely Standard English register of Saleem creates gaps for native English-speakers who experience an estrangement from their own language. Pilapitiya has argued that this appropriation of the enforced language of the colonizer means that “the English language itself hovers within an interstitial space, open to deconstructive practices that would ultimately disrupt its authority” (50). So Rushdie adopts European narrative strategies such as an English-speaking narrator, but hybridizes that English, making it unfamiliar to the colonizer and thus usurping colonial linguistic tools of domination.
However, these very self-conscious counter-strategies used by Rushdie, which break down certainties in a postmodern style, may in fact also belong to a European cultural tradition and be evidence of Rushdie’s immersion in, and strengthening of, the hegemonic West, rather than a disruption of its power. For example, Aijaz Ahmad asks, when “the lines of descent from European modernism and postmodernism are too numerous,” how “oppositional would these kinds of texts, so celebrated in the counter-canonical trends of the academy, then turn out to be?” (12, 126). Thus, while Sanga and Pilapitiya argue that Rushdie operates in the literary language of the West but appropriates it through a postmodern hybrid style that challenges the Enlightenment notion of the unified self, it is clear that the author crafts his writing to cater towards a Western, or English-speaking audience. For example, according to Khair, Saleem speaks in a hybridized language that is never spoken on the streets of Bombay but is constructed so as to be made accessible to his potentially Western audience, an audience more familiar to the English-educated Rushdie than the subaltern figures present in MC (quoted in Khanna, 407). Explaining Khair’s discussion, Khanna writes: “The underclasses […] either speak no English at all or learn a smattering of words in English […] to enable a rudimentary communication with foreign tourists or the Indian upper classes. Neither group would be heard to speak Rushdie’s ‘chutnified’ English” (407). Therefore, Rushdie’s representation of a hybridized English, through the voice of Saleem, is highly stylized and packaged as being characteristically Indian, replicating orientalist representations of India to the privilege of Rushdie’s Western-educated, English-speaking audience. Thus, Ahmad is right to question exactly how “oppositional” Rushdie’s narrative strategies actually are.
The questionable success of Rushdie’s “writing back,” or response to, the colonial center can be attributed to his bourgeois identity and location within the former colonial center, London, as a member of the migrant intelligentsia. Indeed, not only does Rushdie elevate his Anglophone audience through pivoting his linguistic choices towards their advantage, but he also evidently privileges English over Indian languages, pursuing the trend of the “‘national’ intelligentsia” in India who produce English as the dominant language of “bourgeois civility” (Ahmad, 75-6). While I have argued that Rushdie democratizes his narrative voice, challenging realist traditions of the omniscient narrator, it is a largely Standard English-speaking Saleem who is given the power to describe, and mediate, the multitude of non-Standard English voices within MC. Thus what unfolds in the narrative is a polyphony of voices structured in a linguistic hierarchy that is inextricably bound to class.
Indeed, at one point in MC, we see Saleem, the narrator, representing the speech of a young homeless boy: “there was a boy pleading, ‘Gib the car poliss, Begum? Number one A-class poliss, Begum? I watch car until you come, Begum? I very fine watchman, ask anyone!’”(298). The juxtaposition of Saleem’s Standard English narrative against the “smattering of words in English” of the other child points to the significant inequalities that define the postcolonial city. However, this juxtaposition is complicated by the fact that it is the bourgeois Saleem who is portraying the voice of the poverty-stricken boy. As Khanna argues: “The spatial divides across the Third World metropolis are paralleled by the different registers in which English is spoken by the nameless urchin and Saleem, two children of about the same age; one, however, has the power to describe, present, and narrate the other” (402). Thus, as Khanna asserts, the authoritative voice of Saleem, who speaks in the register of Standard English, appears to narrate the non-educated, non-English speaking characters, such as the “nameless urchin,” from a superior position. Therefore, Rushdie elevates those who are educated in English above those who are not. In doing so, Rushdie mimics the nineteenth-century realist trend of presenting any voice that deviates from the linguistically superior Standard English safely within the confines of speech marks, leaving the privilege of narrative control to those who speak in the register of the educated upper classes. Through his strategy of language, Rushdie seems to operate within the cultural codes of colonial Europe, contributing to orientalist narratives of linguistic superiority instead of taking steps to invalidate these discourses.
Despite its acclaimed position within the postcolonial counter-canon, Midnight’s Children offers a critique of hegemonic notions of the truth while simultaneously promoting the very structures of domination that it seeks to destabilize. Adopting a self-conscious play with form that is influenced both by postcolonial theories, such as hybridity, and Western thinking, such as postmodernist strategies, Rushdie’s novel is undoubtedly a product of his membership within the bourgeois metropolitan migrant class. Therefore, while Rushdie’s narrative approach situates him firmly within the postcolonial canon, he does not implement a characteristically postcolonial method but rather adopts a strategy that is specific to his own position under global structures of hegemony.
