This essay situates Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses within the historical context of a politics of extremity that was mobilized by ethnic migrants in postwar Britain in their struggles against racism. Such a politics—characterized by the discourses of war, militancy, rioting, and heat—was fashioned as an implicit challenge to a tradition of moderate English liberalism that had failed to provide minorities with an adequate platform for redressing the systemic inequities caused by racial discrimination. The essay shows how The Satanic Verses is structured by an ambivalent and conflicted response to this genealogy of political extremism: the novel inhabits various discourses of extremity to critique liberalism's depoliticizing strategies and to herald the birth of alternative political formations, but it simultaneously recoils from the violence that a radicalized politics seems to entail. The text attempts to resolve this conflict by turning to magical realism as a formal device for obscuring the material effects of violence; in doing so, it reprises a liberal ethics in the way its representational form seeks to contain and moderate the politics of extremity.
Janice Ho; The Satanic Verses and the Politics of Extremity. Novel 1 August 2011; 44 (2): 208–228. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00295132-1260959
Download citation file: