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The Woodworm, Salman the Scribe and Mogor dell’Amore: the Ethics of the Stowaway in

History

Ecaterina PĂTRAŞCU
Spiru Haret University, Bucharest

Salman, the Persian scribe, in Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses, the woodworm in Barnes’ A History of the
World in 10 ½ Chapters and Niccolo Vespucci, alias Mogor dell’Amore in again Rushdie’s The
Enchantress of Florence stand for the already clichéistic postmodern ‘secondary character’ discourses.
We could easily analyze them using the postmodern American critical jargon and claim that they are
instances of undermining official histories, of deconstructing grand narratives of understanding and
knowledge, of blowing up the notions of truth, objectivity, time accuracy and linearity.
However, we shall follow the three characters within the vocabulary and register developed by their
authors who themselves work with the terminology mentioned above, yet not holding it as purpose in
itself, but as a means in constructing an argument, in developing a worldview. Their Weltanshauung
grows on the conviction that the coordinates of one’s life – spiritual and emotional – should not be the
decision of someone else, be it a close or an official figure. What defines an individual necessarily results
from an internal processing and acknowledgment of bombarding external vocabularies, all leading to
filtered and privately assumed values. This approach is therefore intricately related to the tendency of
some British writers, amongst which Julian Barnes and Salman Rushdie, to address the problematic of
history in terms of ‘what and whose purpose’, in terms of ethics. History no longer functions as a
distanced, overall and all-inclusive program, but stands as the sum of personalized historiographies.
Consequently, values justifying ‘my story’ over/and ‘your story’ should be assessed ethically, in terms of
what makes us human and we can thus genuinely communicate versus whose power of control can be
claimed faster regardless of the individual response. Under these circumstances, making sense develops
from making nonsense: questioning already given data which are supposed to make sense for ‘everybody’
turns them into ‘no sense’ since they, though generally valid, cannot be applied personally. Yet
deconstruction is halfway to making sense: the ethics of establishing individual values and then gathering
them into common vocabularies – which means starting from the individual and afterwards reaching a
more generalized level – stands as a potential means to ‘sense’.
‘The ground beneath one’s feet’, to use Rushdie’s novel title, is the aim of questioning and
searching in the case of the three characters, Salman the scribe, the woodworm and Niccolo.
Salman, Mahound’s official scribe, starts modifying the revelations of the merchant – prophet,
astonishingly and sadly noticing that his poor words could not be distinguished from revealed
ones. The question that Salman immediately raises is “What did that mean?” thus making him
different from a typically postmodern character, while inscribing him in the British
epistemological pursuit of the truth. Likewise, Barnes’ message is that “we must still believe that
objective truth is obtainable […] otherwise we fall into beguiling relativity, we value one liar’s
version as much as another liar’s, […]” (Barnes, 1989: 243-244). The woodworm’s inquiry into
the officials of history has as a purpose not just the dynamiting of pre-established versions, but
also making sense of its own steps. Last but not least, the role of Niccolo in Rushdie’s secondly
mentioned novel is to make Akbar, the Mughal emperor, aware of the necessity of differentiating
between fantasy and reality: trying to liberalize the concepts of reality, truth, objectivity, Niccolo
ends up being repudiated and cast away by Akbar, the progressive emperor who is not convinced
by imagination winning over the realistic.
As the hero in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children puts forward his version of history, refusing to adhere
to the official history, so Julian Barnes’ novel, A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters offers the reader
variants upon the past, a series of digressions from the main stream of history, demonstrating that one
cannot consider History, yet a multitude of histories; hence the refusal of the pretence to the continuity or
totality of the perspective.
For Barnes, a novel means an extended piece of prose, largely fictional; it is a definition which
implies the existence, within the novel, of the non-fictional material, the reference to events that really
occurred and to places which can be identified on the map. Creativity and fiction are present within each
history or biography, acting at the level of ordering information, of selecting the facts which should be
mentioned – the woodworm’s story perfectly stands for this situation: there have been omitted details in
the official biblical report on the Flood.
