5.1 Discourses of Nationalism, Ethnicity and Race Kureishi’s intellectual formation, as Ranasinha asserts, is influenced by many cross-cultural and transnational influences such as black American writers but also Franz Fanon (11). In Ranasinha’s view, Kureishi “draws on the intellectual cross-fertilizations of what Paul Gilroy defines as ‘a black Atlantic’ an ‘intercultural and transnational formation’ that suggests the degree to which African-American, British and Caribbean diasporic cultures have mutually influenced each other and their metropolitan bases” (11). The characters in Kureishi’s novels, and most notably the second generation of immigrants to Britain such as Karim in BS and Shahid in BA experience lives in the ‘in-between’ space which can be painful and marginalizing. As compared to the ‘white’ Englishmen who can fully identify with the dominant culture’s values and traditions, these young individuals feel often displaced and rootless. The dominant narratives of belonging, home and identity cannot accommodate these persons, who do not adhere to one system or a single way of being. This ‘in-between’ position of migrants and their perceptions of the world that are impartial, have been used, as McLeod suggests, “as the starting point for creating new, dynamic ways of thinking about identity, which go beyond older static models, such as national identity and the notion of ‘rootedness’” (McLeod 2000, 216). In this sense, Karim’s and Shahid’s positions show the possibility of new, transnational models of belonging, national affiliation and identity which, in Paul Gilroy’s terms, challenge the certainty of roots with the contingency of routes (McLeod 2000, 216). For someone like Karim, the traditional notions of nation and national identity are not sufficient and the conventional ways that are used to describe the notions such as ‘belonging’ and ‘home’ and that depend upon static notions of being ‘in place’ no longer work. The second generation’s lives are altered by the experiences of migration which causes a different way of thinking about their relation to a place they call ‘home’.
In much of the contemporary British writing, the issue of national identity and affiliation has acquired new ways of looking at these concepts. National identity as an essentialist notion is no longer applicable to many writers of a mixed cultural background who perceive ‘national identity’ of the postcolonial subjects in contemporary Britain as a mutable concept. This feature is visible in the novels of Hanif Kureishi whose “representation of nationhood is in direct contrast to essentialist notions of British national identity” (Ilona 89). As Ilona argues, Kureishi “purposefully restages and circumscribes the contradictory motion in nationalist discourse between positivist assertion (essentialism) and negative reinforcement (relationalism) […]” (Ilona 93). In his writing, Kureishi employs a more flexible approach towards “notions of diversity, interaction and change” (Ilona 90). Kureishi elaborates this issue in his essay “The Rainbow Sign” where he offers, from a perspective of a second generation immigrant to Britain, his view on the “various contradictory manoeuvres that underscore nationalist discourse” (Ilona 96). In Kureishis view, “the perpetuation of essentialist Orwellian notions of the ‘soundness and homogeneity of Britain’ and the timelessness of its ‘gentle manners’ and ‘tolerance’ are […] blind to the exclusionary signs and practices that infect the nation’s political, social and cultural life” (Ilona 96). Kureishi asserts that the situation of the Pakistanis in the mid-1960s Britain was unfavourable: “They had the worst jobs, they were uncomfortable in England, some of them had difficulties with the language. They were despised and out of place” (Kureishi 2002, 25). He points out that the way people like him are perceived as the ‘Other’ is embedded in the nation:
From the start I tried to deny my Pakistani self. I was ashamed. It was a curse and I wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to be like everyone else […] The British complained incessantly that the Pakistanis wouldn’t assimilate. This meant they wanted the Pakistanis to be exactly like them. But of course even then they would have rejected them. The British were doing the assimilating: they assimilated Pakistanis to their world view. They saw them as dirty, ignorant and less human – worthy of abuse and violence. […] I was frightened and hostile. I suspected that my white friends were capable of racist insults. […] I reckoned that at least once every day since I was five years old I had been racially abused. I became incapable of distinguishing between remarks that were genuinely intended to hurt and those intended as ‘humour’. I became cold and distant. (Kureishi 2002, 25-29)
Kureishi’s described experiences with racism imply that he, as a half English and a half Pakistani, was expected to deny his self and assimilate with the dominant British ‘white’ society. In the “Rainbow Sign” he suggests that many times throughout his life, he did not want to be himself but desired to become someone else. This kind of denial is present in Kureishi’s novel The Buddha of Suburbia where Karim experiences similar negative views from the side of ‘white’ British society and is therefore inclined to deny his own self:
We wasted days and days dancing in the Pink Pussy Club, yawning at Fat Mattress at the Croydon Greyhound, ogling strippers on Sunday mornings in a pub, sleeping through Godard and Antonioni films, and enjoying the fighting at Millwall Football Ground, where I forced Changez to wear a bobble-hat over his face in case the lads saw he was a Paki and imagined I was one two. (97-98)
Despite the fact that Karim is British, his appearance suggests that his heritage lies somewhere else as well. In forcing Changez to cover his face with a hat, Karim tries to disguise the fact that he has connections to a land overseas which forms a part of his identity. Ilona suggests that this kind of act exemplifies “what Paul Gilroy describes as the powerful semiotics of the body as ‘arbitrat[or] in the assignment of cultures and nationalities to peoples’” and “it also demonstrates just how deeply the signs and practices of social exclusion can be internalized by those excluded” (Ilona 97). Neither Karim, nor his father Haroon cannot escape from being seen as ‘black’. As Ranasinha puts it, Kureishi shows how the characters’ identities “are defined by colour, a privileged visible signifier of difference” (Ranasinha 74). She further asserts that the most urgent passages of the novel draw attention to “racialised forms of power and subordination” (Ranasinha 74). BS portrays the oppression of racial hatred which can be observed on Jamila and her family:
The area in which Jamila lived was closer to London than our suburbs, and far poorer. It was full of neo-fascist groups, thugs who had their own pubs and clubs and shops. […] At night they roamed the streets, beating Asians and shoving shit and burning rags through their letter-boxes. […] There was no evidence that these people would go away – no evidence that their power would diminish rather than increase. The lives of Anwar and Jeeta and Jamila were pervaded by fear of violence. […] Many of Jamila’s attitudes were inspired by the possibility that a white group might kill one of us one day. (56)