Chapter Two: Irvine Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmares
To locate all subjects who exist under, and respond to, colonial structures of domination as inhabiting the same human experience is, as Spivak argues, essentialist and misguided. To support this claim, this chapter will turn to a writer who occupies an entirely different subjectivity under the far-reaching dominance of global capitalism from the bourgeois metropolitan migrant identity of Rushdie: Irvine Welsh. Welsh inhabits a Scottish, working-class male selfhood that interacts differently with the same complex global structures that contain Rushdie’s identity. For Welsh, just as the Eastern hemisphere was homogenized under colonial rule, so too were the customs of the West. Thus, the anglicized, bourgeois culture of the center became synonymous with all Western culture.
Welsh’s writing reacts against Scottish assimilation into English dominant forms, forms that have been termed as “British” to subsume the “Celtic fringe” nations of Ireland, Wales and Scotland (McNeil, 8). Sassi and Heijnsbergen have noted this cultural control to be part of a historical process of “brutal ‘modernisation’ undergone by the Celtophone Highlands in the eighteenth and nineteenth century” and “implemented through forms of cultural repression and/or denigration” (5). Because of the erasure of Scotland’s cultural diversity and its absorption into dominant customs, Scotland’s past was constructed so as to align with hegemonic narratives of truth. As Kelly writes, “Scotland’s supposed exclusion from the development of metropolitan history produced a discourse representing Scottishness as a backward and unenlightened place of uncouth barbarism” (21). Therefore, echoing a vision similar to Said’s Orientalism, Kelly evokes the idea that the “exclusion” of Scotland’s distinct culture from the Western model meant that it could be produced as the uncivilized “Other.”
Many theorists of Scottish literature have made comparisons of this cultural domination of Scotland to the colonial exploits of the British Empire. Roderick Watson, for example, asks, “Is there an ‘imperial assimilation’? If we agree to discuss the matter in terms of cultural colonialism or cultural and linguistic assimilation, I think the answer has to be yes” (23). Yet this definition of Scotland as a colonized nation is problematized when considering Scotland’s complicity in the British imperial project and its relatively privileged position overall, despite its subordination, in the cultural hegemony of the global sphere. This issue is confronted in Welsh’s 1995 novel Marabou Stork Nightmares.
MSN presents the narrative of Roy Strang, a boy from an Edinburgh council estate who lies in a coma after attempting suicide following his participation in the gang rape of a school peer, Kirsty. Integrated into the present-time narrative is Roy’s unconscious fantasy world where he and his companion, Sandy Jamieson, traverse a surreal version of South Africa in pursuit of the marabou stork. Between these instances of adventure-novel pastiche is, in a similar fashion to Saleem’s narrative, Roy’s telling of his own upbringing, but a telling that is wrought with violence, sexual abuse, and deprivation, diverging from the bourgeois account of Rushdie’s narrator. In writing his novel, Welsh refuses to conform to the narratives that have produced him and other working-class Scots as “barbaric,” rejecting the bourgeois realist forms of those who have constructed that narrative.
In adopting a narrative style that works against the cultural forms of bourgeois English realist fiction, Welsh’s narrative strategies of resistance are also tied to class consciousness. In chapter one, I discussed Standard English as belonging to a Western audience in Midnight’s Children, but in MSN, Welsh sees this English known as the universal “standard” as generating from a Southern English middle-class within the broad category of the West. Therefore, as Kelly argues, “any other speech or discourse is, by definition, substandard, deviant and inferior,” allowing Southern English bourgeois dialect to become “the language of power and objectivity” (8). Thus, Kelly’s argument suggests that the notion that “Standard English,” the language of the English bourgeoisie is the language of impartiality and power is a narrative in itself, a narrative bolstering both class and national hierarchies that Welsh deliberately aims to destabilize.
Like Rushdie, Welsh employs a multitude of different registers within MSN as a means of undermining the singular voice of Standard English authority:
I find this attitude of ‘something for nothing’ sadly prevalent amongst the non-white races, but I put the blame fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the white colonialists, who by assuming responsibility for GOD THAT
BLINDING BLOODY up – – –
SUN – – – – – – – I’m
Definitely more of a response that time, Roy. It’s probably just a reflect, though. I’ll try it again… no… nothing this time around.