The writing of history is closely linked to the process of fabulation: “You invent a story to cover the
facts that you don’t know or that you don’t accept”; yet, Barnes continues: “We have to look at things as
they are; we cannot count on fabulation. It’s the only way we can survive” (Barnes, 1989: 67). Obviously
within the postmodern paradigm, the purpose of getting fantasy involved in the account on history is to
undermine the reader’s trust in the classical differentiation truth - fiction, history - story. Under these
circumstances, the above mentioned novel insists on declaring and demonstrating the unreliable character
of history. In ‘Parenthesis’ Barnes suggests two answers to this status of history: firstly, we should act as
if this status were not true – “we must still believe that objective truth is obtainable […] because if we
don’t we’re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity” (Barnes, 1989: 243-244). – and secondly, love ought to
be declared a saving feeling – the history of the world would be ridiculous without it. The thesis that
stands for Barnes’ message consists in the necessity of our belief in the objective truth and in love, both
against all evidence which could negate them. Therefore, the arguments debated in ‘Parenthesis’
undermine the postmodern relativism towards which the arguments on history lead. Joyce Carol Oates
used to define Barnes, due to his perception of history, ‘as a humanist from the pre-postmodern species.’
Consequently, history as narration and not as event, as a form of fabulation, is only a partial image;
what saves the writing of history from the worn-out myths of relativism is the possibility of the ‘will to
fabulate’ to be overcome by ‘the will to truth’. For Barnes, love and truth coexist essentially:

We all know objective truth is not obtainable, that when some event occurs we shall have a
multiplicity of subjective truths which we assess and then fabulate into history, into some God-eyed
version of what ‘really’ happened. This God-eyed version is a fake […] but while we know this, we
must still believe that objective truth is obtainable; or we must believe that it is 99 per cent
obtainable; or if we can’t believe this we must believe that 43 per cent objective truth is better than 41
per cent. We must do so, because if we don’t we’re lost, we fall into beguiling relativity, we value
one liar’s version as much as another liar’s, we throw up our hands at the puzzle of it all, we admit
that the victor has the right not just to the spoils but also to the truth. (Barnes, 1989:243-244)

Barnes’ plea is very much alike Rushdie’s on the conquering of veridicity. Both for Barnes and for
Rushdie, to fall prey to fabulation means embracing relativism, yielding to the meta-narrations of those
who intend to falsify history in order to acquire power. Adopting the above attitude, Barnes either insists
in a postmodern manner on the necessary plurality of meanings while trying to escape the accusation of
blind relativism, or subscribes to the postmodern historiography school represented by Hayden White or
Marcel de Certeau, according to which the conjecture regarding the act of historiography must not imply
a radical relativism or subjectivity, not to mention the lack of concern for the past.
The ten and a half stories are linked by the common concerns of the novelist - the nature of history,
the dangers of binary thinking, the difficulties of the historical process of knowing and representation –
and recurrent motifs – the apocalypse, the Flood, the Ark. As in Rushdie’s novels, we are faced with a
refracted perspective on history, a cyclical collage that annuls teleology and totality, promoting
fragmentation and partiality. History is perceived as a vast compendium of diverse petits récits, each story
being presented from a different perspective and by means of a different conceptual system.
Another important aspect of Barnes’ novel is the rejection and the deconstruction of a significant
number of already established polarities - the clean versus the unclean, the sacred versus the profane,
nature versus civilization, believer versus nonbeliever – which allow groups to totemize their systems of
believes, the whole procedure ending in celebrating plurality. Addressing alterity is the complementary
mode of cheering heterogeneity.
Quite similarly to Graham Swift’s novel Waterland, Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 ½
Chapters postulates the importance of knowing history with regard to understanding our existence in the
present, both authors approaching issues such as the validity, necessity and the difficulty of confronting
with, and the acknowledgment of both the public and the private past. In their novels, as well as in
Rushdie’s, one could assume a mixture between the modernist focus on epistemology and the postmodern
fascination with ontology.
The beginning of the world history is presented from the diminutive perspective of a stowaway
woodworm, the text becoming, due to this approach, a questioning of the grand narratives. Barnes
continues with an interrogation of tradition and authority, a proceeding which could also be identified in
Walter Benjamin’s works. Both Julian Barnes and Walter Benjamin posit a model of the history of
humanity dictated by a perception of destruction; history means recording catastrophes and shattering
moments so that the meliorative perspective on history is regarded with high skepticism. Both Barnes and
Benjamin are the adepts of an apocalyptic philosophy of history, which implies a repudiation of the
concept of historical progress, a concept that means, according to Benjamin, the privilege of the winners’
perspectives and interests.
