The Nature of Infernal Wisdom

In reading Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, I have been deeply impressed by the interconnectedness of the text. The narrative's main themes recur throughout, each time reshaped through a new idea from Rushdie's dazzling arsenal of metaphor and motif. Indeed, when I first encountered this work, my concentration initially became very focused on the internal logic of the novel. I was concerned simply with tracing out the connections the narrative draws between religion, culture, myth, dreams, and ideological projections, and how Rushdie portrays the individual as drawing from all these, as well as his/her own experience, to create and recreate identity. It also seemed that Rushdie was saying something very important about the human condition in this novel, about how human beings create meaning and both make and adapt to the world around them. Unfortunately, the more deeply into the text I followed these various threads, the more entangled I became. Luckily, I had studied the poem Rushdie refers to several times in the text, William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, and it became the blueprint by which I charted my way through an understanding of some of the levels of the text. In sharing these insights, I hope my examination proves as modestly fruitful for the reader as it did for me. Within the world of the novel, I felt I arrived at an understanding of what Rushdie sees as the societal conditions that give rise to fundamentalist impulses and the harm such impulses can cause within both individuals and communities. Most importantly, I came to see the ways the novel portrays identity as a construction, a fluid and evolving entity rather than an essential and static one; for only within such a conception can identity contain the ever-present potential for transcendence and transformation.

Religion and Decolonization

Before turning to the novel, however, I would like to provide some theoretical and historical context. Given that The Satanic Verses deals largely with characters from the subcontinent, India in particular, and given that India has a long colonial history, it is worth looking at theories of decolonization. In his work Culture and Imperialism, author Edward W. Said explores the notion that there are two stages in the process of decolonization. The first takes place in the physical and geographical sense and the second, more complex and difficult, takes place in the cultural, social, and ideological realms. Said writes that the second stage is characterized by "an effort at the restoration of community and repossession of culture that goes on long after the political establishment of independent nation-states" (213). Such a cultural nationalism is concerned with imaginatively constructing, or reconstructing and reviving, a cohesive national identity that receives much of its force from its deliberate contrast with the previous imperial culture. The rise of post-colonial and nativist literature is part of this process and dovetails with trends in postmodernist literature, produced by Western and post-colonial authors alike, in which, as part of the larger postmodern movement of exploring particular modes of being and constructions of reality, one can detect what John A. McClure calls the "resurgence of magical, sacred, pre-modern and non-western constructions of reality" (148); this being only the latest stage of "the religious wars of modernity and postmodernity: the suppression, survival, and resurgence of traditions marginalized by European conquest" (Ibid., 154).

Yet this stage of decolonization is not without its dangers as Frantz Fanon warns in The Wretched of the Earth (149). Just as native elites will often step in within a nationalistic framework and replace the colonial power in oppressing the native population, cultural regeneration can be characterized by reactionary movements based an ideals of religious, linguistic, or ethnic purity that can be equally pernicious and oppressive. The contemporary rise of religious fundamentalism is in large part a reaction to an increasingly multicultural yet economically homogeneous world in which moral and spiritual values seem to also be in danger of sliding into the bubbling morass of globalization. Islamic fundamentalism is the nexus where the efforts of many Muslim nations toward post-colonial cultural regeneration/resistance meet with fundamentalist ideals of religious purity . Among its many themes, "The Satanic Verses," in a deeply interwoven, spectacularly postmodern way, explores the formation and power of religious myths and examines how they can take hold in a culture but also explicitly highlights the dangers of a fundamentalist viewpoint that mistakes or confuses "a particular representation of reality" for reality itself (McClure, 153).

