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A Ghost of a Fiction: Fury and the Poetics of Simulacra

L’ombre d’un roman: Fury et la poétique du simulacre
Madelena Gonzalez


Cet article met en évidence les voies empruntées par un roman contemporain aux prises avec la disparition du réel. La poétique du simulacre mise en œuvre dans Fury situe le roman de Rushdie dans un univers baudrillardien de simulation où le récit règne en maître et où l’homme postmoderne est l’éternel prisonnier de la fiction. L’histoire se déroule dans un contexte que le lecteur identifie comme étant celui de la télévision, du cinéma et d’Internet; elle mélange les références à Sex and the City, Tomb Raider, Pulp Fiction et Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Il s’agit de récupérer un nombre infini de récits recyclés qui ont tendance à remplacer la spontanéité pour répondre à nos questions existentielles contemporaines. Même la lutte politique qui a lieu à la fin du roman ne peut qu’imiter la fiction et faire de la révolution un récit de plus qui n’a pas réussi à intéresser son public, à l’instar de la guerre du Golfe décriée par Baudrillard. Le roman prend ses distances avec le réalisme et exprime une nostalgie d’émotions fortes. Il opère une frappe chirurgicale contre un univers de simulacre avec lequel il a pourtant certaines affinités, comme le suggère son esthétique post-réaliste. Fury est l’ombre d’un roman et emploie les mots comme symboles transparents d’une réalité affaiblie, tout en faisant preuve d’un hyperscepticisme courageux et caractéristique de notre condition post-tragique.

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The Poetics of Simulacra: Sound and Vision but no Fury

  • 1 See, for instance, ‘Fury By Salman Rushdie’ (Good, or Kumar who taxes Rushdie with ‘a (...)
  • 2 One might even go as far as to say that it also illustrates his contention that a fourth order has (...)
  • 3 By the ‘moronic inferno’ I refer to the contemporary, American, ‘‘urban nightmare, sexual and obsce (...)
  • 4 Matt Thorne ‘can feel the author attempting to emulate Philip Roth’, but Solanka is too sentimental (...)

1Rushdie’s penultimate novel, Fury, set in contemporary New York bewildered and displeased many critics who bemoaned the passing of magic realism and its replacement by an eerie Baudrillardean poetics of simulacra.1 ist espousal of theories of the disappearance of the real, the idea that representation precedes and determines the real, makes it redolent of the third order of simulacra which Baudrillard associates with the postmodern age.2 Far from the now clichéd aesthetic of a genre (magic realism) which Rushdie had already started to parody in The Moor’s Last Sigh, we descend here into the heart of the ‘moronic inferno’ where the writer has recently made his home.3 However, his first ‘American novel’ has him dancing the cool cybernetic rather than the hot fantastic.4

  • 5 Catherine Miquel agrees on the difficulty of fitting Fury into the Rushdiean canon, but for differe (...)

2This article will attempt to show how the rejection of the magic realist paradigm makes of Fury a ghost of established Rushdiean poetics, in order to engage with a universe of simulacra whose epicentre is New York.5 The exchange between the real and the fake which is its central preoccupation produces a parody of the art of the novel and its claims to the transcendental, replacing it with replication and mirroring. Tragedy and real emotion are sacrificed to the counterfeit, thanks to the rampant technophilia of post-realism in a society where simulated or coded structures are shown to have superseded authentic and unmediated experience. The novel occupies a position of complicitous critique with Baudrillard’s third order of simulacra and in doing so evinces a courageous hyperscepticism towards our postmodern condition.

  • 6 Brooke Allen in The Atlantic Monthly evokes ‘a more controlled style of fiction. [. . .] Rushdie, t (...)

3The switch to a more tightly controlled third-person narrative after the sprawling first-person hysteria of the disturbed and disturbing narrators of his two previous novels would seem to signal a more sober approach, belying the novel’s title.6 Gone are the characteristic flights of oratory and the contortions of English as it is taken to its limits and back. There is a significant downsizing, ‘an almost MP3 level of compression’ (Tonkin) and language is at the service of gadgetry and gimmickry rather than poetry. Fury namedrops and cameos its way though contemporary culture in the manner of a Bret Easton Ellis novel.