Karim’s position in terms of ethnicity, which involves “a variety of social practices, rituals and traditions in identifying different collective groups” (McLeod 2000, 111) and national affiliation is often not clear. By the surrounding society, he is constantly perceived as living with a handicap due to his appearance and cultural position. When he decides to embark on acting in a theatre, the director Shadwell requires Karim to accept the role of Mowgli in the adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, a theme Kureishi presents in his essay “The Rainbow Sign”. Karim is placed in the position of an Indian by Shadwell, who forces ‘Indian idenity’ upon Karim and assumes that Karim speaks the Indian language. By Shadwell, Karim is identified in negative terms, as the ‘Other’ who is less than ‘white’ Englishmen and who is in need of rescue, an issue that Edward Said addresses in his Orientalism. Speaking about Eva, Shadwell remarks: “She’s trying to protect you from your destiny, which is to be a half-caste in England. That must be complicated for you to accept – belonging nowhere, wanted nowhere. Racism” (141). Shadwell assumes that Karim knows everything about Indian culture: “It’s The Jungle Book. Kipling. You know it, of course” (140). When he meets Karim, the only thing he talks about is Karim’s Indian heritage: “Instead of talking about the job he said some words to me in Punjabi or Urdu and looked as if he wanted to get into a big conversation about Ray or Tagore or something” (140). When Karim suggests he does not have the knowledge of the Indian language and the subcontinent, Shadwell is puzzled and surprised:
What a breed of people two hundred years of imperialism has given birth to. If the pioneers from the East India Company could see you. What puzzlement there’d be. Everyone looks at you, I’m sure, and thinks: an Indian boy, how exotic, how interesting, what stories of aunties and elephants we’ll hear now from him. And you’re from Orpington. (141)
Karim’s position implies that his generation of migrants cannot be perceived as static, homogeneous and pure. People like Karim do not confine to one culture or nation but accept hybridity which, for them, does not mean homelessness. Karim, before being ‘reminded’ by Shadwell about his heritage, does not think about it in terms of a handicap. He does not care; what he is interested in, is acting. It is his surroundings that suggest these ‘ethnic’ roles for him. Karim is asked to ‘be Indian’ several times in his life, by his schoolteacher, by theatre directors. His father Haroon experiences similar pressure from society to be an Indian. He steps into a role of ‘the Buddha of suburbia’ despite the fact that he has been living in Britain for almost thirty years: “He was hissing his s’s and exaggerating his Indian accent” (21). Kureishi ironizes these moments and lampoons the racism of the ‘white’ suburbia. When Karim wants to see Helen, a girl he knows, her father refuses to accept Karim because, as he says, “she doesn’t go out with boys. Or with wogs” (40). Hairy Back further remarks: “However many niggers there are, we don’t like it. We’re with Enoch” (40). As Ranasinha points out, Kureishi “mocks the white liberal embracing of India that bears the racist taints of orientalism […]” (Ranasinha 64). This is visible in the character of Eva who sees in Haroon ‘the Buddha’, who, in her view, embodies eastern spirituality with his exotic appearance. Similar attempts of ‘authenticity’ are portrayed with irony: “Was I conceived like this, I wondered, in the suburban night air, to the wailing of Christian curses from the mouth of a renegade Muslim masquerading as a Buddhist” (16)? Situations that evidence the attempts to cultivate ‘otherness’ are satirized, like that of Haroon who clings to everything connected to eastern philosophy and culture: “[…] from among his other books on Buddhism, Sufism, Confucianism and Zen which he had bought at the Oriental bookshop in Cecil Court, off Charing Cross Road” (5). By presenting situations which show this kind of ‘acting’ and ‘passing for someone’, Kureishi stresses the role of performance in the novel. The emphasis on performance of the ethnic dimension of identity repudiates, according to Ranasinha, essentialist notions of cultural identity (Ranasinha 69). Towards the end of the novel, Karim is asked to perform a character for Pyke which he himself chooses. Karim decides to use Changez as a model for his role: “At night, at home, I was working on Changez’s shambolic walk and crippled hand, and on the accent, which I knew would sound, to white ears, bizarre, funny and characteristic of India” (188-89). In this way, Karim continues to “cooperate with forms of cultural racism […]” (Ranasinha 71) which is the reason Eleanor does not agree with his representation of black and Asian people: “Your picture is what white people already think of us. That we’re funny, with strange habits and weird customs. To the white men we’re already people without humanity “(180). Similarly, Changez condemns Karim’s act: “And it was disgusting, the accent and the shit you had smeared over you. You were just pandering to prejudices” (157). The fact that Karim invents his characters for the theatre amplifies the attempts to construct a sense of self. At the same time, Karim’s ethnic identity is also constructed for him by others, like Shadwell, who expects Karim to play Mowgli. This kind of act evidences society’s attempts to create identities and roles which they ascribe to minorities. In this way, Kureishi provides a view of the immigrants’ situation in the British society. People like Karim cannot often choose who they want to be but are ‘labeled’ by others. With such pre-given and prejudical views of the immigrants, Karim cannot easily escape the definitions that are imposed upon him. The changing conceptions of Karim’s identity imply that the notions of nationality, ethnicity and ‘race’ are complex and problematic. At the end of the novel Karim comes to the conclusion that he has been rejecting a part of his identity and refusing to acknowledge that Indian people form a part of his own heritage:
But I did feel, looking at these strange creatures now - the Indians - that in some way these were my people, and that I’d spent my life denying or avoiding that fact. I felt ashamed and incomplete at the same time, as if half of me were missing, and as if I’d been colluding with my enemies, those whites who wanted Indians to be like them. (212)
In starting to appreciate and accept his Indian origins, Karim understands that his cultural identity cannot be seen in terms of singularity. On the contrary, he embraces plurality and reconciles himself to the way of life that offers more possibilities which are not necessarily stable or rooted. Karim is able to be happy with himself as he is. It is the society around him that wants to see him in prescribed roles. In this way, Karim’s position resembles that of Kureishi. This can be traced in Kureishi’s “The Rainbow Sign”: “I wasn’t a misfit; I could join the elements of myself together. It was the others, they wanted misfits; they wanted you to embody within yourself their ambivalence” (Kureishi 2002, 27-28). The notions of Karim’s cultural identity are preconceived by the ‘white’ society who wants to see the immigrants in the position of the ‘other’.
The feeling that immigrants are looked down upon by the dominant society, is visible in the novel. They are perceived, as in the time of the Empire as analyzed in Said’s Orientalism, as lower beings who do not have the same rights and positions as the ‘white’ Englishmen: “Later that day Changez was interviewed by the police and called immigrant, Paki, scum, wog, bastard and murderer […]” (211). Karim realizes that he is identified as neither British, nor Indian but rather, is viewed in different ways depending on the situation. He comments on this paradox: “And we pursued English roses as we pursued England; by possessing these prizes, this kindness and beauty, we stared defiantly into the eye of the Empire and all its self-regard […]. We became part of England and yet proudly stood outside it” (227). Karim’s acceptance of his position between two cultures and his rejection of a rooted and an essentialist cultural identity corresponds to Bhaba’s view of an ‘in-between’ space where past and present, outside and inside, exclusion and inclusion are not binary opposites but instead, a hybrid existence is embraced. Karim rejects binary patterning and instead accepts a number of views and possibilities. His cultural identity is, then, represented, to provide a connection to Stuart Hall, as “fluid, contingent, multiple and shifting” (McLeod 2000, 225). Karim does not aspire to acquire a cultural identity that could be perceived as a finished product but realizes that his cultural identity is created in relationships and is, therefore, liable to constant development.
