Browse this book with Google Preview »
Specific elements in narrative are recognized as "English": an English mystery, an English thriller, an English comedy. "Englishness" is an identifiable storytelling sensibility. Hanif Kureishi has inherited this rich literary tradition. And Kureishi is a "proper Englishman. Almost."
Exploration and the British Empire's resultant expansion around the world carried English literature far from London to Africa, Asia, Australia, and North America. Because of the British Empire, the un translated literary works of English-language writers have enjoyed a uniquely worldwide readership. Today, although the sun has set on Great Britain's political empire, the influence on the rest of the world of the nineteenth century's colonial export of English-language writing remains significant.
England's literature is now uniquely part of other cultures in addition to that of Great Britain. In the United States, the study of English is now synonymous with the study of literature. In much of Canada, Australia, and India, too, a knowledge of English literature is regarded as essential to a general education. Certainly, the works of William Shakespeare, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Charles Dickens—to name but a few in English literature—are now—in their original language—part of the world's artistic treasury.
This global familiarity with the writers of Great Britain has made their literary tradition a foundation of most of the English-speaking world's literatures. It has made English literature part of other cultural traditions, its literary tradition reflecting both the individuality and the nationalism of the culture that produces it.
But if English customs were imposed in the colonies, colonial cultures were also introduced into England. London, capital of a small, homogeneous island nation with the western world's most studied story telling tradition, was the hub of the British Empire—a worldwide geographical network. Through the centuries of the empire, marriage and menu, government and economics, novels and afternoon tea all intertwined colonial cultures with England's in the capital city. It is noteworthy that the historical expansion of the empire is looking glass today to the mid-twentieth-century implosion of commonwealth immigration in London. Thus yesterday's colonials are now an indispensable part of contemporary London society.
South-bank London neighborhoods, for example, are inhabited by Indian families who have never seen Bombay's Marine Drive, but who instead travel the M25 fording the Thames. In London's East End, streets once linked most strongly with Jack the Ripper, the Elephant Man, the vicious Kray twins, and other legends of British history (and of the movies) are now more evocative of a bazaar in Karachi. A maze of stalls from which to select wedding saris neighbors the fish-and-chip shops along Brick Road, a main road in one of the heavily Asian-dominated boroughs. Nearby, Patrick Keiller's movie London is advertised on the window of a trendy Bengali takeaway restaurant next door to a tired theater featuring a spectacular Hindu movie musical.
It is undeniable that the green isle that is forever Shakespeare's England now also belongs to Hanif Kureishi. In Kureishi's case, first, and perhaps most importantly, his writing evidences the English sensibility, the English eccentricity, and the English regard for words. It displays the English sense of humor. He incorporates the English duality of national pride and political suspicion. His writing is founded on the English awareness of class distinctions that underscores his social commentary. These traditional elements underlie Kureishi's loving stories of London society. But although Kureishi acknowledges that his writing reveals a strong national identification, he demands a new definition of his nationalism:
I think English literature has changed enormously in the last ten years, because of writers from my background-myself, Salman Rushdie, Ben Okri, Timothy Mo. You know, there are many, many of us, all with these strange names and some kind of colonial background. But we are part of English literature ... writing about England and all that that implies. Whatever I've written about, it's all been about England in some way, even if the characters are Asian or they're from Pakistan or whatever. I've always written about England, usually London. And that's very English. Also the comic tradition, I think, is probably English,the mixture of seriousness and humor. Most of the pop music and the interest in pop music's a very English thing. Everything I write is soaked in Englishness, I suppose.
At the root of his English storytelling, therefore, Hanif Kureishi suggests that the dogma of nationalism is in conflict with the reality of today's multicultural England. He demands that we accept the inherent contradictions of a pluralistic society within England. Contemporary English society is a paradox of overlapping communities, and told from his Anglo-Asian perspective, his stories proclaim that as individuals reinvent their identities, so too must nations.
His characters illuminate the irony of the parallel realities that make up the fabric of the cosmopolitan, pluralistic society he knows. What is going on and how it is perceived by different characters in his stories illustrate his insistence that society overlaps in similarities and differences and in the perceptions of its members. His outsider/insider point of view becomes, consequently, a crucial element both in and of his work.