4Rushdie’s vehicle for his tale is Malik Solanka, an anti-hero who, despite the demons and the Furies supposedly besetting him, never manages to move us to deep emotion. More unsettling is the suggestion contained within Fury’s internal map that any real location not only partakes of an all-pervading fictionality, but is also actually swallowed up by it, a contention illustrated by the very direct and obvious reference to fiction, if not fantasy, contained within the name of the South Pacific island where some of the action takes place—Lilliput-Blefuscu. This clearly calls to mind the image of the map to which Baudrillard has recourse in ‘La précession des simulacres’ in order to explain how contemporary society gives precedence to the simulated copy over the original: ‘Le territoire ne précède plus la carte, ni ne lui survit. C’est désormais la carte qui précède le territoire—précession des simulacres—, c’est elle qui engendre le territoire’ (1981: 10).

5Part science fiction, part murder mystery, part romance, part satire, the book is a confused generic mixture, typical of the hybrid aesthetics of the postmodern. ist ‘fury’ conceit is less convincing as an explanation for its poetics than its attraction to, and representation of, the fatal exchange between the real and the imaginary in a society where they are no longer on opposite sides of a frontier, but sharing the same territory. The differences between the two are gradually erased, resulting in an all-encompassing lack of originality. It is this lack which informs the poetics of Fury as an ironic comment on the state of contemporary art, and indeed on its own status as a novel.

6Vouchsafing only half-hearted gestures to character and plot, Rushdie allows art to fade into pop, the trashy technobeat of contemporary McCulture. With its incessant chatter, mediated through the consciousness of a protagonist on the run from the reality of himself, the novel provides a soundtrack to the condition of late postmodernity, but in a miniaturised, iPod, sound-bite format which leaves little scope for the development of the big emotions promised by the title and subject matter. Solanka’s role often seems to be reduced to that of temporary voiceover on the current Zeitgeist.

7The storyettes which stand in for full-blown tale, reproduce uncritically our modern technological ‘culture of interruptions’ (Connor 77) and offer a new form of ‘work in progress’ (Rushdie 191), relying on the paradigm of Internet fiction, designed for skim readers with a limited attention span. In imitation of Solanka’s website with its preference for ‘lateral leaps’ and ‘variation’ over ‘linear progression’ and ‘chronology’ (186–7), Rushdie bares his device, storyboarding different plotlines as if to tailor them to expected audience response. The defining locus of the action is a world visually recognizable from television, cinema and the Internet, a New York and an America of self-referential parody, a cross between Sex and the City, Tomb Raider, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Pulp Fiction, a recuperation of an infinity of recycled narratives which have become a common response to existence. The suggestion is that spontaneity can no longer exist in a society where there is unlimited access to simultaneous versions of a multiplicity of stories rather than truths.

8Thus, even a serious political struggle, such as that which takes place at the climax of the novel on Lilliput-Blefuscu can do nothing more than imitate a second-hand fictional narrative, the hero’s science-fiction web saga. Revolution is just another instance of simulation, reminiscent of Baudrillard’s infamous Gulf War. This is not the Rushdie of the carnivalesque, the one who celebrated plurality and hybridity, but one who seems fascinated by the solipsistic contemplation of the disappearance of the real. Storytelling no longer signals salvation and renewal, as it did in the earlier fiction, but is a manifestation of the void at the heart of consumer society, ‘a tragedy of insulation’ (Rushdie 153). Art is reduced to a shadow of its former self, the spectre at the feast of consumerist fantasy. As Judi Nitsch explains, Solanka is ‘simultaneously enamoured and disgusted with the glittering spectacle of American wealth’ (Nitsch) but, according to her, it is precisely this contradictory stance which allows the novel to occupy a critical space: ‘A text so saturated with ambivalence may reveal ways in which postcolonial subjects and narratives can challenge the democratizing rhetoric of the new global/information age’ (Nitsch).

  • 7 Tonkin’s review is accompanied by a very large picture of Rushdie with his companion, Padma Lakshmi (...)