For Barnes, the history of the world is a continuous series of ironic coincidences and unhappy
accidents. It may be represented by the voyage of a fleet of shipwrecked arks, floating randomly on the
ocean of time; thus, the human voyage is an uncoordinated floating from one disaster to another, the
disaster representing, for Barnes, the engine of the historical continuum. “The concept of progress should
have as its basis the idea of catastrophe. The fact that things continue to happen represents the
catastrophe. Hell is not something that waits for us in the future; it is this very life, here and now”
(Benjamin, 1969: 64). Barnes’ theses refuse the meliorist trajectory promoted by the classical historicism,
the writer rejecting the concept of progress associated with the cause-effect logics; consequently, his
historiographical approach could be defined as ark-ologic (Buxton, 2000:116 ).
The official, totalizing and authoritative history is opposed to the revisionist perspective of the
apparently insignificant character that manifests his will of being recognized as protagonist of history and
that proposes the integration of the omitted fact within the ‘coherence’ of the historical events.
In Benjamin, the role of quotation/quoting is essential in reading, writing and making history and it
consists in making a past moment approach a present one, in an illuminating constellation that plays a
revolutionary role and determines a better understanding of history. In Barnes, the web of ironic
repetitions and of auto-reflexive quotations makes out of quoting the way in which history functions. The
difference from Benjamin consists in the fact that in Barnes quoting means farce (e.g., the sinking of
Titanic is an echo of the sinking of the ships from Noah’s fleet; the archetypal journey of God’s chosen
ones becomes a journey of the cursed). Yet, in Barnes, farce appears at a large historical scale: “Does the
world progress? Is there a benevolent divine plan? Or just chaos?” (Barnes, 1989:190). The logical
consequence of all these questions is the lack of certitude or of safety, both sustaining the pessimist
outlook on history, reflected in the essay on the work of art, where a catastrophic perspective on history
of mankind is put forth (‘Shipwreck’). Gericault’s painting becomes the transcendent allegory of human
history: “We are lost at sea, floating between hope and despair, acclaiming something that will probably
never come to save us” (Barnes, 1989: 138). The vision upon the past is dominated by an accumulation of
shipwrecks that constitute a unique and huge historical catastrophe; that is why salvation/redemption
appears mentioned from a caustic perspective. The history of repeated disasters ends parodiably with a
heaven that becomes a cyclical hell, an endless present in front of which the only possible human attitude
is the recognition and assertion of the will to death, an attitude that apotheosizingly proves the
catastrophic perspective upon history.
Although almost the entire text, ten chapters, asserts our resignation in front of an endless
catastrophic history, the half chapter suggests the possibility of some oppositional attitudes to the
historical pessimism, the only saving ones: love as assertion of the personal truth and the perpetual will to
discover/uncover the historical truth.
It is by means of this optimism that Barnes, as well as Graham Swift and Salman Rushdie, resists
gloriously and opposes the inevitable falling into the abyss of postmodern relativism.
In Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses the unofficial history of Mahound (Prophet Muhammad) starts with
its identification as ‘a merchant turned prophet’. Initially, in Jahilia, Allah is perceived as not exactly
popular, a supreme authority, but ‘a generalist in a time of specialized statues’, three hundred sixty, the
three daughters of Shaitan, Uzza, Manat and Al-Lat, occupying the central position. The new religion
which Mahound is trying to impose is considered by Baal, the satirist, as a revolution of the water-carriers
(Khalid), of the immigrants (Salman) and, last but not least, of the slaves (Bilal). The essential role among
all these is played by Salman, the wanderer from Persia, the one who will alter the verses in the Holy
Book, the Qur’an: he stands for the minor character who will significantly alter ‘the original history’, the
immigrant who will infiltrate in the official and authoritative culture in order to undermine it.
Mahound is the representative of a monotheistic religion, in total contrast with the multiplicity of
gods in Jahilia. Rushdie is drawing the reader’s attention on this aspect, on the danger associated with the
worshipping of what is unique, singular, of what does not accept variants or complementation. “Why do I
fear Mahound? For that: one one one, his terrifying singularity” (Rushdie, 2006: 102), complains Abu
Simbel, the Grandee of Jahilia.