In The Black Album, discourses of nationalism, ethnicity and ‘race’ constitute an indispensable element in the characters’ perception of their cultural identities. These discourses are, in the novel, closely linked to religion and politics. Shahid’s views of his position in British society are ambivalent and confusing. As a person with dark skin, he faces racism, and the experiences of being perceived as someone inferior, due to the fact that he is British, make him feel scared and bewildered:
Everywhere I went I was the only dark-skinned person. How did this make people se me? I began to be scared of going into certain places. I didn’t know what they were thinking. I was convinced they were full of sneering and disgust and hatred. And if they were pleasant, I imagined they were hypocrites. I became paranoid. I couldn’t go out. I knew I was confused and… fucked-up. But I didn’t know what to do. (10)
These encounters with racist behaviour from the side of the dominant ‘white’ society make Shahid think in the same way – he wants to become a racist and in this way dispose of the picture ‘white’ British racists have of people like him: “My mind was invaded by killing-nigger fantasies” (11). Shahid acknowledges that the fact that he is forced to face racist remarks from the outside compels him to become a similar person: “I wouldn’t touch brown flesh, except with a branding iron. I hated all foreign bastards. […] Why is it only me who has to be good? Why can’t I swagger around pissing on others for being inferior? I began to turn into one of them. I was becoming a monster” (11). Shahid’s college friend Chad defends such racist thoughts and insists that the way Shahid thinks about racism and his ethnic and national position is caused by the way ‘white’ people behave to minorities: “It been the longest, hardest century of racism in the history of everything. How can you not have picked up the vibe in this distorted way? There’s a bit of Hitler in all white people – they’ve given that to you. It’s all they ever done for us” (12). Chad, with his extreme views of the Western way of life, attempts to convince Shahid that the white British society is bad and demoralized, and in this way tries to make Shahid believe that he must stand against this society and defend the rights of the ‘black’ Muslim population within Britain. Chad, similarly as Riaz, another of Shahid’s college friends in London, sees himself as a victim of abuse and racism and resorts to a group of Muslim fundamentalists whose aim is to contest the thoughts and deeds of Western society. What Kureishi especially emphasizes in the novel, is the “causal connection between white racism, separatism and Muslim militancy” (Ranasinha 82). Kureishi argues:
Muslim fundamentalism has always seemed to me to be profoundly wrong, unnecessarily restrictive and frequently cruel. But there are reasons for its revival that are comprehensible […] it is constraining, limiting, degrading, to be a victim in your own country. If you feel excluded it might be tempting to exclude others. (qtd. in Ranasinha 83)
The Black Album can be considered, in Ranasinha’s view, a fictional response to the arguments raised by Ayatollah Khomeini’s death threat to Salman Rushdie and the calls to ban The Satanic Verses in 1989 (Ranasinha 83). The novel is set in the late 1980s at the time of the fatwa. Kureishi concentrates on representation of Asian Muslims within Britain “in the context of the racialization of British Muslim identities in the aftermath of the Rushdie affair (1989) and the Gulf War (1991)” (Ranasinha 81). There is an explicit reference to Salman Rushdie in the novel. Shahid reads Midnight’s Children and finds the book initially difficult. Later, he sees Rushdie on television attacking racism, “informing the people how it all arose” (9). Shahid realizes that there is a connection between what he hears on the television and his own life which results in his feeling sensitive in terms of his ethnic and ‘racial’ position: “I began to feel […] in that part of the country, more of a freak than I did normally. I had been kicked around and chased a lot, you know. It made me terrifyingly sensitive. I kept thinking there was something I lacked” (9-10). The confrontation with his Muslim college friends makes Shahid contemplate his situation. But he is not determined, like his friends, to become a devoted Muslim fundamentalist who detests Western views and conceptions of life. Chad’s perception of Western society, on the other hand, is markedly different: “It’s true, people in the West, they think they’re so civilized an’ educated an’ superior, and ninety percent of them read stuff you wouldn’t wipe your arse on” (21). Shahid, on the contrary, yearns for education and learning that the Western metropolis offers. He loves art, music and books and spends considerable time in the library: “He has also gone to the library almost every day; desultory reading was his greatest pleasure, with interruptions for pop records” (20). Shahid finds that reading of novels enables him to understand the world and what happens in it: “Novels are like a picture of life” (21). For him, literature is more than entertainment. This results in his pleading for the importance of intellectuals who, in his view, think more than ordinary people.
In The Black Album, Kureishi presents the Muslim students’ militancy as a concrete response to racial aggression (Ranasinha 86). Ranasinha argues that in the novel, fundamentalism can be seen as providing security and “the assertion of an Islamic identity as a positive identity for Asian youth” (Ranasinha 86). As Chad declares: “No more Paki, me a Muslim” (128). In this sense, the pursuit of fundamental views can be seen as an attempt to define identity of people like Chad and Riaz. Especially Chad finds stability in his Muslim group of friends. This need to belong somewhere stems from his lack of security during his growing-up. As a small child, he was adopted by white parents: “The mother was racist, talked about Pakis all the time and how they had to fit in” (106). As a ‘black’ person Chad experienced feelings of exclusion from English society: “Chad would hear church bells. He’d see English country cottages and ordinary English people who were secure, who effortlessly belonged. You know, the whole Orwellian idea of England” (106). Chad sees that he has neither proper connection to Pakistan nor Britain and lacks the stability in his life which makes him desire a secure place in society. Kureishi portrays the Muslim fundamentalism of Shahid’s friends as an opposition of the liberal individualism defended by Shahid’s lecturer and lover Deedee Osgood. Ranasinha argues that the characters in the novel stand for conflicting beliefs: “democracy and freedom of speech versus authoritarianism and censorship; Shahid’s love of literature and his delight in imaginative explorations, pitted against the group’s dogmatism and resistance to art” (Ranasinha 90). By portraying these opposite directions, Kureishi seems to proliferate binary patterning between what Ranasinha calls “anti-intellectualism and the free inquiry of rational Western liberal thought” (Ranasinha 90). Weber similarly claims that Shahid is “torn between the appeal of religious orthodoxy and the claims of personal imagination” (Weber). Shahid contemplates a position between these two strands and finally does not resort to any of them completely. His embracement of a hybrid cultural identity violates rooted and unambiguous perceptions of existence. Similarly as Karim in BS, Shahid tends to occupy what Bhabha call the ‘in-between’ space, a position that is unstable and unfixed. He understands that his position in British society in terms of ethnic and national affiliation does not necessarily have to be definite and clear.