Naw, cause I’m too quick for youse, you’ll never find ays in here. (5)
However, where Rushdie employed a plurality of voices a dialects all delivered through Saleem in a stylized English, the narrator in MSN is able to inhabit several registers without designating them to an inferior narrative ranking than his own. In the above passage, the reader witnesses the upper-class speech, typical of adventure fiction, in Roy’s subconscious; the voice of a nurse; and the working-class demotic of Roy himself, all existing free from the directive of speech marks and thus on the same platform as the voice of narrative power. As the different voices exist in an arrangement of equity, literally side by side in the textual layout of the page, Welsh achieves a dismantling of narrative hierarchies where Rushdie has failed. Watson has argued that in texts like Welsh’s, the objective is to “destabilize all monological narrative-cultural authority” so that the voice of the narrator is “seen to be always and inevitably situated – and only one voice among several in the text” (33). In employing this polyphonic narrative, therefore, Welsh echoes the postmodern approach taken by Rushdie but diverges from Rushdie’s upholding of the narrator’s authority. As Roy’s Edinburgh vernacular is allowed to emerge as “only one voice among several,” Welsh democratizes rather than subjugates the plurality of voices in the text.
Welsh’s narrative decision to use Edinburgh vernacular language free from speech marks invokes Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s 1986 philosophy. Ngũgĩ is a postcolonial Kenyan writer who, unlike Salman Rushdie, refuses to write in English, disputing claims that it offers universalism. In renouncing the language of colonial rule, Ngũgĩ argues that he is able to reject the lingering discursive control of Empire and better express the “social norms, attitudes and values of a people” through his native language (8). Applying this argument warily to Welsh’s linguistic choices (warily because both writers are concerned with two very different contexts), it is clear that Welsh is also uninterested in arguments supporting English for the universalism it allegedly provides. Choosing instead to write in his own dialect, Welsh can, at once, demonstrate the true voice of his own people, while also rejecting the authority of Standard English by forcing his readers, who may be unfamiliar with the dialect, to be led by a non-Standard English voice.
Alternatively, Marina Mackay has argued that Welsh subordinates Edinburgh dialect, yielding to hegemonic narratives that posit Standard English as the voice of power and knowledge. Mackay claims, “A rather surprising prejudice emerges against Scottish dialogue, however, when, at the beginning of the novel, Roy’s past tense narrative […] opens in a standard English that […] exhibits a knowing, detached irony” (277). Mackay refers to a passage at the beginning of the second chapter where Roy begins to recount his childhood: “I grew up in what was not so much a family as a genetic disaster. While people always seem under the impression that their household is normal, I, from an early age, almost as soon as I was aware, was embarrassed and ashamed of my family” (19). While it is clear that this passage is related from a more distanced and conscious perspective through Standard English, elevating, as Mackay suggests, the position of this register above Scottish dialogue, she fails to take into account how the implications of this register change throughout the text.
Just as Roy’s fantasy world, an artificial construction of his mind, is related through upper class dialect, Roy’s recounting of his own childhood, a memory which has also been meditated upon and distorted, is similarly related in Standard English. Through the use of Standard English to relate events which are divorced from reality, Welsh posits this “Received Pronunciation” voice to be one of unreliability, one whose authority and knowledge should be challenged. Indeed, encountering anti-rape posters in Edinburgh, Roy becomes panicked, switching to a stream of consciousness Edinburgh dialect: “There were other ones; photaes ay bairns. Bairns that has been abused, making oot that what had done wis like wat aw they sick cunts that touch up bairns dae” (199). Therefore, the narratives offered in Standard English are shown to be highly constructed and stylized in order to promote a specific discourse while the Edinburgh vernacular forms Roy’s free and non-moderated thoughts. Thus, the disparity in narrative dialects does not, as Mackay argues, reveal a prejudice against Scots dialect but instead promotes Roy’s vernacular as truth.
While, as I have argued, Welsh rejects the linguistic domination of bourgeois England, proving his own local dialect to be as viable a mode of expressing truth, many Scottish literary critics condemn the comparison of Scottish assimilation into mainstream English culture to colonization. Liam Connell, for example, argues that “the use of colonization in relation to Scotland is deeply antimaterialist and unhistorical” (50). For Connell, and others, Scotland’s complicity in and benefit from the British Empire problematizes any claims to its position as a colonial subject. Furthermore, other critics are rightly uncomfortable with the comparison of cultural domination suffered by Scotland to that of the tyranny experienced by the colonies of Britain. Indeed, McGuire has suggested that in likening the position of Scotland to that of colonization, “Welsh’s fiction attempts to appropriate the suffering of one group to accentuate the persecution suffered by another” (23). For example, in MSN, Roy presents himself as a colonial subject, likening his position under the global structures to that of black South Africans in a post-apartheid setting: “I realised it was exactly the same position as Johannesburg; the only difference was that the Kaffirs were white and called schemies or draftpaks” (80). Yet, in contrast to McGuire, I contend that Welsh does not attempt to appropriate the suffering of colonial victims to bolster the “persecution” of his own nation, but rather that Welsh rejects this narrative of Scottish colonization, seeing it as part of a dominant trend of Scottish colonial amnesia. Welsh does not present Roy’s interpretation as truth but instead shows how this conclusion is a product of the patriarchal capitalist white-supremacist structures that contain and influence his life.