To appreciate Kureishi as a storyteller, it is necessary to view his writing both in its traditional context and within contemporary experiences. His fiction relies on his readers' recognition of both the conventions of literary history and the philosophy and politics of today's dynamic urban society. His cosmopolitan characters see who they are and dream who they want to be. Kureishi writes that if one is to redefine identity, one must redefine, expose, and, finally, confront nationalism. Kureishi's stories, therefore, illuminate a distinctive new national identity.
Aware of his individualism, Kureishi is an observer of society, involved yet separate. Distanced by color, culture, and race, he is also separated by his art. Kureishi traces the formation of his perspective of society back to the days when, as a child living in the South London borough of Bromley, he would look out his window at London life. In his early essay The Rainbow Sign, the author remembers himself as "a boy in a bedroom in a suburb, who had the King's Road constantly on his mind and who changed the pictures on his wall from week to week, was unhappy, and separated ... as by a thick glass wall against which he could only press his face." Now it is Kureishi himself who creates the pictures on the walls, while his storytelling has made him an integral part of that world on the other side of the glass. Yet it is the fact that he continues to see our world through glass barriers, these so-called liquid windows, that most obviously distinguishes Kureishi's point of view. According to an article in a national newspaper about him, he is "a curious cultural icon: exotic from Bromley, successfully scathing about the cult of success, a man of integrity who had betrayed the Asian community, an Asian who could write with charity about the National Front."
The term "liquid windows" recalls the way in which, in a certain light, windows not only frame the scene viewed on the other side of the pane, they also reflect the viewer; that is, a mirror image of the viewer sometimes commingles with the vista in the glass. By the same token, then, Kureishi's storytelling is illustrative and reflective of the author; that is, Kureishi perceives society from the distinct vantage point of his cultural hybridity and, as importantly, through the distanced perspective of his artistry. Thus "liquid windows" not only describes his point of view, it is also a trope that illuminates the dynamics of Kureishi's fictional universe.
Glass and liquidity are essential elements of Kureishi's stories themselves. Although sometimes transparent, social and cultural divisions remain. As with life on either side of glass windows, racial, economic, class, gender, political, and religious separations define distinct communities in his stories. The communities change; the divisions are fluid. He divides and then divides and changes again in his dynamic, liquid storytelling.
Ironically, it is an apparent inconsistency in his perspective—namely, this fluid mutability—that continues to provide him with an appreciation of the humanity in all of his characters. Hybridity generates his stories and propels his characters in search of their identities. His outsider/insider point of view is integral to and consistent with his aesthetic. It results in the universality of his work. He is, according to a British newspaper article, an Anglo-Asian artist whose "opposing cultures [lay] him open to abuse from both.... Kureishi changes course easily. Yet he remains the same, a trend spotter not trend setter... he is like a boulder in the stream of cultural and political change: awkward and obstructive, in the way and here to stay."
In three sections, the first and third in England, the second in Pakistan, The Rainbow Sign portrays the ambiguities of identity as defined by color, culture, immigration, and exile, the convoluted issues that remain central throughout Kureishi's writing to date. This persuasive essay begins with autobiographical information but concludes with a call to recognize a dynamic society unhindered by dated gender, racial, and national stereotypes. Kureishi's first-person point of view establishes the essay's immediacy, and he candidly acknowledges that he had secured the balm of distance from his memories by originally writing the essay in the third person.
The essay recalls a boy in the London suburbs, a racial misfit among British and Asians alike, at home in neither England nor Pakistan, romantically attached to his roots, resentfully attached to his country of residence, tied culturally to both. Autobiographical episodes illustrate his frank introspection. Kureishi relates hearing wealthy Pakistanis in Pakistan rationalize racism by damning their own peasant class as inherently inferior because of their poverty. The author counters that peasant immigrants are not the only objects of racism in the west, because "racists didn't ask whether you had a chauffeur." The prejudice and class distinctions behind the linguistic nuances of being talked down to as a "Paki" or addressed as a Pakistani in England are ironically brought home to Kureishi as he travels in another country. An Asian author coming home to a Pakistan that he has never seen before, Kureishi does not feel at home in the country of his family. He is as uncomfortable eluding border guards as a Pakistani in Pakistan as he was as a British schoolboy having to measure his sophisticated family against classroom slides of Pakistani peasants. Finally, it is when he travels to his motherland that the author realizes the ironic overlap of national identities in his life in contemporary London. Rather than finding himself at home there, he writes, "In Pakistan, England just wouldn't go away."