The Satanic Verses plays with the notion of binary opposition throughout and at all levels of representation, both in form and content. As Patricia Waugh points out, metafictional novels themselves "tend to be constructed on the principal of a fundamental and sustained opposition: the construction of a fictional illusion and the laying bare of that illusion" (6). Yet what Rushdie does in this novel is more complex and seems to fit very nicely with Linda Hutcheons' definition of historiographic metafiction which incorporates postmodern thinking on narrative within literature, history, and theory in that "its theoretical self-awareness of history and fiction as human constructs is made the grounds for its rethinking and reworking of the forms and contents of the past"; it is both metafictionally self-reflexive and yet deals powerfully with actual political and historical realities ("The Poetics of Postmodernism," 5). However, the basic theme of binary opposition holds and extends to the novel's representation of the Islamic world view as a binary one of heaven versus hell, good versus evil, angel versus devil, sin versus obedience, and male versus female. These oppositions play out in the individual lives of the main characters Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta in the ways each becomes identified with demonic and angelic forces respectively and in how they deal with their own repressed, secret or shadow selves. Yet just as postmodern discourses "try to avoid the trap of reversing and valorizing the other [and] of making the margin into a center" in favor of a more plural concept of difference that is always provisional (Hutcheons, 65), Rushdie shows the "fictionality" of such binary constructions, he plays with them by declaring them reversed (heaven is hell and good is evil, etc.), and demonstrates how an individual both incorporates all these opposing tendencies within himself but is also capable of many more creative constructions of ways of experiencing the world. But Rushdie doesn't dismiss the religious issues either: much of the world is mysterious, evil is all around us, and many of us yearn for a sustaining belief that helps give our existence meaning. All of these ideas come into play in the novel's treatment of the Islamic religion, of religion as cultural narrative, and of religion as human construction.

The novel is accurate in its presentation of the general historical conditions and events surrounding the founding of Islam: the locations in Arabia around 600 A.D., (Yathrib and Mecca), the nomadic and tribal cultures, the prominence of the goddesses al-Uzzah, al Manat, and al-Lat, the presence of Allah as a deity who did not figure strongly in the culture prior to Mohammed's ministry, and the biographical details of Mohammed's life are all verifiable facts found in most texts on various world religions (Parrinder, 462-507). Likewise, the details of how the angel transmitted divine knowledge to Mohammed (including Satan's unfortunate impersonation of said angel), the absolute belief in prophecy as fundamental to the Islamic religious system, and therefore the view that the Koran is composed of the very words of God are also part of accepted Muslim doctrine (Ibid.) accounted for in "The Satanic Verses." Yet modern scholars admit that "in a number of matters the Koran is unclear or incomplete, and in others it is contradictory" (Parrinder, 484). These inconsistencies, considered along with the actual existence of "the satanic verses" in which Mohammed "temporarily" got it wrong, (this explanation is also part of the historical lore of Islam), undercuts the whole notion of the Koran as literal revelation. The narrative makes use of these facts to highlight the chain of human agency and fallibility in the persons of Mohammed and Mohammed's scribe Salman through whom "divine prophecy" has been passed from God to everyone else. If Mohammed was tricked by the devil once, couldn't he have been tricked other times? In fact, what if the devil was impersonating the angel all of the other times of revelation and the "satanic verses" were really conveyed at the one time the angel could get a word in edgewise? Or what if the revelations simply sprang from an unknown part of Mohammed's own being, a transcendant self he mistook for an angel? Rushdie considers all of these possibilites in the novel, illustrating the limitations and occasional absurdities of dogmatic world views and the harm that can be caused in the advocacy of a starkly "black-and-white" world, but he does it within the dichotomous construct established by Islam itself.

William Blake's Good and Evil

The Satanic Verses recasts and reverses the opposing categories of good and evil much as William Blake does in his poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and for many of the same reasons; the novel and the poem both focus on how religion has polarized man's dual qualities, using one side of his nature to repress the other, and both texts propose to reconstruct man in a new image which is both rational and imaginative. The novel first refers to Blake's work itself on page 304, but much of the novel's narrative structure also echoes Blake's ideas. The theme of Blake's poem is the confrontation of opposites but in a dialectical way that attempts to achieve a new synthetic vision of the human and the universe he inhabits. The poem is framed by an introductory Argument and a concluding Song of Liberty and interspersed with several Memorable Fancies or visions that illustrate and explicate Blake's theme. "The Satanic Verses" is also structured by the confrontation of opposites and is interwoven with dreams and visions. Blake argues that religion, created by man, has come to dominate him through rigid and fossilized habits of thought. The numerous places in the novel in which God is referred to as an idea (111, 335, 500), by definition a mental construct, emphasizes this same point, that religion is a human invention. In one of the poem's Memorable Fancies, Blake illustrates how religion creates a world of nightmarish illusion and eventually devours the souls of those it professes to save (74-7), a characterization precisely drawn in "The Satanic Verses"' image of the Imam "grown monstrous, lying in the palace forecourt with his mouth yawning open at the gates" and devouring the faithful (215). Thus in both works, good and evil are reversed and the "rule of order, convention, and morality...taught by law and the churches is static, restrictive and deadening, while the free exercise of desire and the energies of the psyche are life-giving" (Singer, xii). In "Marriage," Blake argues against the moral repression of religion in which obedience is fostered at the expense of the will, strength, and intelligence; such repression is evil. Likewise, since the novel portrays the Imam as representative of Islamic fundamentalism, his desire to stop History and freeze time so that life is a constant, static moment of sameness is evil since this view presupposes that the peak of human potential has already been attained, there is no more room for human creativity, Man is effectively dead (210). But religious "men use God to justify the unjustifiable" (95) as the novel's narrator reminds the reader. Or, as Sisodia tells Chamcha, speaking of India, "Fact is, religious faith, which encodes the highest aspirations of human race, is now, in our country, the servant of lowest instincts, and God is the creature of evil" (518).