Colonialism can be thought of as a distinctly patriarchal project characterised by its traditionally masculine violence and dominance, alongside its historically male-led discourses and processes (Stratton, 7). Watson has argued that under a paradigm of patriarchal dominance, Scotland became the feminine “Other” of England (32). As a result of this feminized subordination of Scotland against England, alongside Roy’s powerlessness as a “schemie” on the peripheries of neoliberal society, Welsh depicts one of Roy’s layers of narrative consciousness in a colonial African setting. In this setting, Roy attempts to compensate for his lack of patriarchal control through a discourse of racial superiority. Schoene-Harwood has noted that Roy’s fantasy of colonial exploit is related to a phallocentric, racial parade of power as an attempt to replicate the traditional male privileges lost in the present: “Marabou Stork Nightmares illustrated how alluring nostalgic fantasies of untrammelled power and superiority, like that facilitated by a colonial Africa, are to many men […] where a man’s traditional privileges and centre-stage import appear to have stayed unchallenged and intact” (153). Thus, following Schoene-Harwood’s argument, Welsh exposes Roy’s designation of Scotland as a colonial country to be a structural narrative, undermining it through juxtaposing it against a hyper-masculine, racialized setting where the supposedly tyrannized Scot uses his privilege as a white, Western male to dominate and oppress.
Not only does Welsh undermine Roy’s narrative by exposing it as discourse based on racial and patriarchal structures of oppression but he also creates a narrative structure that actively attempts to sabotage the influence of Roy’s traditionally authoritative position as narrator. Indeed, implicit in Roy’s subconscious fantasy world is a struggle for narrative influence. Passages in the colonial African settings become intercepted and drawn away from Roy’s control: “Sandy is masturbating in the back of the jeep and she is just laughing… eh… what the fuck’s gaun oan here… what’s she daein here… it’s supposed to be just Sandy n me” (5). Again the Standard English text is highly stylized, changing into a non-moderated demotic language as Roy struggles to maintain the narrative he attempts to uphold. Subsequently, the illusion of Roy’s reliability as a narrator becomes shattered as, like Saleem, we are taught not to trust the story he presents.
As the novel progresses, the narrative structure begins to engage with higher levels of pluralism as Roy’s unreliability becomes clearer. At the novel’s close, when Kirsty takes her revenge on Roy, we discover that Roy not only participated in the assault but actually took a perverse pleasure in it. Despite Roy initially informing the audience that under pressure from others he “lay on her and faked it, thrusting rhythmically,” Kirsty states, “remember when you put the mirror at the foot of that mattress to see my face as you forced yourself into my arse… remember what you said? Do you? You said you wanted me to look at you, and you wanted to see my face’ (184, 259). Therefore, as Roy’s account becomes completely dismantled in light of this revelation, the various narrative strands begin to merge into a disorientating concoction of different voices as the fantasy of Sandy’s pursuit of the marabou stork becomes mixed with the guilty conscience of Roy’s history (261). As the characters of Roy’s present integrate with his subconscious, Roy, himself, becomes the marabou stork, “soaring upwards trying to get out, to fly across the fields of Africa” (262). Therefore, Welsh’s narrative structure utterly deconstructs the influence of Roy’s storytelling by exposing his truth as false and allowing other narrative voices to triumph over his. Hence, Welsh repudiates the conventional voice of narrative authority of the bourgeois realist text and, in doing so, rejects the notion of singular dominant narratives as a whole.
Irvine Welsh deconstructs hegemonic narratives of truth that have sought to assimilate and subjugate Scotland under the bourgeois English imperial center. Rejecting established cultural forms and language that are seen as the standard, Welsh, like Rushdie, adopts radically experimental narrative strategies that allow him to effectively criticize dominant discourses of control in his own voice. At the same time, Welsh is concerned with destabilizing narratives of colonial amnesia that see Scotland as a victim in the British imperial project. Instead, through deconstructive narrative techniques, Welsh exposes these narratives to be a result of the intersection between structures of class, gender and racial oppression. Thus, Welsh adopts narrative strategies of resistance that are directly related to the simultaneously privileged and repressed identity of the white working-class male Scot under global structures of domination.