9The novel also partakes of the growing disneyfication of its author as it becomes impossible to separate the image from the real man who disappeared into the front page after the Fatwa and who, like his main protagonist, is increasingly part of contemporary celebrity culture. At times it reads as a clearly signposted theme park of Rushdie’s life, and some reviewers relied heavily on the autobiographical element to provide them with much-needed copy for a slim and puzzling novel.7 This is hardly surprising, for Fury clearly invites such reactions but, as has been pointed out, ‘The book is not about Rushdie’s life, but about Rushdie as a brand name, as paratext, and as icon’ (Brouillette 151). In other words its very poetics exemplify the uncanny doubling of which its author has been made a victim. Indeed one might be forgiven for considering the loss of the real to be the hallmark of Rushdie’s later fiction: ‘Now Rushdie seems to perceive reality itself as having been constructed along the lines of Midnight’s Children. As a result, he no longer seems to be making art’ (Siegel).

10Certainly Fury is situated in a world which is both Kansas and Oz at the same time and this blurring has nothing to do with the exuberant playfulness of previous novels, but rather with its fascination for simulacra. Rejecting the magic realist paradigm, it refuses to revel in the marvellous and to celebrate the poetry of the everyday. Instead it wallows in the obsessive-compulsive banality of a culture which knows how to copy, but not how to invent. Ironic metatextual awareness of the spectacle of commercialization and celebrification is the antidote the novel proposes to the deadening pedagogy of consumption which threatens to dominate the literary marketplace in the twenty-first century, vindicating the collapse of distance and transcendence so typical of information society, according to Baudrillard: ‘Aujourd’hui plus de transcendance, mais la surface immanente de déroulement des operations, surface lisse, opérationnelle, de la communication’ (1983: 72). While depicting the flattening of experience, Rushdie’s recourse to metafictional strategies and irony is a gesture towards another order, outside and above, a possible escape from one-dimensionality.

The Real and its Double: New York, New York, So Good they Named it Twice

  • 8 The fact that New York was originally named New Amsterdam reinforces the text’s self- consciousness (...)

11What better place than New York to tell the story of postmodern culture, based on obsessive consumption and tragically devoid of substance. For Rushdie, North America seems to be the prime locus of fantasy and also the ultimate in self-referentiality.8 The epitome of ersatz, it is the perfect setting for the self-conscious poetics of the novel and the anti-hero’s solipsism: ‘Across the street from Pythia’s phoney Assyrian palace, the city’s best simulacrum of a Viennese Kaffeehaus was just opening its doors [. . .] Solanka went inside [. . .] and allowed himself to join in this most transient of cities eternal imitation game’ (44). It is a corrupt location which feasts on the living, swallowing up originality and appropriating it to itself to swell its already full stomach, a vulture devouring culture for profit within the triumphant logic of late-capitalism. Thus, once inside the contemporary mediaverse, Solanka’s creation, the philosopher doll, ‘Little Brain’, rapidly becomes a debased icon, a ‘monster of tawdry celebrity’ (98). As the royalties roll in, original art pays the ransom of popularity by becoming a shadow of its former self, or, simulacrum: ‘This L.B. was an impostor, with the wrong history, the wrong dialogue, the wrong personality, the wrong wardrobe, the wrong brain. Somewhere in medialand there was a Château d’If in which the real Little Brain was being held captive. Somewhere there was a Doll in an Iron Mask’ (98). Rushdie’s cartoon is both apocalyptic and comic, an ironic foregrounding of the hyperreal. It illustrates the confusion of categories characteristic of a society where the boundaries between the real and virtual world are irretrievably blurred.

12Solanka’s illicit relationship with his attractive young neighbour, Mila, sets the tone for what is to come, as she initiates him into the forbidden pleasures of pornographic and technological fantasy, opening the door to the unlimited wealth of the realm of virtual reality and becoming the literal manifestation of one of his fictional creations; a ‘living doll’ (131). From his first novels, Rushdie has always enjoyed playing with the literalisation of metaphor. Here it becomes the manifestation of dangerous indifferentiation rather than innovation. In the words of Baudrillard: ‘Rien n’est pire que ce qui est plus vrai que le vrai. Tel le clone, ou l’automate dans l’histoire de l’illusionniste’ (1983: 56). Slipping progressively into a frightening and inevitable doubleness, Solanka’s integrity, both personal and artistic, is compromised by his involvement with Mila and her Internet empire. In an improbable twist of the consciously creaking machinery of the unreliable plot, he suddenly falls in love with the perfect woman, the stunningly beautiful, twenty-five-year-old Neela.

