the last decade of the century in which Britain's global sweep reached
its limits and receded, what can it mean for an Irish showman to
have exhibited an Indian on a stage in London, the spectacular center
of what was once the world's most extensive empire? Moreover, how
can we make sense of the fact that this exhibition in the early
1990s itself formed part of a larger display that represented itself
as a zoo? Given the long colonial history of the zoo humain and
of imperial exhibition, we ought to think carefully about what such
a display can tell us about the politics of postcolonial representation.
Here, for instance, is Salman Rushdie writing in 1982 about the
way in which the zoo is a site marking the persistence of imperial
frames of reference:
"Recently, on a radio programme, a professional humorist asked
me, in all seriousness,
why I objected to being called a wog. He said he had always thought
it a rather charming
word, a term of endearment. 'I was at the zoo the other day,' he
revealed, 'and a zoo
keeper told me that the wogs were best with the animals; they stuck
their fingers in their
ears and wiggled them about and the animals felt at home.'"
("Imaginary Homelands" 18-
The comedian's unhappy anecdote resonates with a neocolonial logic:
the British zoo is the site in which expatriate and exiled Indians,
on one hand, and imported, traded, and bred animals, on the other,
can feel "at home" together under the mark of the exotic.
These terms dictate that the British institution can never be a
proper home for the exhibited animal (or for the transplanted Indian
for that matter), and it remains a site pervaded by a sense of coerced
displacement. According to the humorist's narrative, the performance
of the Indian naturalizes the zoo, makes the exhibition itself whole,
and charms the captive animals into a sense of being "at home."
Such a formulation as Rushdie rejects here makes it all the more
uncanny, unheimlich, to find that ten years after his essay "Imaginary
Homelands" the Indian on display in Britain's premier space
of exhibition is none other than Rushdie himself, produced by U2
from the wings of the stage at Wembley during the band's Zoo TV
tour. The stadium at Wembley is itself notable as the sole surviving
building from the Empire Exhibitions of 1924 and 1925, a structure
built to the special demands of the Exhibition: to stage the opening
and closing ceremonies over which the King and the Royal Family
presided, and the three-day-long Pageant of Empire that dramatized
the westward, eastward, and southward expansion of British holdings
across the globe. The scene at Wembley in 1924 was one of elephants
lumbering toward the stadium along streets bearing names chosen
by Rudyard Kipling, processing in step to Elgar marches, and of
Indians - transplanted from the subcontinent - on view as they wove
baskets in the "native villages" meant to convey the breadth
and diversity of Britain's empire. If in the humorist's version
of the zoo the Indian serves to make the exotic animals at home
as part of a exhibitionary whole, at the Empire Exhibition of 1924
Indians and other exotic people were exhibited to make British subjects
feel at home with the idea of Empire as a global project.
The picture at Wembley almost 70 years later was, of course, superficially
quite different: gone were the ferroconcrete models of the Old London
Bridge and the Taj Mahal, Kipling's lanes and Elgar's strains, the
elephants and the weavers. Nevertheless in the 'Nineties, Rushdie,
like so many Indians in 1924 and 1925, "found himself, for
a few minutes, up on the Wembley stage" apparently through
no agency of his own, on view in the "cage of light" that
fronted the stage and divided the spectators from the show ("In
the Voodoo Lounge" 87, 88; emphasis added). The impresario
of this exhibition was U2's Bono, in his "white-faced, gold-lamé-suited,
red-velvet-horned MacPhisto incarnation" ("U2" 97).
In Rushdie's account of his experience in the Wembley arena, this
diabolic Bono also figures as one of the animals on show: "when
I looked into [Bono's] face on the Wembley stage I saw a stranger
there, and understood that this was the Star-creature that normally
lay hidden in him, a creature as powerful as the big beastie it
sang to, so overwhelming that it could be let out only in this cage
of light" (88). The performer Bono, we might say, makes both
the "Star-creature" aspect of himself and "the big
beastie it sang to" (the crowd of thousands) feel at home,
while his exhibition of a vulnerable Rushdie produces a broad sense
of daring, of unity, and of holism (the ostensible reason for the
presentation of Rushdie to the "big beastie" is that "U2
wanted to make a gesture of solidarity," in a time in which
Rushdie was threatened both by the fatwa issued against him, and
by the British media ["U2" 95]).