In both novels Kureishi shows protagonists, Karim in BS and Shahid in BA, who are initially reconciled and content with their ethnicity and national affiliation. They begin to scrutinize their ethnic and racial position only after the impulse from the surrounding society. Before that they do not really think about issues such as racism, inferiority, and ethnic minorities. Their interests lie elsewhere – in the exciting and adventurous life the metropolis of London offers and in acquiring of new experiences. But despite the fact that they feel pressurized from the side of society which tries to determine their situation, they are able to position themselves without adhering to single and rooted places and views. They are positioned between two worlds and their sense of history, past and national belonging is diminished and fragmented. In this sense, they cling to plural ways of existence and are able to perceive life from different perspectives, not just one rooted view. In both novels, Kureishi suggests a changed recognition of ‘nation’ and cultural identity of the postcolonial subjects within contemporary Britain.
5.2 Distinct Views: Generations and Origins As Stein points out, the generation of writers such as Hanif Kureishi is often included in the concept of ‘diaspora’, and “the generational conflict, which is paradigmatic for the bildungsroman, must be concurrently formalized as a cultural conflict between distinct generations” (Stein 58). Stein further asserts that the desire to “return ‘home’ from the diaspora is inflected differently for different generations” (58). Kureishi’s novels focus predominantly on the experiences of immigrants and present views of the metropolitan reality that are perceived differently by the first and the second generations. Kureishi establishes a gulf between generations that, to use Ball’s words, “corresponds to a set of interrelated binaries” (Ball 225). This is visible in both of Kureishi’s novels. The first generation, the parents and more frequently one of the parents, represent tradition and the past. They do not explore the world around them in the way they children do. Most of the time, they stay at home which, for them, represents a familiar and unchanging place. Their children, on the contrary, do not share the same view of home as static and familiar but instead escape the parents’ familiar place in favour of the street. Ball suggests that this exemplifies “the liberation into future opportunities available in and represented by the city as fluid, transformative space” (225). He argues that the first generation is shown in a kind of spatial and psychological retreat due to the fact that, for them, the promise of an open and accommodating Britain was largely betrayed (225). Ball points out:
They are nostalgic, cautious voices newly (if shallowly) rooted in the metropolitan dwelling that represents their only site of continuity and control, a fortress against the affronts to cultural identity and dignity they constantly endure as a function of their precarious perches on the nation’s margin. (Ball 225)
The second generation, on the contrary, appears more assimilated. These young individuals, who were raised in the metropolis of London, “are the objects of greater narrative interest because they are the ones with stories to tell” (Ball 225). As Ball asserts, “their urban existence involves not a hardening around the past but rather discovery, emergence, risk, and real-world conflict” (225). Their relationship to the metropolis of London is different from their parents. They were born in London and the metropolis is, for them, a familiar place and cultural environment – “one that is only weakly and indirectly filtered through the memories of another place” (Ball 224). In BS Karim knows the streets of London and accompanies his father Haroon to the Kays’ because as Karim reveals: “[…] Dad would never have got there without me. I knew all the streets and every bus route” (7). Although Haroon has been living in Britain for many years, his knowledge of London and the country is very weak. Karim feels ashamed of his father’s lack of knowledge:
Dad had been in Britain since 1950 – over twenty years – and for fifteen of those years he’d lived in the South London suburbs. Yet still he stumbled around the place like an Indian just off the boat, and asked questions like, ‘Is Dover in Kent?’ […] I sweated with embarrassment when he halted strangers in the street to ask directions to places that were a hundred yards away in an area where he’d lived for almost two decades. (7)
In BS Haroon’s generation’s lives appear to be more rooted that that of Karim’s generation. But despite this fact, Haroon and his friend Anwar are happy to live as Englishmen and do not desire to return to India: “Perhaps it was the immigrant condition living itself out through them. For years they were both happy to live like Englishmen. Anwar even scoffed pork pies as long as Jeeta wasn’t looking” (64). Further in the novel Karim wonders about his father’s relationship to India which, in Haroon’s perceptions, represents home but at the same time does not symbolize the desired place:
Now as they aged and seemed settled here, Anwar and Dad appeared to be returning internally to India, or at least to be resisting the English here. It was puzzling: neither of them expressed any desire actually to see their origins again. ‘India’s a rotten place,’ Anwar grumbled. ‘Why would I want to go there again? It’s filthy and hot and it’s a big pain-in-the-arse to get anything done. If I went anywhere it would be to Florida and Las Vegas for gambling. (64)
In the character of Anwar, Kureishi shows that the ‘old ways’ first generation of immigrants are likely to embrace outside their homeland are outmoded and unnecessary. When Anwar seeks Haroon’s advise on the planned arranged marriage of his daughter Jamila, Haroon reacts: “We old Indians come to like this England less and less and we return to an imagined India” (74). Anwar clings to an imagined India which makes him believe in his patriarchy. He decides to go on a hunger strike to force Jamila to marry Changez, whom he found in India. Anwar disregards his own English freedom which includes “the prostitutes who hung around Hyde park” (25) and whom “he loved” (25). Kureishi satirizes Anwar’s representation of his ‘fixed identity’ that he, by adhering to Islamic views, sees as originating in India, his homeland.
The first generation in BS perceives Britain in a different way than they had imagined it in the colonies. Haroon, Karim’s father, was sent by his family to be educated and arrived in Britain in the 1940s. When he sees London for the first time, his first reaction is a shock. The reality of the metropolis differs from Haroon’s image of the country: “London, the Old Kent Road, was a freezing shock to both of them. It was wet and foggy; people called you ‘Sunny Jim’ […]” (24). Haroon’s image of England is that of a rich country where people eat “roast beef and Yorkshire pudding” (24). But the reality is different:
Dad was amazed and heartened by the sight of the British in England, though. He’d never seen the English in poverty, as roadsweepers, dustmen, shopkeepers and barmen. He’d never seen an Englishman stuffing bread into his mouth with his fingers, and no one had told him the English didn’t wash regularly because the water was so cold – if they had water at all. And when Dad tried to discuss Byron in local pubs no one warned him that not every Englishman could read or that they didn’t necessarily want tutoring by an Indian on the poetry of a pervert and a madman. (24-25)
The first generation has different expectations of Britain. They anticipate being treated with
respect because they consider themselves educated people. In Britain of the 1950s, however, they are confronted with disappointment and begin to understand that all the migrants are treated in the same way – as the non-white ex-colonized subjects, who are perceived, to provide a link to Said’s description of the ‘Other’ which I have elaborated on earlier in the paper, as strange, backwards, uneducated human beings who belong to the lowest social class.