13In a sense neither Neela nor Mila really exist, and they fail to engage the reader’s sympathies for this very reason. They are products of the media (Neela is a documentary and film producer), the former a fairy princess doubling as Action Woman and Lara Croft, and the latter a ‘Queen Webspyder’, Morgan le Fay with a laptop. There is no way of escaping the empire of signs and its repressive codes of which the women and the ethnic minorities in the novel are the main victims. When Neela gives her life to save her lover, she is wearing a mask of her fictional persona, created by him. This ontological blurring is a tragic and ironic recognition of the impossibility of recapturing an original purity which has already been written out of the script of reality, as well as a comment on woman’s status as object. If Rushdie’s female characters seem to enjoy little freedom outside Solanka’s doll’s house, this can be read as much as a critique of their objectification by commodity society as a misogynistic impulse on the author’s part.

14Ontological confusion can be felt in the very nature of the diegesis itself for it cultivates a dizzying metaleptic conceit: the story of the novel increasingly takes as its reference the imaginary world created by the fictional Solanka. However, this fantasy is already a copy of the latter’s ‘real’ world which is, of course, fictional for the reader of the novel, Fury. While mimicking the contemporary subject’s loss of the real, the book also invites the reader to reflect on that loss.

  • 9 Eliotian scepticism is quite in keeping with Solanka’s world-weary disillusionment when he first ar (...)
  • 10 For a detailed examination of the issue of genre in Fury, the reader may consult Miquel.

15Although Solanka, former historian and academic, can only lament the brute commercialization of his life’s work, the fact that art has been reduced to the mere art of packaging, necessary to win over a mass audience, it is precisely the possibility of voiding or emptying out, of losing oneself which has drawn him to the States in the first place, to become a ‘hollow man’ in a ‘dead land’, as it were.9 The confusion of roles, if not (unconscious) suggestion of bisexuality echoed throughout his doll-obsessed career, means that he is suspended in the limbo of what remains undefined, the prisoner of a hermaphroditic impulse, reflected by the text’s lack of generic definition and the increasing blurring of the fantastic and the real.10 When he takes his place on the whirligig of heady consumerism, he exchanges authenticity for the fake. This exchange will mark the beginning of an irretrievable decline for, as he submits to America’s lessons in the logic of exploitation, creation, whether artistic or of oneself, is shown to be a terrifying and irrevocable parasitism on a diminished reality.

16Judi Nitsch highlights the possible political shortcomings of the novel as read through a militant postcolonial framework: ‘What is surprisingly missing in Rushdie’s text is an engagement with the problematic gender and class realities that allow a cosmopolitan man, of colonial origins or not, to prosper from an exploitative world economy that has dramatically widened the gap between rich and poor’ (Nitsch). However, if Fury adopts the oxymoronic stance of troubled celebration of the technological benefits of the information age, familiar to readers of cyberpunk novels, this is nevertheless undercut by scepticism towards the effects of the modern mediaverse on humanity and sociality.

The Imprint of the Fake: Replication and Mirroring

17The physical and mental exhaustion from which the beleaguered hero, a sort of ‘burnt-out case’, is suffering at the beginning of the tale, is rapidly accompanied by the effects of a sinister replenishment, as Mila introduces him to the unreality of modern-day America and teaches him how to turn fantasy to account: Malik begins shamelessly to exploit the reality surrounding him in order to feed the imagined world of his science-fiction saga. However, the story of a race of cyborgs or ‘Puppet Kings’ on the planet of Galileo-1 who are manipulated by their creator and, aspiring to humanity, stage a revolt, highlights the existential lack which threatens a civilisation in thrall to technology.