The Rainbow Sign also records another autobiographical experience that was pivotal to Kureishi's storytelling. The adolescent Kureishi had been stunned by Eldridge Cleaver's attack on the American novelist James Baldwin, and Kureishi writes: "How strange it was to me, this worthless abuse of a writer who could enter the minds and skins of both black and white." Kureishi confronts his refusal to romanticize good guy and bad guy races. He determines that if a writer subscribes to championing only what is different in any of a society's communities, storytelling is limited as the literature of a subculture.
Fundamentally, in Kureishi, it is the hybridity of the author's point of view that conveys the individuality in all of us. He refuses to intrude into his storytelling by classifying his characters in terms of how they act out his philosophy. His fictional characters are as contradictory—remarkable and repulsive, hopeful and devastating—as people are in reality. Hanif Kureishi does not invent character types, he creates a cast of individuals.
Today, separate if overlapping communities are mixed into one nation, regardless of the lack of bonding into any redefined national identity. There are no easy divisions in Kureishi's writing, in which non exclusive groups may one time divide by culture, another time metamorphose by race, split according to gender the next time, and still another time divide by class or generation. In Kureishi's fiction, characters unable to let go of the traditions of the past attempt to live in present-day London. The impoverished, tattered, and uneducated white street punks in My Beautiful Laundrette, for example, still live off the heady, long-lost days of the British Empire, grafting British public school traditions onto the conservative economics of Thatcherism. The Asian Rafi in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid slips between the cracks in today's political rhetoric, while his son spouts pseudo-liberal jargon as he surveys the riot-torn streets of racist London. At college, The Black Album's Anglo-Asian Shahid confronts his father's dreams for him and the religious traditions of his past, pitting consumerism against fundamentalism. Amalgamation cannot address any of theses characters' needs; it merely satiates some dated sense of nationalism.
Now a celebrated author, the grown-up Kureishi is no longer excluded by thick glass barriers from the glamor of London. He is an integral part of it. Today, Hanif Kureishi can by no means be marginalized by a racial, national, or professional identity. "Critics have written that I'm caught between two cultures. I'm not," he says. "I'm British; I've made it in England." His is a success story by any standard—traditional or popular—of Western society—even by his own assessment. Film critic David Nicholson has written of Kureishi: "Writing is, at best, vicarious, and if Kureishi was really a victim, an outsider, then his vision could never accommodate such wealth of humour, diversity of character, or level-headed intelligence." And his storytelling illuminates the fact that the hybridity of his insider/outsider point of view is unique; it remains his artistic vantage point.
Kureishi thus determines that, like the hybridity he attained through his experience, the hybridity he defines in his writing is new and unrecognized. He proclaims a new national identity:
I'm British,as I wrote in The Rainbow Sign. Just like Karim in the Buddha. But being British is a new thing now. It involves people with names like Kureishi or Ishiguro or Rushdie, where it didn't before. And we're all British too.... But most of the critics in England don't understand that. So there isn't any understanding of Britain being a multicultural place. They think that I'm, let's say, a regional writer or writing in a sort of subgenre.They think writers like [me] are on the edges. We are still marginalized culturally .... They don't see that the world is now hybrid.
The critics don't understand that, but the hyphenated Anglo-Asian author does.
In today's mass-communication empire, international cinema, media, and music forge a new identity. Thus The Black Album's Shahid wears a black leather jacket to express his style, his Jimmy Dean rebel without-a-cause look in itself a global symbol of pop-culture machismo and youthful rebellion; Shahid is desperate to get tickets to a Prince concert. In London Kills Me, main character Clint Eastwood's garish red cowboy boots not only provide a costume for his street hustling in Notting Hill Gate, they emulate his movie-star namesake's cinematic persona. With the right footwear, Clint metamorphoses from urban cowpoke into movie-folk bistro waiter.