Where is Rushdie's place here, and on what terms is such solidarity
established? Can any performance make him feel "at home"
in Wembley's cage of light? It turns out that the author's appearance
is volitional after all, since "Bono called to ask if I'd like
to come out onstage" (95), but in offering himself up to the
band to be exhibited, Rushdie submits not only to be framed within
what was once a prime symbolic space of the British Empire, but
also to be conscripted into the service of a new dynamic of power
remapping the world. Recalling his travels in Nicaragua in the late
1980s, Rushdie writes about a woman who does not recognize Bono's
name: "Tell me, who is Bono?" she asks. Rather than understanding
the woman's question to signal the relatively circumscribed province
of English-language pop music, Rushdie instead presses the woman
and her society into the margins of the globe: "the question
was as vivid a demonstration of her country's beleaguered isolation
as anything I heard or saw in the front-line villages, the destitute
Atlantic Coast bayous, or the quake-ravaged city streets" (94).
The Irish rock band becomes the very touchstone by means of which
connectedness or globality - and its counterparts, backwardness
and isolation - should be measured: do we recognize the interpellative
challenge of Achtung Baby (U2's 1991 album) or don't we? Do we feel
"at home" within the confines of Zooropa (1993), comforted
by its promises that each of us can "be a winner" and
"be all that [we] can be" ("Zooropa"), or will
we find ourselves consigned to "destitut[ion]" and "beleaguered
In framing these questions so absolutely, I do not mean to suggest
that by appearing at Wembley Rushdie has suddenly and unthinkingly
acquiesced in a kind of global neoimperialism (he is not the unregenerate
"Businessist" described by one of his novel's narrators,
for instance), or that he has abandoned altogether the searching,
skeptical politics outlined in earlier essays such as "Commonwealth
Literature Does Not Exist" and "The New Empire Within
Britain" (Midnight's Children 474). Despite his recent writing
in support of the US "war on terrorism" and his blanket
criticism of Islamist politics, plenty of evidence remains of his
suspicion of easy pieties when it comes to things global. Likewise,
I do not want to pretend that the heavy ironies of U2's vision of
Zooropa or the graphic kitsch of Achtung Baby ought to be understood
in the mode of the earlier War, as a kind of high earnestness -
note, for instance, the pointed way that fragments of cliché
and Western military and consumer advertisement ("be all that
you can be"; "eat to get slimmer") constitute this
deliberately dystopic "Zooropa." I do, however, mean to
interrogate the politics of exhibition, of showmanship, of display,
in popular as well as traditionally "literary" registers,
by way of asking what difference postcoloniality makes to the ways
in which we represent the world as a whole. Salman Rushdie and U2
alike are bound up with this politics just as surely as they are
with the history of Wembley when they mount the boards of its stage
and stand in "the cage of light."
Exhibitionary rhetorics of the global have tended to be totalizing,
and the space of Wembley is conspicuously marked by such aspirations
to totalize. George the Fifth, opening the Empire Exhibition in
1924, declared that the park's geography was designed to "reveal
to us the whole Empire in little, containing within its 220 acres
of ground a vivid model of the architecture, art and industry of
all the races which come under the British flag" ("Wembley
and Its Millions"). The Wembley Empire Exhibition aimed to
encapsulate all of the imperial experience, presenting the "endless
variety of human types, colour of skin and national costume, and
. . . profusion of tongues" as "one great empire, united
under one king and flag, linked by the English language, financed
by sterling, ruled by British justice and protected by the Royal
Navy" (Eric Pasold qtd. in MacKenzie 112). This great human
and geographic diversity requires a significant investment of imaginative
energy to render it in a mode of solidarity, and the spectacle of
the Empire Exhibition represented just such a large-scale imaginative
project. Three quarters of a century later, nevertheless, Rushdie
notes emphatically that the project has failed in the end, since
"Europe's empires are long gone" ("In Defense"
51), and we can state definitively that the totality that the Empire
Exhibition sought to conjure up has dissolved. The 220 acres of
Wembley's exhibition-space are now reduced to a stadium that hosts
domestic football cups and serves as the ground for Mick Jagger
and the Rolling Stones to commemorate both the heyday of "The
British Invasion" and the inauguration of the pop "world
tour" (Rushdie writes about the Stones at Wembley, too, concluding
that they hardly seem "dangerous," and are "no longer
. . . a threat to decent, civilized society" ["In the
Voodoo Lounge" 91]). The recession of this imaginative or performative
power that renders Britain's global aspirations whole means that
the British must abandon the notion of world empire as "a kind
of transcendence," for "in empire's aftermath, [the British]
have been pushed back into their box, their frontier has closed
in on them like a prison" ("Step Across" 364-65 ).
Totalizing exhibitions in the imperial mode no longer can adequately
represent such a world of contractions and devolutions.
No less an exhibitionary instrument than the palimpsestic space
of Wembley, the novel and its own totalizing aspirations have at
times appeared to follow a similar trajectory of dissolution and
decline. On the cusp of the First World War, the novelist Arnold
Bennett was still able to celebrate the novel's expansiveness by
comparing it to the British colonization of the globe: "[T]he
novelist has poached, colonized, and annexed with a success that
is not denied . . . . [The novel] has conquered enormous territories
even since Germinal. Within the last fifteen years it has gained.
Were it to adopt the hue of the British Empire, the entire map of
the universe would soon be coloured red" (39-40). Bennett sets
up the paths of a developing realist novel as a kind of fictional
all-red route, in which the novel's methods enable it to map out
the observed world under its "most inclusive vision."
By 1936, however, George Orwell was convinced that the novel, if
not utterly doomed, was at least destined "to survive in some
perfunctory, despised, and hopelessly degenerate form, like . .
. the Punch and Judy Show," a reified vestige of an earlier,
living, plastic exhibit (qtd. in "In Defense" 50). More
recently, Rushdie has argued against this narrative of decline,
pointing out that "the half century whose literary output [in
Europe ostensibly] proves . . . the novel's decline is also the
first half century of the post-colonial period" (51). The novel,
Rushdie suggests, may now properly be the province not of "the
old imperial powers" which have a "new, diminished status
in the post-colonial world" ("Step Across" 364),
but of that postcolonial world which rises into view even as those
This formulation in which "Zooropa" - the collection of
erstwhile colonial powers - shifts into the background, consigned
to play on "the cramped boards of home," while postcolonial
writing moves toward front and center of "the great stage of
the world" might begin to answer the question of what it means
to exhibit the Indian at Wembley in the 1990s: postcolonial cultural
production, in the form of an Irish rock band and an Indian novelist,
overwhelms the attenuated symbolic spaces of a contracted empire
("Step Across" 365). It is nevertheless worth pressing
our inquiries further to ask about the difference that such a protrusion
of the postcolonial makes to the representation of the global, and
- since Rushdie is in the first place a novelist - more particularly
to the novel as exhibitionary vehicle. The exhibitionary mode survives
richly in Rushdie's own fiction: The Ground Beneath Her Feet, the
words of which U2 set to music, is about a globe-trotting pop star;
The Satanic Verses features a set of television and film personalities
and performers at its center; and Rushdie's most recent protagonist
(Malik Solanka in Fury) designs puppets that dominate global pop
Before these, though, there was Midnight's Children (1981), which
Rushdie has himself characterized as "the stuff of showmanship
and myth" ("Influence" 69). Rushdie's first blockbuster
book enacts its pageant of India in the lingering light of English
novels such as William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair (1847-48),
whose narrator also sets himself up as a showman - "the Manager
of the Performance" - and whose characters appear as "puppets."
Rushdie's self-anatomizing narrator Saleem Sinai acknowledges the
persistence of what we might call the Anglo literary twilight, paying
homage to its traditions through his own "Anglepoise-lit writing"
(Midnight's Children 38). Saleem's characterization of his postcolonial
narrative in these terms simultaneously signals that British cultural
authority lingers in a newly born India and acknowledges the peculiarly
skewed perspective (poised at an angle) of the show he mounts on
"the great stage of the world." Unlike Thackeray's Manager
or Bono's MacPhisto, however, Saleem as Anglepoised impresario exercises
only a compromised authority over his performance: he can hardly
hold himself together, much less maintain the integrity of his narrative.
Saleem nevertheless persists in offering up the showman as the essential
type of the storyteller. While he sometimes acknowledges that "entertainers
would [repeatedly] orchestrate my life" (116), unwittingly
describing the passive role that Rushdie himself seems to assume
on the Wembley stage, Saleem also recalls that he himself once "performed
the function of barker. 'Roll up roll up - once in a life-time and
opportunity such as this - ladees, ladahs, come see come see come
Saleem's role as barker calls up not only custom for his friend
Picture Singh, the snake charmer, but also the memory of the peepshow
man Lifafa Das, whose cries beckon, "See the whole world, come
see everything!" while he attempts to cram everything into
his peepshow (83-84). Here is Saleem's approximation of the 1924
Empire Exhibition: Lifafa Das's peepshow, like the Wembley Exhibition,
promises to deliver the whole world in one space, but unlike Wembley
the peepshow's expansive vision is cobbled together out of an arbitrary
selection of mass-produced picture postcards. As a totalizing strategy,
it is contingent upon the availability of images produced elsewhere
and encountered by chance; it reflects the serendipity of the world's
networks, rather than the determinism of the systematic all-red
routes mapped out in Wembley displays, and as Timothy Brennan points
out, Midnight's Children is preoccupied with such networks and "communications"
(96). That Lifafa Das's exhibition might be understood to form one
of the symbolic centers of the novel is suggested by the script
for a planned British television film of Midnight's Children that
never came to pass; in the script Lifafa Das rather than Saleem
introduces each of the episodes of Saleem's life through his peepshow
("Adapting" 76). The efforts of the novelized Lifafa Das
to collect and display the whole world through postcards reminds
Saleem of a similar model of encapsulating the world in another,
higher cultural register: he describes "a painter whose paintings
had grown larger and larger as he tried to get the whole of life
into his art. 'Look at me,' he said before he killed himself, 'I
wanted to be a miniaturist and I've got elephantiasis instead!'"
(50). Although Saleem's narrative presents the painter's story as
a fantastic episode, the miniaturist's compulsion to include everything
merely offers another version of G. K. Chesterton's rationale for
the Empire Exhibition: "It seems to me that man has made things
almost too great for his own imagination to measure . . . . It is
to be hoped that people will learn to appreciate what is large precisely
because they see it when it is little" (104). While Chesterton
celebrates miniaturization, however, the painter despairs of his
Although Saleem can be found in the role of coordinating showman
or barker near the end of his Anglepoised story, more frequently
he offers himself up as just the sort of miniature, peepshow, or
exhibition that Lifafa Das and the painter struggle to orchestrate:
"to know me, just the one of me, you'll have to swallow the
lot as well. Consumed multitudes are jostling and shoving inside
me" (4). Saleem would have us believe that he is himself a
zoo humain: not merely a metaphorical exhibition of typical humanity,
but a single human being containing within him a comprehensive collection
of global types. "To understand me," Saleem insists again
near the end of his narrative, "you'll have to swallow a world"
(458). Yet Saleem himself does not swallow a world - rather, he
buries it. He recalls having "a world of [my] own," made
"Two cheap metal hemispheres, clamped together by a plastic
stand . . . . It was a world
full of labels: Atlantic Ocean and Amazon and Tropic of Capricorn.