18Closely related to that of the film, The Matrix, itself based on William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the plot intentionally foregrounds its derivative status, providing a mirror image of the whole novel. However, intertextuality is no longer a celebratory practice flowing from the ocean of the sea of stories championed in Haroun. Artistic inspiration is replaced by a terrifying image of indiscriminate pantophagy as Malik’s proliferating saga progresses: ‘a fictional beast capable of constant metamorphosis, which fed on every scrap it could find: it’s creator’s personal history, scraps of gossip, deep learning, current affairs, high and low culture, and the most nourishing diet of all—namely, the past’ (190). In fact this is an accurate description of Fury itself, a sort of ironical canonization of its poetics in the Baudrillardean sense of the term which draws attention to simulation and thus exposes it as such. The reproduction of an excerpt from the saga, set apart and printed in a different typeface in chapter twelve, emphasises this artificiality.

  • 11 According to Jencks, ‘[Post-modernism] is always hybrid, mixed, ambiguous, or what I have called ‘d (...)

19The fictional beast released by Malik’s acceptance of a compromise with consumption mirrors his own furiousdoppelganger and provides a telling comment on the nature of art in the postmodern age. Charles Jencks, one of the founder theorists of postmodernism, has repeatedly stressed that its essence is double-coding,11 a theory extended to literature by Linda Hutcheon in her notion of ‘complicitous critique’ (Hutcheon 2). Malik is the embodiment of this troubling duality, both critical of, but also complicit with, another self. Behind the sad late-middle-aged man, lies a potential murderer. As the vital resources of reality are increasingly threatened by the emergence of the fantastic double, an irreconcilable irony emerges: the only way to save the principle of reality is to hide the fact that the real is no longer real by giving substance to its imaginary double. In a breathtaking mise en abyme, illustrated by ‘the intervention of the living dolls from the imaginary planet Galileo-1 in the public affairs of actually existing Earth’ (226), reality is reduced to a debased copy of fiction, which is, itself, already a debased copy of reality. Thus the only second coming to which the postmodern subject and reader can look forward, is an ironic one, a premature resurrection of a dead model which deconstructs its significance in advance.

20Malik follows Neela to her homeland, the South Sea island, where a messy revolution should, nevertheless, promise an authentic climax. However, the unmistakable imprint of the fake is stamped on the very faces of the rebels who have chosen to ape roles in the ‘Puppet Kings’ saga by donning the masks belonging to its different protagonists. The commercial spin-offs from the saga in the form of masks and ‘Let The Fittest Survive’ t-shirts, quickly take precedence over the complexities of the original story, fatally depriving it of its artistic aura, already depleted due to its unoriginal poetics of recycling, and reducing it to a general concept of marketing. Equally ironically, Malik’s fears of being a murderer, whether for real, or merely of his ‘fictional offspring’ (103), fade into insignificance, for his double is no longer a terrifying other, but a lifeless copy of a now powerless original, the carcase of a deflated spook, left over from a superfluous mise-en-scène, the walking corpse of postmodern man trapped within fiction.

21The creative omniscience with which he was tempted by Mila and her ‘webspyders’, is no more than a delusion, for the omniscient artist has been superseded by the technology of the counterfeit which demands that authenticity be sacrificed to imitation. The technoverse, which the book shows to be the new locus of art, flourishes on ‘replication and mirroring’ (225), endlessly increasing access and erasing difference thanks to a supposedly democratic exercise of levelling: ‘Until the advent of hyperlinks, only God had been able to see simultaneously into past, present and future alike; human beings were imprisoned in the calendar of their days. Now however, such omniscience was available to all, at the merest click of a mouse’ (187). With computers as the uncanny doubles of their brains, the spectre of an ‘advanced’ postmodernism hovers over Rushdie’s protagonists, threatening to swallow up original art and replace it with the simulation par excellence of Warhol’s soup tins.