Mahound is the one who negotiates his revelations: when he is asked to accept the status of the three
goddesses, daughters of Shaitan, located between God and man, this leading to an ‘interesting offer’ from
the highly-positioned of Jahilia, he ‘has to’ have the clarifying revelation from Gibreel, the latter’s
consent. Mahound utters the revealed Word, but in fact it is his projection, as Gibreel is his imagined self
too. Mahound comes with the answer about the holy status of the three goddesses and he utters it in the
‘tent of poetry’: the poem recited here, which includes the ‘satanic verses’, will represent a part of the
‘reality’ of the religion to be. The official, revealed variant of the Islam is the result of Mahound’s
imagination negotiating with itself. Out of economical reasons, Mahound ‘reveals’ to himself the divinity
of the three goddesses, daughters of Shaitan: “Have you thought upon Lat and Uzza, and Manat, the third,
the other? […] They are the exalted birds, and their intercession is desired indeed” (Rushdie, 2006: 114).
Immediately after, the Prophet Messenger Businessman renegotiates, returning from polytheism to
monotheism: “Shall He have daughters and you sons? [...] That would be a fine division! These are but
names you have dreamed of, you and your fathers. Allah vests no authority in them” (Rushdie, 2006:
124). Mahound’s will is to believe that the first revelation had come from Shaitan, while the second from
Gibreel. Yet Gibreel denies: “[...] it was me both times, baba, me first and second also me” (Rushdie,
2006: 123). The new religion, revised, means Submission, and the revelations of its author, no matter how
they could change based on second thoughts, are the official ones, representing the authority. Mahound
transforms the religion of obedience in a ridiculous abuse of power. The indestructible Law changes in
the laws of Mahound’s will, guaranteed by Gibreel, and the Recitation, the revealed message covers
everything – from the status of divinity to the right hand to wipe one’s buttocks.
In ‘Return to Jahilia’, the sixth chapter of the novel, there appears one of the most important
characters of the book, though a secondary presence, not with too many pages allotted: it is Salman, the
immigrant scribe, the closest to Mahound. The advantage of being so intimate is, nevertheless,
unfavourable both to Mahound and to the history to come: “The closer you are to a conjurer,” Salman
bitterly replied, “the easier to spot the trick” (Rushdie, 2006: 363). Salman the scribe is fully aware of
Mahound’s trading procedures, conscious of the cheating that Mahound was practicing with those around
him: the laws that he declares of divine inspiration are, in fact, the laws that suit him best: “he was giving
the law and Gibreel confirmed it later.” Open to undermining his own position as an official scribe – if
you want someone to break the rules of the game, go for an immigrant – Salman starts modifying the
revelations of the Prophet to be: “So there I was, actually writing the Book, or rewriting, anyway,
polluting the word of God with my own profane language” (Rushdie, 2006: 367). Salman not only
commits the blasphemy of changing passages in the Recitation, but he also formulates value judgments
regarding its content: “But, good heavens, if my poor words could not be distinguished from the
Revelation by God’s own Messenger, then what did that mean? What did they say about the quality of the
divine poetry?” (Rushdie, 2006: 367) Salman’s reaction as he intervenes more and more significantly in
the Book varies from awe, the hope of being discovered, fear of death, sadness and, finally, the decision
to run away. Words that will change history: “He said Christian, I wrote down Jew” (Rushdie, 2006:
368), rules that will be obeyed fanatically, all are the aleatory intervention of Salman, the one lacking
divine inspiration, of that who, initially, has nothing to lose in the game of power, but whose word,
finally, balances equally the inspired one’s, that responsible with imposing the official history. “Baal
asked: ‘Why are you sure he will kill you?’ Salman the Persian answered: ‘It’s his Word against
mine’”(Rushdie, 2006: 368). Later he will remark that people write in order to lie. Ball, the satirist, is
killed by Mahound, his last words being: „Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you can’t
forgive” (Rushdie, 2006: 392).
In Rushdie’s next novel to be discussed in this article, The Enchantress of Florence,Niccolo
Vespucci, alias Mogor dell’Amore, is the holder of the story, the one who crossed the world to transmit it
further, and what he follows to say addresses only the ones prepared to listen, or, more specifically, the
one who has the faculty of imagination, namely, Akbar the Great: “‘I’m a man with a secret, that’s what –
a secret which only the emperor’s ear may hear’” (Rushdie, 2008: 7).
Niccolo declares his status as a storyteller, slave of the word and magician of all languages at the
same time, for whom the act of storytelling has an ontological significance, not a gratuitous enterprise.
His identity is built from the stories / „the Story” which he knows; otherwise, it is the result of an
invented/inherited discourse.