The Devil and Visions

The Devil, the hero of Blake's poem, proclaims, "Energy is the only life...and is Eternal Delight" (67) since for Blake, energy is the original element, its nature is creative and inspiring and reason, inasmuch as it is confining of that energy, is evil. The devil, or Satan, also appears to be the narrator in "The Satanic Verses," the voice that continually asks "Who am I?" (10) and is concerned about and involved with humanity. But appeals to God, both Gibreel's (30) and Saladin's (158), are met with silence. In both texts, because expressions of energy, will, and "sensual delight" are deemed evil by religion, those who express these desires are considered satanic while, according to Blake and Rushdie, it is the repressiveness of the church that is satanic. Mahound's obsession with rules (363) in Verses, as befits the limited imagination of a businessman, and the very name of the new religion itself, 'Submission' (125), are completely antithetical to a spirit of joy, freedom, and creativity and are deliberately posited against the free-wheeling morality of the poet Baal who comes to represent Mahound's shadow self at the brothel (383). The juxtaposition of Mahound and Baal is reminiscent of The Marriage's Prolific Men, the creators, artists, etc. and the Devouring Men who promote and maintain the conventions of society (74). Baal, as a creative person, is also viewed with the same suspicion as women. Mahound declares, "Writers and whores. I see no difference here" (392); their imaginative and creative powers must be controlled and kept in check, they must submit. Indeed, the experience of Baal at the brothel with his own twelve "wives" suggests how repressed energies and desires, both sexual and creative, don't disappear but eventually become expressed in a distorted or unhealthy way because the very repression makes the desire stronger, further estranging natural sensual impulse from being a possible part of a "moral" life. Rushdie suggests that this kind of dual view of humanity is itself evil and Islam becomes evil for promoting it.

All of the Verses characters who are implacable and allow themselves to be ruled by essentialist ideas, like Hind (121), Ayesha (483) and eventually Gibreel (353), and of course Mahound, who are unable or unwilling to adapt to new situations and circumstances, become imprisoned by their absolute belief in the rightness of their ideas and trap others with them. Whether an idea is right or wrong, the novel seems to argue that one should always try to keep in mind that ideas are just that, ideas, and it is arrogant and anti-spiritual to use ideas to harm, dominate, or dismiss others as religious fundamentalism tempts one to do. Just as Blake is arguing for a conception beyond good and evil, since heaven and hell exist simultaneously in God (Singer, 59), Rushdie's character Rekha Merchant explains to Gibreel and to the reader that "this notion of separate functions, light versus dark, evil versus good, may be straightforward enough in Islam-but go back a bit and you see that it's a pretty recent fabrication" (323). As Blake writes, "Thus men forgot that All deities reside in the human breast" (71). Gibreel's lover Alleluia has a mystical experience on the mountain which leads her to view the mountain's "diabolism and its transcendence" as one (303), but whether the Divine is a "multiform, plural, representing the union-by-hybridization of such opposites...or whether We be pure, stark, extreme, will not be resolved here" (319); we as humans simply do not know, God is silent and if one hears a voice, how can one determine whose voice it is?