22Allowing themselves to be mesmerized by the spectacle of consumer society, the disciples of commercialism joyfully enter the realm of consensual hallucination, oblivious to the danger it represents for integrity, as played out in Malik’s web fantasy: ‘Professor Solanka was [. . .] deliriously entranced by the shadow-play possibilities [. . .] of the two sets of doubles, the encounters between ‘real’ and ‘real’, ‘real’ and ‘double’, which blissfully demonstrated the dissolution of the frontiers between categories’ (187). The mirroring which seems to promise unlimited freedom for the artist, as well as for consumers, is in fact a parody of creativity that produces only clones; it is the tangible evidence of the regressive poetics of endless mise en abyme, complicit with the recuperation of difference and the mechanization of the human. Fury’s depiction of our consumer society takes into account the fabulous destiny of homo consumericus envisaged by Lipovetsky: ‘Une nouvelle figure de l’individu a pris corps: elle n’est autre que celle de l’hyperconsommateur globalisé’ (2006: 125), but also plays out the threat to the libido evoked by Stiegler: ‘la destruction du narcissisme primordial qui a résulté de la canalisation de la libido des consommateurs vers les objets de la consommation (2004: 13). The novel’s excess of mirror images is part and parcel of a dead aesthetic which is the by-product of the conditioning of marketing.

Post-Tragic and Post-Real

23The paradise promised by the logic of consumption is a monumental confidence trick, as Malik suggests, by referring to the science fiction film, Solaris. The idyllic image at the end of the film, is no more than sadistic staging. It is the artificial landscape or nowhere space where everything is possible and nothing ever fully realised, where consumption stands in for consummation.

24Instead of living spontaneously, the inhabitants of this cyber wilderness direct their lives according to the scripts on offer. They are beings of pure surface, subjects at one with the image. Thus what should be one of the most dramatic scenes in the book, when the sleeping Malik is threatened by Mila’s armed and jealous boyfriend, is smoothed into pastiche, a medley of familiarity, confiscating the possibility of tragedy: ‘For Eddie, his movie-hoodlum riffs possessed more authenticity than any more natural pattern of speech [. . .] at his disposal. In his mind’s eye he was Samuel L. Jackson, about to waste some punk. He was a man in a black suit, a man named after a colour, slicing up a trussed-up victim to the tune of ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’’ (231). Authenticity is replaced by acting and the ‘fight to the death between the counterfeit and the real’ (177), staged for the web-site drama, has already reached its climax in the ‘real’ world which Rushdie configures for his readers as Baudrillardean hyperreality: ‘the age of simulacra and counterfeits, in which you can find any pleasure known to woman or man rendered synthetic, made safe from disease and guilt—a lo-cal, lo-fi, brilliantly false version of the awkward world of real blood and guts. Phoney experience that feels so good that you actually prefer it to the real thing’ (232).

25It is not surprising then that the celebratory aesthetics of magic realism have given way in Fury to the rampant technophilia of Malik’s ‘brave new electronic world’ (186) and its post-realist effects. Discomfort with oneself, in one’s body, such as that described by Malik, leads one to seek out ‘virtual (that is, socially escapist) relationships with and through technology’ (Lucy 22). It is the equivalent of self-immolation, a discrete fading, an evasion of the corporeal, reflected in the way the focalizer’s inner monologue has a tendency to disappear into a discursive hole: ‘Things grew opaque; no, no, that wasn’t right. What became opaque was you’ (182).

26Solanka’s ‘mechanical fictions’ (165) not only point ironically to the commodification of literature, of which, one might assert, the novel, Fury, is itself an example, but also provide a sinister mirror image of what human beings may become, as they abandon the ‘language of the heart’ (183). This abandonment of authenticity, is a collective consensual tragedy, the only one to which access is unlimited. Like the wealthy young murderers who dress up in Disney costumes in order to kill their girlfriends and are able to acquire everything but real life, postmodern subjects are shown to be eternal prisoners of the fake, never able to ‘transcend the nausea of the replica’ (Foster 16). They are not the machines of desirous connections dreamed up by Deleuze and Guattari, but shambling automatons, mouthing predictable formulas and condemned to join the ranks of the Un-dead until such time as they can be resuscitated not to full, but to fictional life: ‘We were our stories and when we died, if we were very lucky, our immortality would be in another such tale’ (51).