Kureishi demonstrates the distinct views of different generations on the father-son relationship between Karim and his father Haroon. Karim, who is growing up in Britain, has constantly been placed as ‘Other’ within the society that surrounds him. Considering Karim’s father Haroon, this is not the case for the first generation immigrants. As Yousaf argues, “Haroon’s generation either attempted to disregard a projected ‘negative identity’ or learned their Otherness in Britain” (Yousaf 46). Karim and Haroon have different views of life in Britain because their experiences vary. At the end of the novel Haroon remarks: “I have lived in the West for most of my life, and I will die here, yet I remain to all intents and purposes an Indian man. I will never be anything but an Indian. When I was young we saw the Englishman as a superior being” (263). Karim, on the contrary, sees himself as “an Englishman born and bred, almost” (3). Despite the fact that he is considered a “funny kind of Englishman” (3), he adheres to Britain where he was born and where he is growing up. For him, origins and heritage are disputable issues. Karim’s English mother Margaret reminds him: “But you’re not an Indian. You’ve never been to India. You’d get diarrhea the minute you stepped off that plane, I know you would” (232). Karim’s mother suggests that Karim is English, not Indian. A different view on Karim’s origin can be observed when Karim goes for his first audition in a theatre. Here, Shadwell, the director of the theatre, assumes, judging from Karim’s appearance, that Karim’s origins lie in India and that he can speak the Indian language. In his view, Karim is not an Englishman. Despite the perceptions of other people who see Karim’s generation as ‘foreign’, for young people like Karim and Jamila it is confusing not to be accepted as British (King 85). As a reaction to this confusing view of their identity and origins, the second generation often pretends to be someone other than themselves. Karim confesses: “Yeah, sometimes we were French, Jammie and I, and other times we went black American. The thing was, we were supposed to be English, but to the English we were always wogs and nigs and Pakis and the rest of it” (53). Karim, despite the fact that he does not agree with Shadwell’s perception of his heritage, decides to restage an Asian character based on Jamila’s Indian husband Changez. King claims that in doing so, Karim fills “the missing gaps in his own identity” and in reinventing Changez’s past, he reinvents his own (King 86): “I uncovered notions, connections, initiatives I didn’t even know were present in my mind. I became more energetic and alive as I brushed in new colours and shades. […] I felt more solid myself […] This was worth doing, this had meaning, this added up the elements of my life” (217). In staging an Asian character, despite the fact that he is an Englishman, Karim succeeds in locating himself. In this sense, he does not ignore his origins but realizes that his heritage is multiform. Karim’s approach to the acceptance of his identity changes throughout the novel. In the beginning he wants to be English and not Indian. Later in the novel, he acknowledges that he has connections to his Indian heritage. He is often trying to deny a part of his identity but eventually comes to the conclusion that acquiring one part of his heritage does not necessarily exclude rejecting the other part of his identity. He realizes that his cultural identity can be plural and that both Britishness and Indianness can be part of his ethnicity.
In The Black Album the generational differences and the distinct views of generations form a visible feature. The first generation of immigrants aspires to English ways of life, is ‘Westernized’, and “at best follows secularized version of Islam” (Stein 124). Shahid’s father runs a travel agency “selling exotic package holidays to the English – as authenticity has itself become commodified” (Stein 124). Shahid is forced to work in his father’s agency but his interests lie elsewhere: “[…] instead of sending people to Ibiza I sat in the office reading Malcolm X and Maya Angelou and The Souls of Black Folk. I read about the Mutiny and Partition and Mountbatten. And one morning I started reading Midnight’s Children in bed” (9). Shahid is interested to inquire about the culture and history of ‘black’ people which stems from his position of a second generation immigrant who is located between different worlds. Living in contemporary London, he is surrounded by diverse and dynamic influences. Shahid’s relationship to his father’s country is ambiguous. His college friend Chad, who was adopted by white parents, does not see Pakistan, similarly as Shahid, as his homeland, but in England he often feels rejected by the English people:
When he got to be a teenager he saw he had no roots, no connections with Pakistan, couldn’t even speak the language. So he went to Urdu classes. But when he tried asking for the slat in Southall everyone fell about at his accent. In England white people looked at him as if he were going to steal their car or their handbag, particularly as he dressed like a ragamuffin. But in Pakistan they looked at him even more strangely. Why should he be able to fit into a Third World theocracy? (107)
Shahid’s father does not admire Pakistan but adheres to everything British. In his club in Karachi “hung autographed photographs of Cowdrey and May, and a print of George V broadcasting to the empire; The Times was open on an oak stand” (107). His opinion is that the British should have never left Pakistan. He avers: “1945 – a new country, a fresh start! […] How many people have such an opportunity! Why can’t we run things without torturing and murdering one another, without the corruption and exploitation? What’s wrong with us” (107)? Shahid contemplates his father’s consternations on his visits back to Pakistan at the state of the country: “The place enraged him: the religion shoved down everyone’s throat; the bandits, corruption, censorship, laziness, fatuity of the press; the holes in the roads, the absence of roads, the roads on fire” (107). The first generation exemplified by Shahid’s parents, has come to England to “make an affluent and stable life in a country not run by tyrants” (53). Their situation is more difficult than that of their children who find life in contemporary London easy and adventurous. Uncle Asif explains the difficulties his generation faces in Britain:
‘It’s easy for people, especially if they’re young,’ he said, ‘to forget that we’ve barely arrived over in England. It takes several generations to become accustomed to a place. We think we’re settled down, but we’re like brides who’ve just crossed the threshold. We have to watch ourselves, otherwise we will wake up one day to find we have made a calamitous marriage. (54)
Uncle Asif experiences feelings of bitterness. He finds it hard to live in a country which, in his perception, cannot accommodate “intelligence, initiative, imagination, and in which most endeavor bogged down into hopelessness” (54). Asif’s generation remains rejected by the dominant culture despite its attempt to assimilate in the host country. Shahid’s relationship to his father is that of respect, although he does not respect him as much as he should, as he says (9). He adores him and desires to be like him, but at the same time he disagrees with his father in some ways and thinks it is fundamental to find his own direction in life. Shahid’s brother Chili, on the other hand, shows a much more distant relationship to his father’s generation. Chili is a London yuppie, “a devoted follower of Margaret Thatcher and a voracious consumer of cocaine, and a connoisseur of American gangster movies, his favorites being The Godfather films” (Williams). He is a devoted follower of fashion and money: “Chili’s relentless passion had always been for clothes, girls, cars, girls and the money that bought them” (41). Chili blames his father for not emigrating to the United States where, according to him, the true capitalist opportunities lie: “He had even cursed Papa – out of earshot – for coming to old England rather than standing in line on Ellis Island with the Jews, Poles, Irish and Armenians. England was small-time, unbending […]” (53-54). His approach to life is not as strict as his parents’: “My brother Chili has a …a looser attitude. But then he is a different generation” (7). Chili represents the younger generation that grew up in the contemporary Western metropolis and enjoys all the assets the city offers.