He could dream in seven languages: Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Persian, Russian, English and
Portuguese. He had picked up languages the way most sailors picked up diseases: languages were his
gonorrhoea, his syphilis, his scurvy, his ague, his plague. As soon as he fell asleep half the world
started babbling in his brain, telling wondrous travellers’ enchantments. The visionary, revelatory
dream-poetry of the quotidian had not yet been crushed by the blinkered, prosy fact. Himself a teller
of tales, he had been driven out of his door by stories of wonder, and by one in particular, a story
which could make his fortune or else cost him his life. (Rushdie, 2008: p.10)

Before reaching Sikri, Akbar’s royal court, the Florentine Niccolo had been a stowaway on Scathach
- a ship in whose charge was the Scottish George Louis Hauksbank, Lord of Ilk – his fake name being
‘Uccello di Firenze, enchanter and scholar’. Once at the court of the emperor, he would introduce himself
as Queen of England’s ambassador, holding on him the recommendation letter stolen from Lord
Hauksbank after killing him.
The foreigner’s recitation/narration once in Sikri starts in the classic mode of stories: “There was
once, in Turkey, an adventurer-prince named Argalia or Arcalia, a great warrior who possessed enchanted
weapons, and in whose retinue were four terrifying giants, and he had a woman with him, Angelica…”
(Rushdie, 2008: 87) Indefinite time, exotic space, a legendary character whose name can be found in
variants, inevitably in love and accompanied by fabulous helpers. Put in dungeon under the suspicion of
murder, Niccolo equals his existence with the mission he assumes, that of a storyteller: “The dungeon was
static, eternal, black, and a story needed motion and time and light. He felt his story slipping away from
him, becoming inconsequential, ceasing to be. He had no story. There was no story. He was not a man.
There was no man here. There was only the dungeon, and the slithering dark” (Rushdie, 2008: 93). Or, at
least, this is what he pretends to be.
The significance of the name Mogor dell’Amore is revealed by father Acquaviva, a Christian at the
court of the great Mughal, anticipating, by means of this explanation, the intention of this stowaway of
history: “This Mogor dell’Amore is no name at all […] It means, a Mughal born out of wedlock. It is the
name that dares much and will offend many. By assuming it he implies that he wishes to be thought of as
an illegitimate prince” (Rushdie, 2008: 93).
In danger of being accused by the crew of the ship from which he flew with the official letter and thus
sentenced to death, Niccolo, the holder of the Story, starts threatening Akbar, in a register different from
the language previously used: “Before you kill me, great emperor […] I must warn you that if you do so
you will be cursed, and your capital city will crumble, because a powerful wizard has placed a blessing
upon me, which brings prosperity to my protectors, but rains down desolation upon any who do me harm”
(Rushdie, 2008: 203). Saved from being killed by the royal elephant due to the sorcery of Skeleton, a
former royal whore, Niccolo confesses his secret to the emperor: they are relatives, more precisely,
though younger, Niccolo is his uncle.
Niccolo’s position at the court consolidates as the ‘charm’ of his story embraces especially the
members of the palace, beyond some others’ distrust – the queen mother, Hamida Bano, labels him as
agent of the ‘infidel West’ - . More than this, Akbar idealizes him according to his own theory of the man
in which, when he is no longer wanted, something starts to fade away. Akbar opposes love to solitude: the
friendship of the interlocutor and the love of a woman, the authentic relationship between two
individualities being the source of optimism and happiness: “A man needs other men to turn towards him
by day and a woman to fold herself into his arms by night” (Rushdie, 2008: 203). Himself under the
‘construction’ of his own identity, an idealist and therefore artificial process - Akbar follows principles of
love, friendship, authentic relating and ignores or even suppresses their hypostasizing: his wives at the
court, Prince Nara – the emperor projects the same sterile trajectory on Niccolo too. The history of the
storyteller, his individualizing biographical data, is suspended with regard to the acclamation of his
mission - the one of ‘delivering a story’ and thus of ‘communicating’: “We find that we enjoy him and do
not care, for the present, to unravel his mysteries. Maybe he has been a criminal, maybe even a murderer,
we cannot say. What we know is that he has crossed the world to leave one story behind and to tell
another. […] In short, he is a creature of fables, and a good afsanah never did anybody any real damage”
(Rushdie, 2008: 203). Thus Niccolo is absolved of his own personal history in the name of a noble
mission, that of communicating and of being loved.