27Pop is bromide, the new opium of the masses, proposing, instead of revolution, the illusion of equality through the media, the egalitarian flattening of culture which heralds the death of discriminatory poetics and politics: ‘O Dream-America, was civilization’s quest to end in obesity and trivia, at Roy Rogers and Planet Hollywood, in USA Today and on E!; or in million-dollar-game-show greed or fly-on-the-wall voyeurism; or in the eternal confessional booth of Ricki and Oprah and Jerry [. . .]; or in a spurt of gross-out dumb-and-dumber comedies designed for young people who sat in darkness howling their ignorance [..?]’ (87). The ecstasy of communication is in fact the obscenity of excessive visibility, as expressed by Baudrillard: ‘L’obscénité commence quand il n’y a plus de spectacle, plus de scène, plus de théâtre, plus d’illusion, quand tout devient d’une transparence et d’une visibilité immédiate, quand tout est soumis à la lumière crue et inexorable de l’information et de la communication’ (1987: 20). While bewailing a lost Eden of originality, Rushdie’s text, in its very recuperation of pop mythology, tempts us to settle for ironic recycling in place of innovation, making us the complicit consumers of the very tendencies it is criticising. In this sense it is the solipsistic and aphasic avatar of the information age, a fractal endlessly reproducing itself as miniaturised copy, the phantom projection of a fading original obscured by virtual reality. However, at the same time, this ghostly presence signals frantically towards the empty stage, inviting us to question the transparent order of things.

The Ghost of a Fiction

28By being sincere with Neela and telling her at last the dreadful story of child abuse which has been gnawing away at him, Malik hopes to rise above the doll-like existence to which the couple seems condemned. However, by using the same term for his childhood trauma as for the plot of his fictional creations, ‘backstory’, he reveals that he is already in the thrall of the fake, a true inhabitant of a universe of simulation where all is narrative. The aura of unreality that colours the events on the island to which Solanka travels in search of an authentic climax is not only the result of his soft focus and, sometimes rambling, interior monologue. The suggestion seems to be that postmodern man can only step from fiction to fiction, whatever may be the extremes to which he goes, and that, as Mila asserts, all life is merely play, empirical rather than transcendent.

  • 12 It is significant that Solanka returns to England at the end of the novel to spend his days wanderi (...)

29The coda with which the novel finishes is further evidence of the childish detachment and weightlessness of the postmodern subject. Homeless, jobless and completely alone, Malik’s affectless reaction to his personal tragedy enhances the book’s obsession with emptiness, reflected in its spare style, and representative of a society which, ‘values (sic) the signifier above the signified’ (153). In this sense its ritual and unconvincing invocation of fury is a performative gesture towards filling the void. Closing, with an image of infantile regression, the tale leaves Malik jumping up and down on a bouncy castle, in a parody of Gatsby, that ‘gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover’ and self-made man. Literally reaching for the sky, the ending falls (intentionally?) flat, an ironic judgement on Solanka’s American dream and ‘the commercialization of America seen as the mythical redeeming utopia’ (Deszcz).12

  • 13 According to Jencks again: ‘The post-modern agenda has many normative aspects to it that are positi (...)

30The habitual ebullience of the Rushdiean canon has been absorbed into the ghost of a fiction where words have become transparent symbols of a depleted reality. A certain flattening and ‘dumbing down’ threaten to make the novel an avatar of the very ‘industry of culture’ (24) to which it shows such an ambiguous attitude. Low culture has not only tamed high, it would seem, but also absorbed it into a more streamlined product; one adapted to an audience with a limited attention span, more familiar with the demands of the media than those of literature. This would make of the book a passive manifestation of the postmodern condition rather than a political representation of the postmodern movement or agenda, as defined, for example, by Charles Jencks,13 if it were not for its aesthetic and metafictional ironies. The ‘Puppet King’ saga, for instance, can be seen as a comment on the whole book, where the disappearance of the creator and the democratization of ‘art’, thanks to technology, does not necessarily signal freedom for the subject to create, but enslavement to second-rate fantasy, and this is, of course, mirrored by Malik’s fate, both personal and artistic.