And, at the North
Pole, it bore the legend: MADE AS ENGLAND. . . . [T]his tin world
had lost its stand; I
found Scotch Tape and stuck the earth together at the Equator, and
then, my urge for play overcoming my respect, began to use it as
a football. . . , secure in the knowledge that the world was still
in one piece (although held together by adhesive tape) and also
at my feet." (319)
Saleem soon inters this globe in the yard as a time-capsule devoted
to remembering his own historical role, offering up another, material
version of his autobiographical narrative as a whole. Years later,
upon his return to his childhood home, he digs it up with great
nostalgia (546). As allegory, this "world" realizes what
Saleem describes as the Indian "national longing for form"
- an "obsess[ion] with correspondences" and a conviction
"that forms lie hidden within reality; that meaning reveals
itself only in flashes" (359). The form of Saleem's world is
itself imperfectly Anglepoised: it is a globe made in England's
image, but this resemblance is acknowledged in a compromised, or
at least improvised, language ("MADE AS ENGLAND"): this
is an English world scored by difference. In another sense, though,
it is a world no longer "poised" at all, since it has
nothing to stand on, nothing coordinated - like a global empire
or a world system - to clamp it together. Instead, its integrity
is improvised, bound together with whatever is at hand; the world
once "MADE AS ENGLAND" is - like Lifafa Das's peepshow
- rendered whole only serendipitously, articulated by and contingent
upon whatever binding agent is available. The form of this globe
is uneven and battered, but it nevertheless conveys the impression
of being "in one piece" through Saleem's active work of
binding it together. Finally, it rests comfortably at Saleem's feet,
characterized by the promise of the future rewards of global "play."
As a metaphor extending across hundreds of pages, Saleem's globe
assumes its special significance only when it is recuperated after
being buried and forgotten. That old, battered world of dubious
integrity becomes a repository of memory, a way of remembering the
initial promise of the postcolonial - the sense of having "the
world at one's feet" after decolonization - in a less happy
time of neocolonial oppression. "The postcolonial world"
that Rushdie champions in his defense of the novel is, of course,
not one thing, much less one world, and the incongruity of the globe
"MADE AS ENGLAND" with the world as it appears in the
time of Indira Gandhi's Emergency measures - or in the era of Bush,
Musharraf, and Vajpayee, for that matter - signals the temporal
and spatial discontinuities of "the" postcolonial itself.
Saleem's "Anglepoised" writing appears to be complicit
with this older order of the globe, and he struggles to come to
terms with the contemporary world, a world that resists the sort
of exhibition typified by Saleem's globe or the Empire Exhibition.
Saleem's attempt to comprehend his contemporary world therefore
draws upon the older totalizing tropes: he wonders, "is this
an Indian disease, this urge to encapsulate the whole of reality?
Worse, am I infected, too?" (84). But this is not a specifically
Indian disease, communicable as it is through residual exhibitionary
rhetorics of empire: Saleem's affliction is, at least in part, a
function of his identity as an Anglepoised writer, made as England.
Timothy Brennan notes that Saleem casts himself in the role of Ganesh,
who "provides the culmination of national style . . . . [Saleem's]
style is from Ganesh, Rushdie implies, simply because it represents
Midnight's Children's and India's elephantiasis of style" (116).
For Brennan, Ganesh's "style amounts to the chaotic 'sum total
of everything' - an appropriate paradigm for diversity, but . .
. 'everything' means not just India. If neither Saleem nor [his
companion] Padma create[s] 'true' national images, it is because
the truth of postwar nationalism is international" (117). Under
Brennan's reading, Saleem as elephant-headed writer is authentically
Indian, suffering from elephantiasis, the "Indian disease,"
and - in attempting to represent his world - offering the elephant-god
as an image of globality. I would suggest, though, that Ganesh as
Indian style, India as elephant(iasis), is at least in part an illusory
image cast by the Anglepoised light of Saleem's narrative: Saleem
notes that "January 26th, Republic Day, is a good time for
illusionists. When the huge crowds gather to watch elephants and
fireworks, the city's tricksters go out to earn their living"
(494). The spectacle of the elephant becomes a diversion from and
alibi for more significant things happening elsewhere: while "the
colorful, touristic elephant-taxi India . . . is presently being
sold to the world," Rushdie notes in a recent essay, entire
states are suffering from drought and disease ("A Dream"
196). The author hopes that such Anglepoised diversions will cease,
that the "fake glamorizing is coming to an end, and the India
of elephants, tigers, peacocks, emeralds, and dancing girls is being
laid to rest" ("Step across" 375). This is the exotic
India of Imperial Exhibitions and the zoo humain, which can only
ever appear to be out of place in Britain and Europe. We ought to
be wary of the way in which Saleem's assumption of Ganesh's mantle
also functions as an illusion, a diversion.