What is of particular significance in the economy of the stowaway here is the stake of his story:
determining Akbar, the visionary and liberal emperor, to renounce reality and fall for an imaginary
fabrication that Niccolo strives to impose. The portrait of Akbar the Great is the typical Rushdian
combination of humoristic traits and fundamental problems, of apparently frivolous and essentially
human:

The Grand Mughal, the dusty, battle-weary, victorious, pensive, incipiently overweight, disenchanted,
mustachioed, poetic, over-sexed, and absolute emperor, who seemed altogether too magnificent, too
world-encompassing, and, in sum, too much to be a single human personage – this all-engulfing flood
of a ruler, this swallower of worlds, this many-headed monster who referred to himself in the first
person plural – had begun to meditate, during his long, tedious journey home, on which he was
accompanied by the heads of his defeated enemies bobbing in their sealed earthen pickle-jars, about
the disturbing possibilities of the first person singular – the 'I'. (Rushdie, 2008: 30)

The problematic of identity and the construction of authenticity as individual appear, as in Rushdie’s
other novels, expressed apparently easy, in reality, as key moments of his writing. The period of time in
which Akbar rules, the second half of the 16th century, represents a true Renaissance, the raising of the
Mughal Empire. Therefore, the questions that Akbar asks himself, his concerns related to the meaning of
the individual per se and as part of the world, ontological and political issues, inscribe within the
humanistic thematic that Rushdie attributes to Akbar as natural. Akbar is the Mughal emperor who,
despite his known illiteracy, possesses an impressive culture, being passionate especially about poetry and
philosophy. The historical character tried to combine elements from all known religions at that time and
thus to institute a new one, Din-e-Ilah, ‘the religion of all gods’, a project which did not last longer than
his rule. Yet, there is a stark contradiction in Akbar’s way of thinking: on one hand, he is the embodiment
of the visionary, open to creativity, progressive; on the other hand, he stands for the hypothesis of the
absolute ruler, refractory to even the potentiality of giving up the power he exerts. As an individual,
Akbar projects a humanistic vision of the world, ‘tolerant, inclusive, syncretic’ while, in total opposition,
as representative of power, he posits himself as the absolute ruler of this.
The question that constantly crosses the novel, in the case of the majority of the characters, is ‘how
we come to mean something’. This is the invariable question of Akbar’s inner monologue, beyond his
apparent self-definition as being the whole world: “[...] and the emperor pondered, as he rode, such
matters as the mutability of the universe, the size of the stars, the breasts of his wives, and the nature of
God. [...] He, Akbar, had never referred to himself as 'I', not even in private, not even in anger or dreams.
He was –what else could he be? - 'we'” (Rushdie, 2008: 31). Ruler of the world, Akbar starts his
imaginary journey in search of himself and his proper world: “[...] if his many-selved subjects managed to
think of themselves in the singular rather than plural, could he, too, be an I? Could there be an ‘I’ that was
simply oneself? Were there such naked, solitary ‘I’s beneath the overcrowded ‘we’s of the earth?”
(Rushdie, 2008: 32).
The first hypostasizing of his ego is in relation with Jodha, his imaginary queen, love triggering
authentic manifestation. Yet, to found a world, a common ground, implies interacting: addressing his
queen in the first person singular, bringing himself as offering, he is denied understanding by the beloved
one, the one who cannot read beyond the words. The nature of true love, says Rushdie, means caring
about the other person: “'I' wanted to get home faster,’ he said. [...] ‘Oh, you 'wanted',’ she said.” A result
of the royal imagination and will, part of the emperor’s self, Jodha cannot distance herself from her
creator, therefore incapable of being a distinct identity: it is the emperor’s will that is remarked, not his
self. Akbar cannot found the world; he cannot create the signifying context of his existence by just
relating to himself. He needs the confirmation of his identity and, in the case of Jodha, the proceeding
fails.
Love also means dialogue: on the point of executing prince Rana of Cooch Naheen, fictitious
character that can be located as a predecessor of Rani of Cooch Nahen from Midnight’s Children, Akbar
asks him what kind of Paradise he envisages after he dies. Rana’s answer springs spontaneously: “In
Paradise, the words worship and argument mean the same thing [...] The Almighty is not a tyrant. In the
House of God all voices are free to speak as they choose, and that is the form of their devotion” (Rushdie,
2008: 35). Akbar the plural, Akbar in the official hypostasis of emperor engulfing ‘I’s and worlds, the one
he himself wants to get rid of, cannot give up his status, cannot undress the coat of history imposed by the
others, in spite of all his inner concerns and his desire to individualize as a distinct ‘I’. Although Akbar
recognizes in Rana a potential equal, an authentic partner of dialogue, he factually remains the captive of
‘we, Akbar’, a utopic follower of dialogue, open to the conversational dialogue which, though present, is
denied reality.