31The novel’s nostalgia, not so much for realism as for the real emotion expressed in its title, is a surgical strike against a world of simulacra while also being complicit with it, as both its tone and form, and indeed, its post-realist aesthetics suggest. ist dust jacket, showing the Empire State Building wreathed in a threatening cloud, and the parallel it pursues between contemporary New York and ancient Rome just before the fall of its empire, make it now seem prophetic, and literally uncannily so. The terrorist attacks of the eleventh of September 2001 cruelly and tragically challenged the nonchalance of ‘advanced’ postmodernism and late capitalist hedonism with a brutal demonstration of an ideology which still deals very definitely in reality.

32The unbearable lightness of being symbolised by the simulated glee of Malik’s bouncing, seems to be the alternative the novel proposes to the deadly seriousness of fundamentalism. Rather than be destroyed, like Neela, by the dangerous extremism of ideology gone mad, a fate of which Rushdie himself must be acutely aware, Malik’s actions suggest the possibility of a courageous hyperscepticism. Fury is obviously not a militant riposte to the inequalities of the current global order and its technological ramifications, but neither is it merely an exercise in postmodern narcissism. Rushdie’s poetics of simulacra haunts the consumerist paradigm of contemporary experience as its distorted mirror image. It shows a world where culture has replaced ideology and politics is now a commodity. In this context, the spectre of globalisation radiating out from an American epicentre, which hovers over the novel, can draw attention to the flawed democracy of consumption and provide a challenge to global capitalism from within, suggesting the tragic optimism of an enlightened self-consciousness as possible counter narrative.

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1 See, for instance, ‘Fury By Salman Rushdie’ (Good, or Kumar who taxes Rushdie with ‘a politically correct but often hollow, and fleshless, postmodernism’.

2 One might even go as far as to say that it also illustrates his contention that a fourth order has been instantiated by the information age, that of the fractal, but this point will be not be developed in any detail here.

3 By the ‘moronic inferno’ I refer to the contemporary, American, ‘‘urban nightmare, sexual and obscene’’, of Bellow’s The Dean’s December quoted in Martin Amis’s first collection of journalism, The Moronic Inferno and other Visits to America, 4.

4 Matt Thorne ‘can feel the author attempting to emulate Philip Roth’, but Solanka is too sentimental to be a Kepesh.

5 Catherine Miquel agrees on the difficulty of fitting Fury into the Rushdiean canon, but for different reasons (see Miquel 2005).

6 Brooke Allen in The Atlantic Monthly evokes ‘a more controlled style of fiction. [. . .] Rushdie, the cosmopolitan Asian, has momentarily strayed onto the alien turf of Roth, Bellow, and Updike’.

7 Tonkin’s review is accompanied by a very large picture of Rushdie with his companion, Padma Lakshmi, whom he has since married. He also reminds us that the book is dedicated to her.

8 The fact that New York was originally named New Amsterdam reinforces the text’s self- consciousness, for it was on a visit to Amsterdam that Solanka first found inspiration for his doll-making.

9 Eliotian scepticism is quite in keeping with Solanka’s world-weary disillusionment when he first arrives in New York.

10 For a detailed examination of the issue of genre in Fury, the reader may consult Miquel.

11 According to Jencks, ‘[Post-modernism] is always hybrid, mixed, ambiguous, or what I have called ‘doubly-coded’ (Jencks 1992, 11).

12 It is significant that Solanka returns to England at the end of the novel to spend his days wandering aimlessly on Hampstead Heath, a guilty Macbeth, deprived of a truly tragic ending. The reference to the ‘gold-hatted, high-bouncing lover’ is from the epigraph to The Great Gatsby (1926).

13 According to Jencks again: ‘The post-modern agenda has many normative aspects to it that are positive: a value system that includes the ecological movement, pluralism, double- coding, ecofeminism, and resisting the negative aspects of modernity, etc. Whereas the post- modern condition is growing in spite of whether anyone wants it: the electronic revolution, the condition of a tertiary/quartenary economy, the postindustrial society, Madonna on MTV, and other aspects’ (Jencks 2000, 246).

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Madelena Gonzalez, « A Ghost of a Fiction: Fury and the Poetics of Simulacra »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 34 | 2008, mis en ligne le 27 mai 2019, consulté le 20 mars 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Madelena Gonzalez

Université d’Avignon

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