Geographical Ontology in Sara Suleri's Meatless Days
Rachel Solotaroff '92 (English 137 1990)
Geography provides one of the most important, of Suleri's ontologies. Not only does the plurality of countries in which she lives fragment her narrative, but the very concept of the ontological landscape itself is given full life in the context of geography. In other words, consider each world as if it were a "zone," in postmodern jargon, and McHale provides two mechanisms by which, with geographic material, such a zone can be constructed. The first involves the conceptualization of a country, for example Suleri's Pakistan, as "opposite to the European world (including Anglo-America), Europe's other, its alien double" (McHale, 51). Suleri makes this dualism known in several ways, the most grotesque of which is her treatment of food, particularly kapura, a traditional Pakistani food which Sara had always assumed were sweetbreads. Yet once out of that world, removed to New Haven, Sara learns the truth from her visiting sister: "Kapura , as naked meat, equals a testicle" (22) . This is not only the breakdown of a story that Sara had believed all her life, but a startling reminder of how narratives themselves are ruptured by the collision and combination of different worlds. Sara learns about Pakistan while in New Haven, and, trying to relay the story to other Americans, elicits the response, "'Balls, darling, balls'" (22). The duality is distinct, and the consequences are alienating: the meals of Sara's Pakistani childhood are the setpieces of American cocktail party slang. Any attempt to negotiate between the two only widens the gap between them.
The second mechanism, complementary to the first, relies upon the conceptualization of Pakistan as inherently plural. As McHale points out, "even a 'straight' realistic representation of [Pakistan] would have to take this multiplicity into account; and from such a representation to a postmodern one is only a few short steps" (McHale, 52). Suleri devotes an entire chapter, "Papa and Pakistan," to this precise issue. With a father of tremendous political influence, Suleri is able to access the ferment, urgency, and confusion of creating a Muslim state. She creates the political sphere of her country with stories of her father's crusade for Pakistan, his support for particular leaders, and the onset of military government and nationalized newspapers. Against this history, she gives her own impressions of a country organized on ideological ground:
Today I often regret he was not in Pakistan at the timeof the partition, to witness those bewildered streams of people pouring over one brand-new border into another, hurting as they ran. It was extravagant, history's wrenching price: farmers, villagers, living in some other world, one day awoke to find they no longer inhabited familiar homes but that most modern thing, a Muslim or a Hindu nation. (116)
Her country represents not only the collision of a remote world with modern standards, but also the multiplicity of religion, and the larger, more combative climate of life in the twentieth century. Pakistan is every bit as disjointed and jarring as Suleri's narrative structure.