In the hours after he killed the Rana, the emperor was possessed by his familiar demon of loneliness.
[…] He was not only a barbarian philosopher and a crybaby killer, but also an egotist addicted to
obsequiousness and sycophancy who nevertheless longed for a different world, a world in which he
could find exactly that man who was his equal, whom he could meet as his brother, with whom he
could speak freely, teaching and learning, giving and receiving pleasure, a world in which he could
forsake the gloating satisfactions of conquest for the gentler and yet more taxing joys of discourse.
Did such a world exist? [...] Was there such a man anywhere in the world, or had he just executed
him? [...] There was nobody to talk to. [...] The king was not content with being. He was striving to
become. (Rushdie, 2008: 35-36)

After Rana’s beheading, Akbar promises the opening of a ‘house of adoration’ in which the dialogue
on anything will be permitted and unrestricted, better said, the meta-dialogues about meta-subjects: God’s
inexistence or the abolition of kings, artificial freedom or freedom within a limited space.
Another value that Akbar projects ideally is trust in the other, a relational value in itself. Enumerating
the ‘objects’ of his trust up to a certain point – dogs, music, poetry, a witty court man, a wife created out
of nowhere, beauty, painting, the wisdom of his ancestors – Akbar ignores them with the indifference of
not even making a comment, declaring his fascination to what he would like to constitute the true
objective of his trust: a son – invented. Himself? Akbar can relate but only to himself: anything that
surpasses the sphere of his will does not exist any more, despite the illusion this creates asserting the
necessity of the other’s presence.
I hope for greatness, which is more than men should desire. (That 'I' felt good when he said it to
himself, it made him feel more intimate with himself, but it would remain a private matter.) I hope for
long life, he thought, and for peace, for understanding, and a good meal in the afternoon. Above all
things I hope for a young man I can trust. That young man will not be my son but I will make him
more than a son. I will make him my hammer and my anvil. I will make him my beauty and my truth.
He will stand upon my palm and fill the sky. (Rushdie, 2008: 60)

Abul Fazl appreciates Akbar as being the ‘Universal Ruler’, ‘king of the world beyond ideological
frontiers or limits’, therefore proclaiming the human nature, and not the divine one as the motive principle
of history and reality.
Fascinated by the story narrated by Mogor dell’Amore, inviting the Mughal princess, Qara Köz, into
the reality of his dreams, at the same time disappointed by his sons’ behaviour and character, especially
by the Crown Prince Salim’s, Akbar sets his mind to rank socially and familially the storyteller coming
from far away. Integrating a stranger in his family would imply that he himself, the emperor, can
incorporate ‘persons, places, narratives, possibilities from lands as yet unknown’, a perspective which
announces or simply puts into practice ‘a culture of inclusion’: “[…] his true vision come to life, in which
all races, tribes, clans, faiths and nations would become part of the one grand Mughal synthesis, the one
grand syncretization of the earth, its sciences, its arts, its loves, its differences, its problems, its vanities,
its philosophies, its sports, its whims. All of which encouraged him to conclude that to honour Mogor
Dell’Amore with the title of farzand would be an act of strength” (Rushdie, 2008: 317).
The whole discourse that Akbar used to hold about the tolerance of diverse religious convictions,
about the perception of the other as an equal partner in the debate upon ‘the world’, the surpassing of all
obstacles and prejudices regarding the social status, the transformation of what is specific into the
generally human, all these aspects represent ‘the construct’ projected by Akbar as defining his identity.
The story of the foreigner is the allegory in which one can find all the principles proclaimed by Akbar as
being delimiting for himself: to ‘adopt’ the foreigner would mean materializing the ideas in which Akbar
pretends to believe, it would imply accepting the fabulation / the imaginary into reality. On the other
hand, acknowledging the different may equally signify a weakness: sentimentality, self-deceit, credulity:
“For to give him official standing would be, in effect, to say that the truth was no longer considered
significant, that it no longer mattered if his tale was just a clever lie” (Rushdie, 2008: 317).