In his writing, Kureishi employs diverse perceptions of generations and families. Ball asserts that by teasing out “the points of connection and separation between different generations’ experiences of metropolitan life”, Kureishi “creates a richer social portrait of the immigrants’ London than do most of his ‘black British’ peers” (Ball 236). In an article on Hanif Kureishi, Bart Moore-Gilbert writes:
Insofar as the nuclear family has been so often equated with the nation in earlier discourses of ‘Englishness’ – especially, perhaps, in the war-time films of the 1940s – the fact that Kureishi characteristically represents it as dysfunctional, and sympathetically presents alternatives to it, such as Jamila’s commune, is highly significant” (qtd. in Ball 236).
As Ball points out, Kureishi’s models of the family are more than ‘alternative’. In BS he exposes extramarital affairs (Haroon and Eva), unconsummated marriages (Changez and Jamila), and bisexual pleasure-seeking (Karim and Charlie). In this way, he manages to subvert “all the conventions – what some discourses would call the moral foundations – of the traditional British family” (Ball 236). What he focuses on, is the second generation’s ‘in-between’ existence, as perceived in theoretical work of Homi K. Bhabha, which is characterized by perceptions of, to refer to Stuart Hall, cultural identity as a relational and unfixed concept. The generation of Karim in BS and Shahid in BA is involved in restaging the views of Britishness and redefining the British nation and its boundaries. As King asserts:
Unlike their parents, young male and female Black British are averse either to harmonizing their voices with those of the Anglos in a chorus written by the latter, or to playing only the music of the lands of their origin. Instead, they see themselves engaged in making a postmodern music of discordant notes and multilingual voices. From such music we can expect a re-articulation and reconfiguration of the discourses of identity. (King 86)
Kureishi’s young characters redefine what it means to be British, and in distorting the traditional views of Britishness, they subvert the perceptions of British identity as being uniform and unchanging.
6. The Transnational Metropolis: Identity and Location English cities, as Ian Baucom points out, “are certainly places in which the nation’s cultural identity continues to be refashioned” (Baucom 191). To follow Paul Gilroy’s concept of ‘roots’ and ‘routes’, identity in the contemporary multicultural world is often reoriented away from the “static metaphor of roots to places and towards a more dynamic focus on routes among places – a more pluralized and relational concept of place-identity” (qtd. in Ball 69). Kureishi employs London as the main setting of his novels. Here, London appears as a dynamic, heterogeneous place which is constantly in motion and undergoes processes of transformation. In connection to the relational model of place, Doreen Massey argues against a notion of place as “bounded, […] as singular, fixed and unproblematic in its identity” and explained against “the other which lies beyond” it; instead Massey argues for a view of places as “open and porous”, and with identities outlined “through the specificity of the mix of links and interconnections to that ‘beyond’” (qtd. in Ball 68). In The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album, Kureishi depicts London as the metropolis which is saturated with energy and possibilities and which stimulates the characters’ personal development and the creation of cultural identities as relational concepts. London in the novels is a centre of social mixture and encounter. As Henri Lefebvre puts it, “as a place of encounters, focus of communication and information, the urban becomes what it always was: place of desire, permanent disequilibrium, seat of the dissolution of normalities and constraints, the moment of play and the unpredictable” (qtd. in Ball 24). These characteristics of an urban place are traceable in both of Kureishi’s novels.
In BS London represents an exciting place that offers numerous opportunities. Karim, who, in the beginning of the novel, lives in the suburbs of the city, aspires to move to the centre of London where all the possibilities lie open for him. For Karim, the city centre is a place of desire and real opportunities. As Lefebvre suggests in his description of urban places quoted above, London for Karim is ‘the moment of play’. One of Karim’s images of the city is his perception of London as a playground which is full of excitement:
Sensational, I thought, looking across the carriage of the Bakerloo Line train at my face reflected in the opposite window. You little god. My feet danced and my fingers did the hand-jive to imaginary music – the Velvettes, ‘He was Really Saying Something’ – as the tube train rushed beneath my favourite city, my playground, my home. (196)
In the novel, Kureishi emphasizes the role of theatre in Karim’s life. The reference to the city as ‘a playground’ suggests this connection. Karim perceives London as “a house with five thousand rooms, all different” (126), an image of the city which can be seen in comparison to a theatre. In this sense, London exemplifies a place where the possibility to travel the world is immense and where numerous perceptions of the world are possible.
London’s centre is often depicted in contrast to the suburbia where Karim lives with his family in the beginning of the novel. Suburbia is perceived as a place which is not desirable for Karim, a place which is boring and dull: “In the suburbs people rarely dreamed of striking out of happiness. It was all familiarity and endurance: security and safety were the reward of dullness. […] It would be years before I could get away to the city, London, where life was bottomless in its temptations” (8). The suburbia in the novel is characterized as a place where education is not as important as “getting into business young” (177). This picture of the suburbs contrasts with the city where, in Karim’s view, people accentuate education: “In the suburbs education wasn’t considered a particular advantage, and certainly couldn’t be seen as worthwhile in itself” (177). When Karim starts meeting people from the city he realizes that “the easy talk of art, theatre, architecture, travel; the languages, the vocabulary, knowing the way round a whole culture […] was invaluable and irreplaceable capital” (177). Speaking about suburban children, Karim acknowledges: “We were proud of never learning anything except the names of footballers, the personnel of rock groups and the lyrics of ‘I am the Walrus’. What idiots we were! How misinformed” (178)! From the beginning of the novel, Karim’s desire to escape the suburbs for the city is obvious: “[…], I cycled out of the suburbs, leaving that little house of turmoil behind me. There was another place I could go” (50). Karim implies, that the suburbs are not sufficient for his yearning for adventure, excitement, culture and opportunities. The suburbs symbolize a place that must be left for a better location: “The suburbs were over: they were a leaving place” (117). This longed-for location is for Karim “London proper” (113) where he can indulge in theatre, films and culture and embrace new opportunities.
To refer to Bhabha’s image of hybrid identities, the suburbs can be perceived as an ‘in-between’ space between the city and the country. The suburbs, where Karim grows up, lie on the margins of the city. Karim’s move from the suburbs, his parents home in South London, can, then, be seen as a move from the margin to the centre. This special differentiation which is visible in The Buddha of Suburbia can be linked to Raymond Williams’ description of the country and the city. The suburbia that represents an ‘in-between’ space can be perceived as symbolizing the “‘undefined present’ caught between ‘an image of the past’ that Raymod Williams identifies with the country and ‘an image of the future’ he associates with the city” (Ball 231). In the beginning of the novel, Karim asserts that he comes from South London suburbs and “is going somewhere” (3). He is ready to leave the suburbs behind and immerse himself in the life in the city which offers multiple possibilities, and which, for him, represents future. London, for him, is a place of experience, new discoveries and cultural exposure. Ball claims that such move from the suburbs to the city can be seen as a “miniaturized version of postcolonial migrancy and culture shock” (Ball 232) where the centre is a preferred place.