The Satanic Verses evokes The Marriage of Heaven and Hell in other ways. Blake's reliance on visions in the poem as a source of knowledge and inspiration is shared by many of the novel's characters. Almost all of the characters have visions and dreams, as Mahound does, that guide and/or misguide them. Some visions involve, like the one of Rosa Diamond's, seeing the ghosts of "unfinished business"(129), while the visions of Ayesha and Mahound change people's lives and indeed history, forever. Also like "The Marriage," the novel suggests that within this other dimension of dreams and visions, where human desires and aspirations are represented and sometimes worked out, can be found a source of human creativity, imagination and sometimes, mysterious abilities. When many people share in one "dream" it becomes a cultural myth which has "to do with deep inner problems, inner mysteries, inner thresholds of passage" on either an individual, psychological level or on a mass, collective one (Campbell, 4). "The Satanic Verses" suggests that Islam is such a cultural myth: It ennobled its adherents and served their needs for a time but now it is no longer useful, it limits and restricts instead of expanding and invigorating. Nowadays, the collective imagination has found new forums and is being expressed more and more through movies to the point that Sisodia decides to use poor Gibreel's visions as the basis for a filmic trilogy (345). Gibreel understands the connection when he reflects, "Mother-fucking dreams, cause of all the trouble in the human race, movies, too, if I was God I'd cut the imagination right out of the people..." (122). But just as one knows a movie or a dream is not real, even though it may possess metaphorical truth, the novel warns that, as Saeed Mirza tells Ayesha, "The mystical experience is a subjective, not an objective truth" (239). When a collective dream becomes mistaken as reality or as a vision of perfection that ought to be reality, it can as easily lead to evil as to good. This occurs when the delusions that Gibreel finally succumbs to become multiplied across a group of people and across a culture. The hysteria of violence and rioting that takes place in the London neighborhood of Brickhall is one example of how a community can create the apocalypse they fear or expect (451).

Mystic Mysteries

But as befits a novel in which Rushdie is attempting to portray a world as fully rounded as possible, The Satanic Verses does not just critique the evils of fundamentalism, it also deals seriously with events that appear miraculous and remain mysterious, events around which the religious impulse tends to gravitate. Here, the novel is careful to distinguish between the genuine desire of individuals to make sense of the world as expressed through a existential yearning for metaphsyical answers and the collective mind of organized religion concerned as much with power and control as with the spirit. How does Ayesha know that Saeed's wife Mishal has cancer (232)? Did Gibreel Farishta really levitate away from a stage in Earls Court (352)? And why didn't Alleluia suffer brain damage when she climbed beyond eight thousand meters without oxygen (308)? What does it mean when Saladin begins appearing in other people's dreams (285)? The novel does not attempt to explain these mysteries except when Allie suggests that perhaps people are capable, once in awhile, of extraordinary feats. "They can't quantify the will...will and anger...can bend any law of nature you care to mention" (308). Later, Allie quotes Blake's poem, "Then I asked: does a firm persuasion that a thing is so, make it so? He-i.e. Isaiah-replied. All poets believe that it does. & in ages of imagination this firm perswasion removed mountains" (338). Perhaps human beings, through how they perceive the world and choose to interact with it, are more in control of their realities than they realize; they are not being acted upon from without by the external forces of good and evil but are creating their worlds by their own ideas, wills, and imaginations.

This idea is part of what Patricia Waugh considers one of the two broad tendencies in the postmodern critique of grand narratives: while "both emphasize art as a form of bodily experience, [one] emphasizes the body as a source of potential transformation of the external world" (19); the result of this tendency is a "projective, radical fictionality, where the self exists in its ability to work with the fragments available to it and from them to project onto the world new fictions by which to live" (20). Interestingly, this is the process by which both Saladin and Gibreel construct their identities and the narrative implies we all construct our identities in a similar way.