A true prince, Akbar meditates, is the one who has to defend the value of truth, to be distant and more
skeptical to fantasies and visions, the only fantasy which he could afford being that of power. This is to
say that Akbar extols the magic of power, one that has nothing to do with the freedom of the fantastic or
with the liberalism of imagination, but more with the capacity of manipulating and subduing those
involved in the game of power and of holding control. “Magic invariably flowed from the more magical
person (the emperor, the necromancer, the witch) to the lesser: that was one of its laws” (Rushdie, 2008:
318).
Mogor dell’Amore’s presence at the court of the Mughal emperor is finally transformed into an
ideological and political issue: “Was foreignness itself a thing to be embraced as a revitalizing force
bestowing bounty and success upon its adherents, or did it adulterate something essential in the individual
and the society as a whole, did it initiate a process of decay which would end in an alienated, inauthentic
death?” (Rushdie, 2008: 319).
Akbar’s inner monologue structures, beyond geography and history, the content of the crucial book –
Il Principe - signed by another character, both real and fictionalized, il Machia or Machiavelli. Akbar’s
choice of the magic of reality against the fantasy of the ideals will inscribe him within the gallery of
enlightened monarchs. The story of Niccolo Antonino Vespucci, Mogor dell’Amore – a child born out of
the sin of incest and follower of Kara Qöz’s servant, Mirror – a story that, if believed, would have
conferred legitimacy to the personal truths and to fantastic histories, is not credited by Akbar: “He did not
believe the foreigner’s tale. [...] ‘My mother was Qara Köz, your grandfather’s sister, the great
enchantress, and she learned how to stop time.’ ‘No,’ said the emperor Akbar. ‘No, she did not’”
(Rushdie, 2008: 337-340).
Akbar, the Mughal ‘Prince’, finally rejects the story of this history’s stowaway, the story of the
foreigner from afar, consequently denying the possibility of fantasies to turn into reality. Akbar clearly
sets the boundaries of the two realms, as firmly as he establishes the difference between the East and the
West; this is the victory that Akbar proclaims at the end of all people’s stories.
The revenge envisaged by Niccolo, the rejected Mughal of love, is niggardly: his departure
‘coincides’ with the drying up of the golden lake that used to give the grandeur of Sikri, thus transforming
the city into “a symbol of the impermanence of things, of the suddenness with which a change can
overtake even the most potent of peoples and mightiest of men” (Rushdie, 2008: 345). Niccolo alleged
the overlapping of two different spaces: imagination and reality; Akbar proclaimed that the two exist, but
they cannot superpose. Akbar’s rejection is punished with the drainage of the lake, which symbolically
stands for the annihilation of imagination, of the realm of fantasy. “‘If that is your lesson for me, Mughal
of Love,’ he silently addressed the departed foreigner, ‘then the title you gave to yourself is false, for in
this version of the world there is no love to be found anywhere’” (Rushdie, 2008: 347).
All three stowaways – the woodworm, Salman, and Mogor dell’Amore – guarantee the tendency in
the British contemporary novel to unravel the artificiality of the official, given history at the same time
with explaining the ethics of doing this and the necessity of recuperating variants of the past that could
make us picture a ‘more accurate’ image of what we want to know.
As the world comes to be presented to each of these instances of individualizing voices does not help
them significantly in making sense both of it and of their position within it: Noah the saviour, Mahound
the supreme, Niccolo the ‘political’ conqueror of hearts are totalizing figures imposing irrefutable
discourses which are intended to structure all the vocabularies of those who enter their territories. From
the dominant’s perspective, this authoritative approach perfectly makes sense. Yet, someone’s ‘sense’
may turn to be somebody else’s absurdness.
In the light of our analysis, making sense means starting with the questioning of the general validity
in the case of given discourses, continuing with the identification of individual values and ‘ending’ with a
perpetual openness to revising final speeches. The ethics of the stowaways’ discourses is the ethics of the
humane and the individual as opposed to the dehumanized and impersonal postmodern drive.

References:

Barnes, Julian, 1989. A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
Benjamin Walter, 1969. Illuminations. New York: Schocken Books.
Buxton, Jackie, 2000. “Julian Barnes’s Theses on History in 10 ½ Chapters”. Contemporary
Literature, 41.1: 56-86.
Rushdie, Salman, 2006. The Satanic Verses. London: Vintage Books.
Rushdie, Salman, 2008. The Enchantress of Florence. London: Jonathan Cape.