Suleri and the Resistance to Definition in Postmodern Writing
Rachel Solotaroff '92 (English 137 1990)
Another technique of the postmodern author, one that almost acts as an umbrella term, is the resistance to definition, particularly to conventional definitions. The ploy of postmodernism is to rupture traditional associations, attributing "ad hoc, arbitrary, and unsanctioned" meanings to given terms or ideas. Suleri's virtuosity with this strategy is stunning. Her misattributions display themselves in her love of metaphor, as she twists mild pleasantries into complex, multifaceted positions. To describe, for example, the "miraculous companionship" of her sister Ifat, Suleri draws on an old Muslim tale, reordering it to fit her vision of her sister:
to sleep on Ifat's bed was milk enough, to sleep in crumbling rest beside her body. Sometimes liike water she runs through the sentences of sleep, a medium something other than itself, refracting, innocent of all the algae it can bear and capable of much transmogrification. Her water laps around me almost in reproach: "You were distracted, when I requested your attention. You were not looking. I was milk." (186)
Suleri distorts and expands on the traditional Muslim attributions of water and milk, a polarity that, in the folktale, applied to the benefits of devout worshi Intead, water and milk become degrees of Ifat's attraction, her vanity, her "immoderation." The idea of sisterly companionship is problematized by Suleri's definition, becoming more a question of sensational, even erotic sparring, rather than the tradional, more antiseptic nurturing and support. Creating a tidy description is particularly difficult when it comes to female relationships, because of the unavailability of proper descriptive words: "By this point admittedly I am damned by my own discourse...formulating that definition [of women] is about as impossible as attemting to locate the luminous qualities of an Islamic landscape" (1-2). Not only are her cultural and sexual worlds multifaceted, they also resist any assessment of their plurality with conventional language. Her non-traditional attributions seem to be more out of necessity than the impetuous desire to be arbitrary.
Last modified 18 May 2001