Style is individual and style is superficial. Therefore, style is indicative of the contradictions of conformity in our society. Characters ironically assert their individuality by complying with the conventions set down by a celebrity, a designer, or a recognized group. However, contemporary style no longer only emulates the fashions of the rich or the celebrated. Style today is often rooted in emulating the clothing of the urban disenfranchised. Style is increasingly street-generated and streetconscious. The street has become not only a thoroughfare but a way of life from cruising to homelessness. Thus, fashions now selectively imitate the radical, marginal class; that is, they "trickle up" onto the music charts and the haute-couture runway, and they also "trickle up" into middle-class conventions. Outrageous fashion makes the conventional look—and feel—radical.
Kureishi thus employs dressing up to carry some significant social commentary. Style illuminates not only the need and search for new identities, but also the pretense of assuming them. That is, in Kureishi, fashion sometimes reveals the societal identity of the characters, while at other times it reveals that characters confuse attaining that identity with copying its costuming.
Musical trends have particular importance in and to Kureishi's stories. Song titles, musical groups, and genres of rock music pervade the fiction. Music is consistently mentioned as a cultural and historical occurrence, and readers recognize Kureishi's musical references. His stories, according to Gilbert Adair in an article in the New Statesman, include a "soundtrack, so to speak, [that] is threaded through with rock standards which function as the instantaneously legible signifiers of [the] period." But music in Kureishi is often more than a mere trip down rock's memory lane. Music becomes imagistic: Kureishi employs it to invite the readers' input and suggest a different, more personal interpretation of the stories. Kureishi's ties to music serve as more than a device to trigger memory or invite input. His prose style is itself musical. His stories run with the rhythm of rock, sexy and throbbing, hopeful and melancholy, simulating the pulsating beat of the music of their time. Drugs and fame and seduction and manipulation whirl around The Buddha of Suburbia's Karim Amir as he makes his way—and is continually "made"—in London. And like the music of his time, this first novel is idealistic, rote, bored, degrading, anarchistic, and, ultimately, a love song, a lyric to youth.
In conversation, Kureishi acknowledges that music is part of his life and of his writing:
Music was an integral part of my life, growing up in the sixties. Also, it was—it was culture, man, those kids in mop wigs. The Beatles as a whole. They were fun. They were making art. They were like twenty-one, twenty-two. And they were free, making money. That influenced me,you know what I mean? That made me think, oh, I can do that. I don't have to be a bank manager. I'll make money. I'll be a writer.... if you grow up in the suburbs, you either usually get married quite young and you have a family and have a job and get a house. Or you try and make a break and run away and get away, which a lot of kids in the sixties and seventies obviously were doing. It just seemed natural to me then that you would just go and crash around in sleeping bags and eventually something would happen.
Today's London is what "happened": its depiction demands storytelling with hybrid plots and themes because Kureishi's contemporary world is a contradictory, hyphenated society. Like music and fashion styles, empire and colonialism, individualism and assimilation, freedom and exile are now often inverted. Thus, depicting this dynamic world in fiction also includes paradoxes in structure and point of view. As looking through a window can, in a certain light, both reveal the view and reflect the viewer, so Kureishi creates a universe that both reveals his world and reflects him.
Henry James likened writing to opening a window onto the world, the storyteller recording his or her world as though it were passing before a window. But Kureishi is not in James's sense a literary realist. Instead, he presents the world cinematically. It is noteworthy that although he is also an editor, essayist, playwright, short-story writer, and novelist, he made his reputation as a storyteller in the international cinema. Kureishi writes a flood of images, montages, close-ups, fades, and technicolor sequences. Kureishi's prose has a frantic pace, a contemporary literary rhythm, evoking the fast cross-editing of the movies.
As the author acknowledges, his writing is strongly rooted in English traditions: His interest in class is from the English tradition; his comic style has predecessors in English writing. But because of the English-language bridge between Great Britain and the United States, and also because of America's role in pop culture, Kureishi's writing indicates ties to American culture as well. His racial comedy recalls the stories of Mark Twain. His musical prose echoes F. Scott Fitzgerald's style. His sexual stories flaunt the earlier hilarious prose investigations of Philip Roth.