Aside from its exploration of fundamentalism and the religious impulse, The Satanic Verses also examines how mythic stereotypes and cultural projections filter through cultural traditions and institutions to affect the psychological lives of individuals. Saladin Chamcha and Gibreel Farishta come to embody the devil and angel featured in the religious myth of Islam. Their transformations begin as a result of a mythic Fall from the Sky. But besides Divine intervention, the possibility of which the narrative never fully discounts, many other reasons are suggested for the two men's mutations. The reader learns from the outset that Gibreel Farishta is a big believer in reincarnation, angels, devils, and the existence of a supernatural world (11-21). As a young man, he finds himself identifying with the Prophet Mohammed (22) and of course, he becomes a successful actor by playing various deities in 'theological' films. There are indications that he had mental problems early on: he felt tormented by his dreams, had trouble sleeping, and had problems developing intimate relationships with women (24). When his appeals to God go unanswered during his illness and he loses his faith (30), Gibreel's obbsession with Allie, who happens to enter his life when he is searching for something or someone to replace his faith, and his subsequent delusion that he is the angel Gibreel can easily be seen as the result of a mental breakdown. If the world does not contain divine beings after all, he will become the angel himself, not an impossible feat since he has played such roles many times. Gibreel becomes both what others see in him, the millions of viewers around the world who have seen him portray various deities, and what he has lost but still yearns for, proof of the presence of a supernatural world concerned with humanity. And he brings about what he fears, that "God had decided to punish him for his loss of faith by driving him insane" (189).

Saladin Chamcha also loses his faith in a father he idealized (41) and decides at age thirteen to 'mutate' into a proper Englishman as a way to create an identity separate from that of his father. Yet his father feels betrayed by Saladin's rejection and sends Saladin letters in which he refers to him as a beast enslaved to the devil (48). He is also seen as a traitor to his culture by other Indians like Zeeny Vakil and her friends (52) and demonized as a foreigner by the English (163). In a way similar to Gibreel, Saladin internalizes and embodies the stereotypes others project onto him as well as expressing his own repressed guilt that perhaps he is a "false" man. Though the transformations of the two men are characterized as rebirths (8), they are more properly dual retreats into the refuge of mythic and religious stereotypes because they lack the ability to maintain an individual sense of coherent identity under stressful circumstances. They become what others see in them but also what they fear in themselves. Just as Gibreel fears God is taking revenge on him, Saladin fears he really is a monster, a self-created image composed of haphazard attributes (276).

The Re-created Self

But Saladin and Gibreel also become the opposite of who they are, the transformations become encounters with their shadow selves or what they have repressed. As the narrator intones, "...most migrants learn, and can become disguises. Our own false descriptions to counter the falsehoods invented about us, concealing for reasons of security our secret selves" (49). Chamcha looks into a mirror and reminds himself that all his life he has pursued what is noble, "the ideal of beauty, the possibility of exaltation, the mind" (135); he has tried to live up to his own standards of 'goodness.' But as the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that Saladin has repressed anger towards his father, other Indians and Indian society, the English, and perhaps even his wife, Pamela, for coming to lose respect for him. Gibreel, on the other hand, floats through his adult life, enjoys himself and treats women badly; he believes in God but doesn't feel compelled to 'be good.' And though I think Gibreel suffers from a sense of guilt when he tempts God by eating pork, his real sense of repressed guilt springs from a sense of responsibility regarding Rekha Merchant's suicide. Her ghost follows Gibreel throughout his visions, her presence is an integral part of his incarnation as the angel, Gibreel. And of course Saladin's and Gibreel's encounters with their shadow selves take place in the realm of dreams and visions, erupting into the real world when they cannot be repressed any longer, Saladin literally being transformed into a beast and Gibreel sporting a halo.