From what is such an Anglepoised discourse of postcolonial exhibition
exhibition diverting us? Is it possible to lay to rest - indeed,
to bury - the zoological, exhibitionary India and still feel, with
confidence and optimism, that the world is whole and at one's feet?
Ian Baucom argues that "the challenge of the global is that
of rethinking the form of the globe - rethinking the globe not .
. . as a sort of Wallersteinian world system . . . but as something
closer to a route work" (170). Saleem's narrative does not
necessarily perform this "route work," invested as it
still is in that older globe, "MADE AS ENGLAND." It does,
though, investigate what Baucom calls the "hauntological":
while global expansion concentrates political power, capital, and
cultural in discrete nodes (global cities such as London and New
York, for instance), the enrichment of these global nodes also renders
them "the scenes of the haunting return of difference"
(162). The "great stage of the world" in this aspect of
globality will be haunted by the differential performances not only
of the past but also of the present - perhaps in the way that Saleem
is haunted by the vision of his still-alive sister's slowly decaying
face, which superimposes itself upon that of his lover Parvati in
moments of intimacy. Under the machinations of the "hauntological,"
Bono's exhibition of Rushdie at Wembley must inevitably bear traces
of those earlier Wembley exhibitions: Zooropa will continue to be
marked by the vestiges of its past performances on the global stage,
as well as by the consequences of its current acts on the cramped
boards of home. It should perhaps also be haunted by another kind
of difference, the "beleaguered isolation" from globalization's
chief "route work" that pointedly asks, "Who is Bono?"
Avoiding the hauntological altogether in an era of increasing globality
is perhaps impossible, although several tropes present themselves
as routes of avoidance. There is the Romantic drive to escape and
to forget global geometries - and geographies - of power altogether:
"I want to run / I want to hide / . . . / Where the streets
have no name," sang Bono in 1987. There is also the fatalism
that understands such geographies of power to be fixed, inevitable:
Midnight's Children's Mary Pereira insists that it is "No good
worrying . . . . Better you drink your Coke; nothing is going to
change." Such impulses to forget or concede the form of the
networks continually battering and binding our globe (no longer
"MADE AS ENGLAND") work despite themselves to secure what
Rushdie in a meditation on globalization calls "the metamorphosis
of Planet Earth into McWorld" ("Globalization" 267),
a world in which all of us run the haunting risk of being permanently
out of place in the zoo humain of that world, a world in which no
mere performance can make us feel "at home."
Baucom, Ian. "Globalit, Inc.; or, The Cultural Logic of Global
Literary Studies." PMLA 116.1
(January 2001): 158-172.
Bennett, Arnold. The Author's Craft. London: Hodder and Stoughton,
Brennan, Timothy. Salman Rushdie and the Third World. New York:
St. Martin's, 1989.
Chesterton, G. K. "Our Notebook." Illustrated London News
19 July 1924: 104.
MacKenzie, John M. Propaganda and Empire. Manchester: Manchester
Rushdie, Salman. "Adapting Midnight's Children." 1999.
In Step Across This Line, 70-79.
_____. "A Dream of Glorious Return." 2000. In Step Across
This Line, 180-209.
_____. "Globalization." 1999. In Step Across This Line,
_____. "Imaginary Homelands." Imaginary Homelands. 1981.
New York: Penguin, 1991. 9-21.
_____. "In Defense of the Novel, Yet Again." 2000. In
Step Across This Line. 49-57.
_____. "In the Voodoo Lounge." 1995. In Step Across This
_____. "Influence." 1999. In Step Across This Line. 62-69.
_____. Midnight's Children. 1981. New York: Penguin, 1991.
_____. "Step Across This Line." 2002. In Step Across This
_____. Step Across This Line. New York: Random House, 2002.
_____. "U2." 2001. In Step Across This Line. 94-98.
Thackeray, William Makepeace. Vanity Fair. 1847-48. Ed. Peter L.
Shillingsburg. New York:
W. W. Norton, 1994.
U2. "Where the Streets Have No Name." The Joshua Tree.
Island Records, 1987.
_____. "Zooropa." Zooropa. Island Records, 1993.
"Wembley and Its Millions of Visitors." Illustrated London
News 19 July 1924: 106-107.