The novel is divided in two parts: “In the Suburbs” and “In the City”. In the first part, Karim contemplates the life in the suburbs which he finds boring and uninteresting. Here, Kureishi devotes numerous passages to the description of the suburban life. London, the city, is seen as a contrast to the suburbia. It is ‘a proper place’ where Karim’s father Haroon and his lover Eva spend many evenings “going to the theatre to see controversial plays, to German films or to lectures by Marxists, and to high-class parties” (113). It is a place where important people live, as Karim says, “not the sort we knew in the suburbs, but the real thing: people who really did write and direct plays and not just talk about it” (113). For Karim, the city is a place of new challenges, saturated with culture and history:
The city blew the windows of my brain wide open. But being in a place so bright, fast and brilliant made you vertiginous with possibility. […] Unlike the suburbs, where no one of note – except H. G. Wells – had lived, here you couldn’t get away from VIPs. Gandhi himself once had a room in West Kensington, and the notorious landlord Rachman kept a flat for the young Mandy Rice-Davies in the next street; Christine Keeler came for tea. IRA bombers stayed in tiny rooms and met in Hammersmith pubs, singing ‘Arms for the IRA’ at closing time. […] So this was London at last, and nothing gave me more pleasure than strolling around my new possessions all day. (126)
The city centre is a very attractive place for Karim and provides him with opportunities he lacked in the suburban life. London is a site of cultural interaction, a place that is culturally very diverse. In comparison to suburbia, the city centre is not boring. On the contrary, it is constantly in motion, abundant with interesting and influential people and sites of culture:
There was a sound that London had. It was, I’m afraid, people in Hyde Park playing bongos with their hands; there was also the keyboard on the Doors’s ‘Light My Fire’. There were kids dressed in velvet cloaks who lived free lives; there were thousands of black people everywhere, so I wouldn’t feel exposed; […] there were shops selling all the records you could desire; […] there were parties; […] I was twenty. I was ready for anything. (121)
Karim is zealous to explore all the possibilities London’s city centre offers. The metropolis functions for him as a site of freedom, of social encounters with diverse groups of people. He feels included in the city’s vibrant life and feels he is not the only ‘black’ person around. London is, for him, a world where he can travel and absorb new sensations. London’s heterogeneity makes Karim feel comfortable and enthusiastic. This transnational and multiformed place influences Karim’s plural perception of the world and contributes to the understanding of his cultural identity as a multiple and unfixed notion. The city’s multicultural and heterogeneous character does not force Karim to become a part of a defined and rooted group or perceive the world in a singular way. Karim can develop numerous perceptions of self and his cultural identities can therefore be seen as relational concepts.
London as a transnational and multiformed ‘contact zone’ is a feature that is also visible in The Black Album. The metropolis frames the novel. Although much of The Black Album is set around the university where Shahid and his friends spend a lot of time, it concentrates predominantly on the life in the metropolis. Shahid arrives in London from his parents’ house in Kent and this happens in the beginning of the novel. His perceptions of London before he arrives there are those of a rough place full of diverse people and influences: “Before Shahid came to the city, sat in the Kent countryside dreaming of how rough and mixed London would be, his brother Chili had loaned him Mean Streets and Taxi Driver as preparation” (3). Shahid’s first impressions of the metropolis are influenced by what he sees in the streets of London: “He wondered, too, whether a nearby asylum had been recently closed down, since day and night on the High Road, dozens of exhibitionists, gabblers and maniacs yelled into the air” (3). Shahid appreciates the diversity of London which is visible on its numerous restaurants and shops: “[…] the different odours of Indian, Chinese, Italian and Greek food wafting from open doorways gladdened Shahid […] Situated between a Caribbean wig centre and a Romanian restaurant […] was an Indian café” (3-4). From the start, Shahid experiences London as a complex place saturated with diverse influences and possibilities. In comparison to Kent, London epitomizes a place which is enormous and manifold and which contributes, with its versatility, to Shahid’s feelings of not being visible and easily placed. These feelings differ from Shahid’s initial expectations of London:
He went to the cinema or obtained the cheapest theatre seats, and one night he had attended a socialist political meeting. He went to Piccadilly and sat for an hour on the steps of Eros, hoping to meet a woman; wandered around Leicester Square and Covent Garden; […] he had never felt more invisible; somehow this wasn’t the ‘real’ London. (5)
Shahid has expectations of London which, on his first encounter with the metropolis, are not fulfilled. The pursuit of education is not Shahid’s only purpose of his stay in London. First and foremost, he imagines discovering new possibilities and, similarly as Karim in BS, he is looking for something and is ready for new experiences. Riaz, Shahid’s friend from college, remarks: “You see, it is not just your college work I was referring to here. You are searching for something” (5). Shahid is prepared to face new challenges the metropolis offers: “I want to learn, but I’m hurled into London, it’s gigantic and everything’s anonymous” (17)!
With his lecturer and lover Deedee Osgood Shahid explores London’s streets, clubs and cultural venues. In London’s city centre Shahid can indulge in observing diverse cultural expressions and enjoy popular culture: “Ex-students with pink Mohicans and filthy dogs stood at small street-stalls selling bundles of incense and bootlegs of the Dead, Charlie Hero, the Sex Pistols” (112). The diversity of people Shahid encounters exemplifies the city’s manifold character:
There were a couple of Goths in posthumous make-up […]. There were some smarter kids in business suits who had finished work and would get cabs down to Soho later, going to L’Escargot, Alastair Little or the Neal Street Restaurant. […] some worked in pop and low-budget film, they were runners, assistant editors, music video extras, young directors who’d be going on, later that night, to the latest clubs – Moist, the Future or Religion. (112-113)
With Deedee Shahid exploits the city’s cultural venues and visits numerous clubs, parties and raves in London’s fashionable ends. Deedee with her liberal approach to life influences Shahid’s cultural and personal development. She takes him to famous places in the metropolis, to the punk clubs, to the “Louise’s in Soho, where Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren held court, and to the Roxy, where Elvis Costello and the Police played” (113). It is in the city of London where Shahid encounters the extreme opinions of his fundamentalist Muslim college friends but it is also the same city where he comes closer to the liberal views, freedom of speech and tolerance. London, in this sense represents numerous conflicting strands with which Shahid comes into contact. These conflicting views that are imposed on Shahid, make him think about his identity and position. He acknowledges that it is not easy to cling to clearly defined perceptions of life, politics and religious views. Instead he ponders over ambiguity and chaos: “He believed everything; he believed nothing. His own self increasingly confounded him. One day he could passionately feel one thing, the next day the opposite. Other times provisional states would alternate from hour to hour; sometimes all crashed into chaos” (147). The city’s divergent sensations influence Shahid’s understanding of his own self. He begins to comprehend that his cultural identity can be perceived in terms of various relations and not as an essentialist quality. He sees that one day he can be one person and another day he can become someone completely different. He realizes the possibility of multiple ways of being and the fact that there might be plural ways of existence. In this sense, his life in London, where he confronts various influences in terms of culture, social encounters, politics and religious views, exemplifies a multiformed experience. London’s heterogeneity proves to have significant influence on his perception of his cultural identity which he perceives, eventually, as open and mutable. As the opening passage of the present thesis suggests, Shahid comes to the conclusion that there are “innumerable ways of being in the world” and that it is not necessary to confine “to one system or creed” (274). Instead, cultural identities of postcolonial subjects like him can be understood in terms of plurality, transformation and development. In this sense, the metropolis with its fractured and multiformed character stimulates Shahid’s view of his cultural identity which can be seen as a process that is defined in relation to someone or something and that is never complete.