John Maslama tells Gibreel, "These are problematic times, sir, for a moral man. When a man is unsure of his essence, how may he know if he be good or bad?" (192). Joseph Campbell maintains that "myths are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being" (22) and accordingly, both Saladin and Gibreel are drawing on archetypes of angels and devils as part of the process of reconstructing their identities. But neither Saladin nor Gibreel are pure goodness or evil, real angel or devil, they are human and as such embody tendencies toward both ends of the moral spectrum, though they get caught up in the extremes. The Satanic narrator reflects, "A man who sets out to make himself up is taking on the Creator's role, according to one way of seeing things; he's unnatural, a blasphemer, an abomination of abominations. From another angle, you could see pathos in him, heroism in his struggle, in his willingness to risk: not all mutants survive" (49). And though Saladin's difficulties especially are meant to highlight the plight of immigrants, in this case Indians who emigrate to Britain, immigrants who must construct a new identity and place for themselves in a new culture, I think the novel also argues that a flexible and adaptable sense of self in general is ultimately more practical and more realistic than a self that is static and unchanging. Many philosophers, like Henri Bergson, argue that this is actually how consciousness works: "All consciousness is time existence, and a conscious state is not a state that endures without changing, it is a change without ceasing; when change ceases it ceases, it is itself nothing but change" (Carr, 18). When Sufyan presents to Chamcha the two schools of thought concerning the "mutability of the essence of the self," he draws the more meaningful distinction between Saladin and Gibreel than that between devil and angel. He translates Lucretius' idea as "Whatever by its changing goes out of its frontiers, that thing by doing so brings immediate death to its old self" whereas Ovid "avers that As yielding wax is stamped with new designs and changes shape and seems not still the same, Yet is indeed the same, even so our souls, Are still the same forever, but adopt In their migrations ever-varying forms" (276-7). Saladin and Chamcha simply represent these two ideas of how a self develops but understood within the filter of Islam "Gibreel is to be considered 'good' by virtue of wishing to remain, for all his vicissitudes, at bottom an untranslated man" whereas Saladin "a willing reinvention, his preferred revolt against history...makes possible in Chamcha a worse and deeper falsity [that can be considered] evil" (427). Both men endorse the Lucretius model over Ovid's at first since their transformations follow this model. But later, Saladin comes to accept the Ovidian concept when he hopes, on learning of a tree that has been successfully bred from two into one that "he too, could cohere, send down roots, survive" (406). By at last refusing to submit, by believing he can construct a new and meaningful identity without leaving behind his essential self, and then by doing it, Saladin takes on the role of Creator. He wills, which is 'good' since it ensures his survival, but Islam would perversely deem this 'evil.'

As part of the narrative's commentary on how identities are formed and reformed, it seems no accident that Saladin and Gibreel are both actors, on the universal level of self-expression we are all actors. And if the tendencies toward good and evil are inherent in all of us, it is not surprising that we are able to play a variety of parts. In Gibreel's dreams, Gibreel is variously the angel "hovering over the death-bed of the Prophet," the "Gibreel who mourns his betrayal by Alleluia Cone," and the Gibreel "watching in secret over the progress of a pilgrimage to the sea" (457). He also dreams he is the Prophet Mahound, and he is the famous film star, womanizer, and Allie's jealous lover. Saladin is the rebellious son, the wannabe English gentleman, the traitor Chamcha, Pamela's rejected husband and Zeeny's sometime lover, the man with a thousand voices, and the devil himself. But just as the Devil is Blake's hero in "The Marriage," Chamcha too emerges as the hero in the narrative because he finally acknowledges his shadow self, his repressed rage and hate. Indeed, this acknowledgement is what rehumanizes him (294) and he continues in the narrative to be engaged in the process of re-creation and re-integration. True, Saladin draws on the "enigma of Iago," (another archetypical character) introducing another mystery which is "the nature of evil, how it's born, why it grows, how it takes unilateral possession of a many-sided human soul" (424). He breaks up the relationship between Gibreel and Allie because he envies the happiness he thinks Gibreel has and because "it prove[s] so easy to do" (427), (and Gibreel's passivity allows him to take advantage of him), but he also manages to live fairly peaceably in the same house with his wife and her lover (409). He makes progress, he plays both roles, resolving these two similar situations in an "Indian" way and also in the more tragic "English" mode.