Chapter Three: Miriam Tlali’s Muriel at Metropolitan
As I have argued, the truth narratives of the West have dominated cultural forms to produce and contain subjectivities like that of Rushdie and Welsh. However, the subaltern figure, who occupies a more peripheral position than these two writers, suffers this oppression more strongly. For Spivak, the subaltern subject can be defined by its “difference from the elite” and its existence within the “general nonspecialist, nonacademic population” (2116, 2119). Because of the gendered aspect of stratified society, Spivak argues that “the subaltern as female is even more deeply in shadow” (2120). Indeed, Kolawole has argued that, for “too long, the African women’s reality has been inscribed from the West or by men” (10). The Empire Writes Back, for example, is renowned for its original insight into postcolonial narrative theory. However, a closer look reveals this text to be a study of male postcolonial narratology due to its focus on almost exclusively male writers (Stratton, 2). Therefore, through conflating the metropolitan male subject with every subject under global structures of domination, texts like these erase the heterogeneous difference of the postcolonial category and eliminate female-specific issues or strategies. By allowing the subaltern female to exist only in a context where she is “inscribed by” and is not the inscriber, postcolonial theory silences female voices and becomes guilty of operating within the very paradigms that it seeks to destabilize.
Undeniably, Salman Rushdie and Irvine Welsh have, in line with much postcolonial literary thought, adopted a mode of self-conscious experimentalism in reaction to cultural hegemony. However, Miriam Tlali, a black South African female writer, demonstrates that this approach is not always consistent with subaltern writers like herself. Tlali’s 1975 novel Muriel at Metropolitan describes the daily confrontation with racial segregation under apartheid of her black protagonist and narrator, Muriel, through her work as an accounts typist for a pro-apartheid company, Metropolitan Radio. In MaM, Muriel finds herself strained between her black identity, her complicity in the racial subjugation of the black populace in Johannesburg, and the patriarchal boundaries that contain her.
In writing MaM, Tlali adopts a style that is far from the radical experimentalism of Rushdie and Welsh. Due to the silencing of subaltern women, Tlali has stated that she was forced to deconstruct hegemonic narratives of truth “in a very diplomatic manner,” applying narrative strategies that allow her “to hit […] while appearing not to do so” (quoted in Jolly, 145). Thus, Tlali destabilises hegemonic discourses by ciphering a narrative that undermines both the patriarchal and racial structures that mute her through a coded subversion of the dominant cultural standards. In light of this understanding, this chapter will discuss how Tlali confronts both Eurocentric and postcolonial discourses to allow the subaltern female voice to be heard above the powerful structures of domination that seek to silence it.
Tlali’s “diplomatic” interrogation of the institutional racism of apartheid is evident in the crafting of her narrative in the English language. While the narrative voice of MaM is almost entirely restricted to a Standard English register, this is not evidence of Tlali’s cooperation with colonial linguistic domination. In fact, Narismulu has noted that during Tlali’s time of writing, the “few publishers in the African languages tended to be under the government’s control so writers who were critical of the state had little option but to write in English” (62). Thus, although Tlali is forced to write in the language of her colonizers, she employs careful techniques of resistance that nonetheless undermine attempts to homogenize the nation as a powerful method of control.
Through including multiple languages within the first-person, subjective account of Muriel, Tlali exposes the deeply contrasting and divergent nature of the South African state. For example, in the first chapter, Muriel presents a scene in which English is juxtaposed against the African language Fanagalo as black South African customers and the white boss, Mr. Bloch, struggle to understand one another: “He said, Mangaki mali wena funa kipa? (How much do you want to pay?)” (9). Although the inclusion of a translation serves the needs of an Anglophone audience, Tlali’s jarring of the two languages within the narrative simultaneously highlights a world that is wrought with contradictions and borders. Through this translation, Tlali represents a disconnection between the black and white South Africans, who, despite all living within the city of Johannesburg, are unable to understand one another. Thus, through contrasting the two languages, Tlali is able to deconstruct the monolithic notion of the nation. Therefore, in a similar way to Rushdie, Tlali includes a plurality of languages within the first-person narrative voice to expose the contradiction of presenting the nation as one uniform populace.