London in The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album is depicted as a place with social complexity, divergent influences and intermixture of cultures, notions that make the city a transnational place. It is a multicultural site that offers freedom, culture and new influences. In both novels, the young characters like Karim and Shahid, perceive London as a familiar place and are shown “on the move and on the make in the metropolitan cityscape” (Ball 224). They interact with the city’s public spaces such as streets, clubs and schools (Ball 224) which results in their close relationship with the city. They encounter new possibilities and face new challenges which they did not have in their previous life. Their cultural identities are influenced by the city’s dynamic and diverse character and can, therefore, be understood as flexible, interactive and dynamic concepts that undergo processes of constant change. The city’s fast and manifold transformations contribute to the incomplete and open character of Karim’s and Shahid’s cultural identities which are, then, seen in terms of relations and not as essentialist notions.
Conclusion The processes of cultural transformation in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century, such as the fall of the Empire, immigration from former colonies and the expansion of the multicultural population, have influenced new ways of looking at the conceptions of identity of postcolonial subjects within Britain. These experiences are scrutinized in the body of writing of the ‘post-Windrush’ novelists who, among other things, accentuate the hybrid existence and complex identities of the second generation immigrants in contemporary Britain. The discussed novels The Buddha of Suburbia and The Black Album by Hanif Kureishi exemplify a body of writing that reflects these changes in contemporary British society. Writers like Kureishi are not, to use Williams words, writing about “postcolonial subject displaced in Britain” but as the “British subject in a postcolonial world trying to contest and displace the dominant narrative of nation” (Williams). In his writing, Kureishi addresses the possible refashioning of the conceptions of cultural identities of predominantly the second generation immigrants. Such refashioning and rethinking of cultural identities has become the focus of a number of theorists and critics, such as Paul Gilroy, Stuart Hall or Homi K. Bhabha, among others. These theorists, who began writing predominantly in the late 1980s, are interested in conceptions of hybrid cultural identities and in the dynamics of hybridities and marginalities. In their view, cultural identities of contemporary ‘postcolonial’ subjects cannot be perceived as essentializing concepts and as pure, stable and unchangeable notions. In the discussed novels, Kureishi tries to map out the formation and existence of cultural identities of British born migrants of his own generation and challenges the perceptions of such identities as essentialist and fixed concepts. He moves away from the limitations of categories and presents identities that are more ambiguous and complex. In this thesis I have attempted to show that the characters of Kureishi’s two novels, more precisely the characters of mixed cultural background, become aware of the fact, that the creation of cultural identities of people like themselves, should be understood as a dynamic process of constant development, negotiation and change. Hence, cultural identities of the ‘postcolonial subjects’ in contemporary Britain, as exemplified on a number of Kureishi’s characters, do not rely on fixity and stability but embrace ambiguity and plurality. Although the importance of roots is for them still significant, they do not pivot on rigid borders and do not confine themselves to one possibility in life.
Karim in The Buddha of Suburbia and Shahid in The Black Album exemplify protagonists whose cultural identity is fragmented and far from homogeneous. In this sense, it is difficult to situate them into strictly defined groups and see them in terms of binary oppositions which are not applicable to their multi-formed and hybrid existence. They find themselves in a position which is closer to what Paul Gilroy calls ‘routes’ rather than ‘roots’. Their possibilities are open, multiple and there is an emphasis on possible transformation and change. The cultural identities of these young individuals, then, cannot be perceived as static and fixed but rather as being liable to development and change. The understanding of such cultural identities is, therefore, comparable to an ongoing process rather that an inert condition. The migrants’ position in contemporary multicultural metropolis can be seen as an active and conflictual process. Here, the metropolis of London, which symbolizes a place of social encounter and cultural intermixture, stimulates the understanding of cultural identities as relational concepts. London can be viewed as a decentred place which, with its heterogeneous character, stimulates the exploration of transnational models of identity.
Kureishi’s writing can be seen as an example of the fact that many conceptual binaries, such as centre and periphery, self and other, inside and outside, have been challenged and have given way to more mutable and ambiguous concepts of hybridity, transculturation, border lives and ‘in-between’ space. These concepts suggest that notions such as ‘belonging’, ‘home’ and ‘nation’ can be perceived in terms of ambivalence and fluidity and reveal a new way of thinking about cultural identities of the postcolonial subjects within contemporary Britain.
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1 Quoted from the final passage of Hanif Kureishi’s The Black Album (1995)
2 The name ‘contact zone’ is used by Mary Louise Pratt to mark the in-between space where diverse cultures that met because of imperial activity encountered and influenced each other (Pratt 6).
3 I borrow this term from Mark Stein’s book Black British Literatures: Novels of Transformation (2004). Here, Stein uses the term “Windrush generation” to mark writers who migrated to Britain around the time of the arrival of SS Empire Windrush in 1948 from places such as West Indies (V.S. Naipaul, Sam Selvon, Wilson Harris), Asia and Africa (Wole Soyinka, Kamala Markandaya, Ambalavaner Sivanandan or Buchi Emecheta). The writing of these authors from the post-WWII period differs from the writing of the ‘second generation’ authors who started writing in the 1970s and 1980s. For this generation of writers Stein uses the term ‘post-Windrush’ novelists.
4 This is a reference to the protagonist of Hanif Kureishi’s novel The Buddha of Suburbia (1990) Karim Amir, who at the beginning of the novel ponders about his identity: “My name is Karim Amir, and I am an Englishman born and bred, almost” (Kureishi 1990, 3).
5 This excerpt from an interview with Hanif Kureishi is taken from the article “A State of Perpetual Wondering: Diaspora and Black British Writers” by Bronwyn T. Williams as it appears on the Postcolonial Web
6 The concept of ‘roots’ and ‘routes’ is taken from Paul Gilroy’s book The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (1993). Here, Gilroy alludes to the Atlantic that connects Europe, Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean. The ships that linked these shores represent for him “the shifting spaces in between the fixed places they connected” and point to “the playful diasporic intimacy that has been a marked feature of transnational black Atlantic creativity” (qtd. in Ball 108).