But Gibreel is unable to forge a new identity out of his many roles, even though he recognizes that "fictions [were] walking around wherever he went." These fictions are simply "masquerading as human beings" (192) because Gibreel cannot conceive of a true self as being anything but continuous. Faced with the need to construct a new Gibreel who is in love, (because love involves "the blurring of the boundaries of the self" (314)), whose career is in trouble, and who has lost his faith, he doesn't know how to get from here to there. And the text seems to suggest that this is because Gibreel doesn't acknowledge his repressed guilt as Saladin does his anger. When Rekha's ghost finally offers to compromise with him, indeed she says it is she who is causing his delusions, and she asks him to profess that he loves her and allow her to forgive him (333), he will not compromise (335). By clinging to only one side or idea of himself and refusing to acknowledge his guilt at past behavior and ask for Rekha's forgiveness, Gibreel short-circuits the process that would actually allow him to become good. He cannot bring his many selves together and instead identifies with an idealized figure, a mythic representation of goodness, a one-sided character, something less than human. In the end, Rushdie argues, it is a question of will. Gibreel submits to his destiny, as Islam's original name of "Submission" advocates, and Saladin does not. Saladin survives because he expresses his anger and his envy yet he also forgives his father and learns to love Zeeny while Gibreel can only passively suffer from his delusions, his illness, and his jealousy; he feeds on and is vulnerable to other people's desires because he does not know how to express his own and deal with conflicting parts of his own nature. "Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained...And being restrain'd it by degrees becomes passive till it is only the shadow of desire" (Blake, 67). For Rushdie as for Blake, desire and energy are the seats of humanity's creative abilities, that which links man with God and the interaction between man's energetic, infernal nature and his rational, noble nature is essential to the progression and development of the self. Gibreel forfeits his ability to participate in this process when he does not acknowledge his guilt, his need to be forgiven, and his desire to be good.

Two as One

Just as a case can be made that each human being has differing capacities to do good and do evil, to be angelic or demonic, (and Rushdie plays with these ideas in the portrayals of Saladin and Gibreel,) I think a case can also be made that Saladin and Gibreel are meant to be understood on one level as two halves of one person. The image of them falling from the airplane "embracing head-to-tail" (6) and the reference to them with one name, "Gibreelsaladin Farishtachamcha" (5) suggest such a reading, as does the narrator's comment that the mutations took place because "Chamcha willed it and Farishta did what was willed" (10). The relationship of the two characters easily represents this dynamic between our active, willed selves and our more passive, essential selves and Rushdie suggests that human beings function in the world through a healthy dynamic between the two. This is similar to Blake's argument in "The Marriage" in which the two forces of creative imagination and ordering reason must work together within the human psyche much as the dynamic between idea and form, and the poem warns that if an individual veers to the extreme of imagination or of reason, one risks losing one's full humanity. Gibreel reflects that he is indeed "forever joined to the adversary," Saladin is his "other," his "love" (353). But just as Gibreel is not able "to escape from his inner demons" (540), Gibreel also cannot proceed into the future. When he forgives Saladin, instead of securing Rekha's forgiveness and forgiving himself, Gibreel displaces the need to achieve wholeness onto Saladin as being the other half he seeks. If the struggle between the two characters is a struggle between two alter egos, Gibreel must perish so that Saladin can live because of the two, Saladin has become more integrated and has earned his right to survive.

Carr writes of Henri Bergson's philosophy: "It discloses the life of the spirit. It may give us neither God nor immortality in the old theological meaning of these terms...but the reality of life is essentially freedom. Life is a free activity in an open universe. Humanity ...may be an infinitesimal part of the universal life, but it is one and identical with that life" (91). "The Satanic Verses" aims to not only disclose the life of the spirit but also of the psyche, and all within the realm of the material. Thus, Rushdie's conclusion appears the same as Bergson's. In order to grasp the freedom life offers us, Rushdie reminds us we must first realize the extent to which we help create the systems that shape the world around us so that they do not become the means of our imprisonment. Then perhaps we can leap into possibility and, if only for a moment, "discover the infinite in everything" (Blake, 71).


Blake, William. Selected Poetry. Ed. W.H. Stevenson. London: Penguin Books, 1988.

Carr, H. Wildon. Henri Bergson: The Philosophy of Change. New York: Dodge Publishing Co.,1911.

Campbell, Joseph. The Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. New York: Doubleday, 1988.

Hutcheons, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism. New York: Routledge, 1988.

McClure, John A. "Postmodern/Post-secular: Contemporary Fiction and Spirituality,"Modern Fiction Studies 41 (1995): 141-163.

Parrinder, Geoffrey. Ed. World Religions: From Ancient History to the Present. New York: Facts on File, 1983.

Rushdie, Salman. The Satanic Verses. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988.

Said, Edward W. Culture and Imperialism. New York: Vintage Books, 1993.

Singer, June K. The Unholy Bible: A Psychological Interpretation of William Blake. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1970.

Waugh, Patricia. Practising Postmodernism, Reading Modernism. London: Edward Arnold, 1992.

© 1996 Shirley Galloway

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