However, Tlali’s narrative critique of orientalist or colonial constructions of the “Third World” is concerned with destabilizing class hierarchies where Rushdie’s is not. Although, like in Rushdie’s novel, English is the language of the authoritative voice that narrates and describes the non-English-speaking characters, Tlali does not privilege English over African languages as Rushdie does with his non-English speaking characters. In fact, Tlali subtly undermines the presumed Western or English-speaking readership of “protest literature” which, as Narismulu has stated, was constructed by a group of white “liberal intellectuals” who assumed “themselves as the (only) audience of protest” (59, 61). Indeed, while above Tlali translates Fanagalo for an English-speaking readership, contained within the narrative are instances where long phrases and sentences are left untranslated. For example, ‘‘Serataputa, senora, Miranda siranda – Wena lo-Portuguese eh? Weno lo Mashangaan?’’ is present in the same dialogue between the black customers and Mr. Bloch without any contextual markers or a direct translation for non-Fanagalo speakers to comprehend (10). Thus, Tlali purposefully alienates readers who do not have direct linguistic access to the African languages present in the narrative and returns power to those who do. Through the ability to comprehend gaps in the understanding of the presumed Anglophone audience, Tlali elevates black South African readers who are able to inhabit a position of privilege through knowledge. Thus Tlali subtly twists dominant discourses that have produced colonial subjects as primitive and uneducated by constructing English-speaking readers as the objects of ignorance and black South Africans are the bearers of knowledge.
This act of distorting colonial structures not only works to empower the oppressed victims of colonial rule but also allows Tlali to expose the flawed nature of dominant notions of the truth. Indeed, subverting the realist tradition of the omniscient narrator, and opting for a first-person, subjective account that significantly comes from a black female voice, Tlali centers Muriel in a position of control and self-articulation. Thus, Muriel is able to narrate and pass comment on the white and male characters, restructuring them as the alien “Other” to her black, female self. In doing so, power is subtly subverted. For example, in describing the layout of her work place, Muriel observes, “On the white side of the ‘line’ there was as usual a lot of talk with voices pitched higher than usual. Appetites also seemed to be whetted by the boss’s absence” (26). Muriel discusses the white characters in animalistic terms, homogenizing and narrating them as one mysterious group so that Eurocentric discourses that have produced her and other African people as primitive barbarians are turned on their head. Boswell has argued that, through this strategy, the oppressed subject is able to deconstruct colonial structures themselves through an “imaginative and subversive act of reconceptualizing systems by re-envisioning their oppressive functions” (417). Therefore, Tlali “re-envisions” the oppressive discourses of domination so that black female subjectivities like Muriel’s are placed at the helm with the power to produce white subjectivities. In doing so, Tlali subtly exposes the constructed nature of these narratives, demonstrating them to be discursive and fluid rather than based on essentialist traits.
While Tlali is focused on destabilizing Western constructions of the South African nation and its people, she is also concerned with challenging the supposed counter-discourses of postcolonial study that, while giving voice to the metropolitan postcolonial male, have rendered the female subject almost silent. MaM strikes a marked difference from the work of Rushdie and Welsh. In contrast to dominant dialogues in postcolonial study and these two male writers, Tlali’s novel does not exhibit an overtly self-conscious interaction with form as a mode of rewriting hegemonic discourses (Boehmer, 4). Where Rushdie and Welsh emphasized their departure from the real and the conventional, Tlali situates her narrative within the mundane daily happenings of the workplace in a linear and realistic fashion. Tlali’s style is therefore far closer to the conventions of the European literary realism than the texts within the experimental postcolonial counter-canon. Indeed, in an interview Tlali herself remarked, “You know I didn’t care to adhere to the so-called aesthetic” (Jolly 144). Hence, although Tlali works within the cultural frameworks of her colonizers, she still reacts against hegemonic narratives of truth, using these forms in a critical way. Therefore, she simultaneously reacts against Western cultural hegemony and postcolonial cultural hegemony which, despite its supposedly emancipatory status, has begun to emerge as oppressive force also.
As I have argued, adopting conventional postcolonial techniques of resistance, Rushdie and Welsh employ pluralist narrative tactics to challenge singular discourses of history, including multiple voices that confront the authority of the narrator as much as dominant notions of the truth. Yet Tlali, although she includes multiple languages within her narrative, never allows Muriel to lose her powers of self-articulation. Writing within a field in which the black female self has traditionally been narrated by either the patriarchal or the white supremacist voice of objectivity, Tlali is skeptical of claims to truth that have historically produced her as inferior both in terms of gender and race (Kolawole, 10). Thus, Tlali’s first person narrative voice is able to produce an unchallenged polemic discourse that can influence the reader’s perspective into questioning apartheid truth. For example, quitting her job at the end of the novel, Muriel declares, “All I knew was that I could not continue to be part of the web that has been woven to entangle a people whom I love and am part of” (190). Muriel’s emotive discourse, while subjective, maintains its veracity as it exists as the singular voice of narrative authority in the text. Thus, Tlali challenges the postcolonial literary trend of pluralism to show that it is a male privilege to present a voice in a vulnerable setting and still allow that voice to be heard. The very act of having a black, female voice articulate itself without being interrupted or silenced confronts patriarchal and racial constructions of the truth. Therefore, while Tlali adopts a narrative structure that on the surface appears to adhere to cultural forms of colonial hegemony, she does not submit to subjugation.
Tlali’s narrative strategies also demonstrate that the struggle for a voice for the female subaltern also rings true for the liberation movements within her own nation. Stratton notes that within the African literary sphere, female writers are “assessed on the basis of standards established first by western and then by African men writers,” illuminating how far “African women writers have been alienated from the African literary tradition” (5). One example Stratton gives is the frequent tendency by male African writers to employ the trope of “the embodiment of Africa in the figure of a woman” (39). Indeed, as Welsh highlighted in MSN, colonialism is a distinctly patriarchal project. Entered by male colonizers in a symbolic display of phallic penetration, colonized Africa figures as the female body. Therefore, while there is a trend in postcolonial male writing to rewrite the imperial image of Africa from “savage and treacherous” to “warm and sensuous, fruitful and nurturing,” these writers still incite patriarchal authority while attempting to deconstruct colonial power. Thus, while envisioning the African landscape as gendered, postcolonial literary trends tend to depict men as the “active subject-citizen” and women as the “passive object-nation” (Stratton, 40, 51). In reaction, Tlali’s writing rejects this trope in order to destabilize the “deeply patriarchal character of South African society” and give voice to the silent and compliant female body in postcolonial literature (Narismulu, 66).
Consequently, Tlali sets her narrative in the workplace, enabling it to function as a microcosm of the apartheid state by demonstrating its divisions along racial lines. Describing the layout of Metropolitan Radio, Muriel states, “I was separated from the rest of the white staff by the cabinets and steel mesh wires” (15). Here the setting simplifies the institutional separateness of the apartheid state, depicting Muriel as segregated from her white colleagues not just by abstract legislative borders but by tangible and unyielding cabinets and steel. Thus, through setting, Tlali offers a representation of the nation that can expose the deep racial oppression and divisions of apartheid where the land as “Mother Africa” cannot. At the same time, this setting also shifts the female subject out of the private realm of the home to the public domain of the workplace. In doing so, Muriel is able to enact a greater level of autonomy and voice, becoming the “active subject-citizen” through Tlali’s rejection of her as the “passive object-nation.” Therefore, Tlali’s use of setting at once deconstructs patriarchal responses to African colonization while also rejecting the silencing of postcolonial women through placing the subaltern female in a context that allows her, to some degree, to speak.
Through disrupting the notion of the passive female figure, Tlali situates Muriel in a place of narrative influence where she can offer a new perspective that will widen and influence the reader’s consciousness. For instance, describing an incident in which she is scorned after attempting to help a white woman, Muriel switches her narrative account to a second-person form of address that places her readers deeper into the eyes of the black female subjectivity: “You suddenly realise that you should never have picked up the article. That if you had not, you would have spared yourself all the degradation, aggravation and humiliation, and that would serve as a lesson you would never forget, you tell yourself” (62). In this passage, through adopting the pronoun “you” to replace “I,” Tlali forces the reader into the consciousness and actions of the narrator as, through this pronoun, Muriel becomes synonymous with the reader. Thus, through her newly-found power as the “active subject-citizen,” Tlali gives Muriel a narrative voice that not only vocalizes the black female subject but also subverts dominant structures. By placing Muriel in a position of influence Tlali allows her, through a polemic tone and a direct form of address, to induce consciousness in her audience by directly situating them within her thought processes. Therefore, Tlali undermines popular African literary traditions that, instead of liberating the black female subject, seek to render them voiceless.
Muriel at Metropolitan articulates the voice of the silenced subaltern woman under the control of both colonial and postcolonial discourses of repression. Speaking within the cultural frameworks that have been born out of Western and African patriarchal structures of dominance, Tlali expresses a challenge to these structures through a coded resistance. By “re-envisioning” these structures of domination so that the black female subjectivity is situated in a position of power, Tlali’s literary strategies work to expose hegemonic narratives of truth as purely discursive and thus invalid. Therefore, Tlali’s identity as a black South African woman under apartheid allows her to evoke a unique method of disrupting the powerful discourses of control that have produced and contained her subjectivity.
Following Edward Said’s notion that historical ideas pertaining to “the Orient” have been produced and constructed discursively by the West as a mode of controlling it, I have shown how Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, Welsh’s Marabou Stork Nightmares, and Tlali’s Muriel at Metropolitan destabilize these dominant discourses of history through narrative strategies of resistance. Through a comparative analysis of these texts and their authors, this dissertation has shown how these three very different writers’ positions under global hegemony have directed their employment of specific narrative approaches to resist cultural domination and destabilize colonial narratives of the truth. Thus, observing Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s criticism of the postcolonial project for its tendency to homogenize its subjects of study under the voices of its most privileged speakers and silence subaltern voices, I have taken each writer’s subjective experience as the basis for their interrogation of the intersecting layers of oppression that complement global structures of domination.
Beginning with the most canonical member of the postcolonial literary sphere, I have shown how Rushdie’s membership of the metropolitan migrant intelligentsia has led him to take a postmodern approach of deconstruction that enables him to disrupt colonial structures of control while simultaneously strengthening class-based ones. Being a member of the postcolonial Indian community, Rushdie has made use of narrative strategies of innovation such as polyphonic voice, unreliable narration, plural selfhood, and hybridity that stand in opposition to those European realist literary forms that claim to present a closeness to the “truth” of “lived experience” (Levine, 85; Robinette, 4). However, Rushdie’s bourgeois location under hegemony also informs his written method. Rushdie’s repetition of orientalist constructions of language alongside his elevating of the language spoken in the imperial center above the non-Standard English expressed by those outside the Indian middle-classes, has led me to question the extent of Rushdie’s dissidence from the status quo. Therefore, as Rushdie exists outside the contours of global control at the same time as within them, his writing reflects this friction.
Like Rushdie, Scottish writer Irvine Welsh exists in a contested position both within and without the privileges of Western hegemony. Yet, despite this similarity, both writers occupy entirely divergent global positions. Welsh benefits from patriarchy and Scotland’s largely powerful position in the global West but is also subjugated by his working-class, Scottish subjectivity under English and neoliberal dominance. He adopts radically experimental tactics that work to disrupt bourgeois, English cultural control through plurality and democratization of voice, vernacular narrative speech, and stylized language. Thus, through non-English narrative strategies, Welsh critiques dominant narratives of truth in the true voice or “social norms, attitudes and values” of working-class Scots (Ngũgĩ, 8). While Welsh benefits from patriarchal and white supremacist structures of subjugation, his awareness of how capitalist structures intersect with gender and race due to his marginal class position under neoliberalism also enables him to expose the oppressive functions of these structures. Thus, Welsh employs literary strategies of resistance, such as multiple narrative threads and unreliable narration, to destabilize dominant discourses that produce Scotland as a victim in the British Empire and reinforce patriarchal modes of control.
Occupying the most silenced location under colonial hegemony, Miriam Tlali’s black female South African selfhood under apartheid means that she deconstructs the various layers of dominant narratives of truth through a coded form of opposition. Muted through institutionalized racism, patriarchal values, and widespread Western influence, Tlali works inside the confines of the cultural forms of European literary realism to break down the racial and patriarchal narratives of truth they produce from within. Using a black female first-person narrator, authoritative narrative voice, untranslated lines of text in African languages, instances of second-person narration, and setting, Tlali “re-envisions” structures of domination to expose the prejudices faced by the non-bourgeois, postcolonial woman, or subaltern, by both colonial discourses and postcolonial emancipatory movements. Through challenging these oppressive discourses, Tlali is able to offer a new mode of consciousness from a silenced subaltern perspective in the postcolonial field of study. Thus, by subtly undermining the cultural paradigms of domination from within, when Spivak asks “Can the subaltern speak?”, in Tlali’s case, to some extent, the answer is yes (2117).
Through exploring the different narrative strategies writers from diverse positions under global hegemonic power structures employ in reaction to historical discourses of truth, I assert the importance of treating the postcolonial subject as a purely wide-ranging and diverse category. While all these writers face oppression in one form or another, some, namely Tlali, have undeniably been silenced through a number of structures of control that more privileged subjects do not experience. Where postcolonial thought dealing with narrative strategies of resistance demonstrate a conflation of the metropolitan male writer with all writers under colonialism, I have argued that this triggers postcolonialism to repeat the same silencing discourses that it seeks to destabilize. Therefore, this exploration demonstrates that, if dominant discourses are truly to be shattered and the subaltern to be heard, then it must be allowed to speak. ■
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