Moreover, transatlantic references in his storytelling are not only to American writers, but more obviously to trends and fashions, from Calvin Klein underwear to Elvis and from McDonald's to blue jeans. Much of contemporary pop culture has American roots. And the most American of these, which Kureishi also incorporates, is Hollywood cinema. Although his fiction includes American film references, in his storytelling movies become more than just symbols of American pop culture: American cinema is central to Kureishi's point of view.
Kureishi first sought a niche writing for the London stage, but found that a theatrical point of view did not suit his storytelling: Kureishi envisions not for the proscenium arch, but rather through the hand-held camera. Kureishi sees his stories in movement, and to this day, his writing remains stylistically cinematic-whether he is writing screenplays or prose.
His themes are cinema-influenced as well, with his characters living out-or against-the Hollywood-movie dream of finding that "someplace better." Some cinema classics not only reflect the archetypal yearn ing for that idyllic Elsewhere, but themselves have defined it. Author Salman Rushdie suggests that the 1939 Victor Fleming film The Wizard of Oz is
unarguably a film about the joys of going away, of leaving the greyness and entering the colour, of making a new life in the "place where there isn't any trouble." Over The Rainbow is, or ought to be, the anthem of all the world's migrants, all those who go in search of the place where "the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true." It is a celebration of Escape, a grand paean to the Uprooted Self, a hymn—the hymn—to Elsewhere."
Thus this century's dream of Elsewhere, whether depicted on film or in sound or prose, is now both presented and perceived cinematically. The motion-picture medium has become the passport to a global community-that of the moviegoing audiences around the world, the citizens of the world of films. Film director Jean Renoir summed this up when he declared, "the environment which has made me what I am is the cinema. I am a citizen of the world of films.""
As cinema enters its second century, whether it is good or bad for culture remains in question; but that cinema is integral to who we are is indisputable. Even if we are not all viewers of motion pictures, certainly we are all aware of them. Quite simply, the motion picture is no longer only a way to tell stories, it increasingly shapes our storytelling. And Kureishi's point of view as a filmmaker is pivotal throughout his storytelling.
Kureishi exposes the ironies in our fin-de-siècle global community. Abandoning the divisions of the nineteenth century, society has lost none of that century's prejudices while questioning all of its definitions. It is no longer a world of east and west. The third world is no longer the colonial inferior to imperial powers. Our world is not limited by the western Judeo-Christian ethics which bound earlier centuries as surely as it ignored previous national boundaries and altered yesterday's maps. But mass media continues merely to foster cultural, racial, and national community just as the dark of the first movie theaters fostered artificial community for its early immigrant audiences. And as diverse immigrants throughout the world have become increasingly influenced by the cinema, increasing conflicts worldwide suggest that the American "Dream Factory" has produced only electric kinship among—and within—nations where visas, prejudices, and philosophies impede the formation of any other community.
From its beginnings about one hundred years ago, the motion picture, the twentieth century's collaborative art form, promised its audiences "such stuff as dreams are made on." Movies realized illusion. Cinema was able to offer a universal depiction of the world's social, cultural, and national dreams for the first time in history. The studio system producing motion pictures was known as the Dream Factory, and the Dream Factory was an immigrant phenomenon.
Early film entrepreneurs were European immigrants who, as the new century dawned, had left the familiar behind and headed to the golden coast of California and what they hoped would be a shimmering road to success in their adopted country. First audiences, too, were immigrants to the emerging new world, people who had forsaken their pasts, homes, and birthrights to seek a dream. Watching motion pictures bonded these new citizens into a moviegoing community.
American filmmakers created a romanticized world with their cameras, about which they invited world audiences to dream—and, consequently, to dream also of the idealized world where they had found their dream—namely, Hollywood. Movies became the new world's most important export, promoting, even advertising, the mythical streets paved with gold and the other side of the rainbow to an expanding world audience. Thus movies projected values and ethics that powered and shaped the twentieth century's immigrant dream, both reflecting and defining it.
Audiences fantasized while watching the beautiful people live out their dreams on—and off—the silver screen. Movie tycoons created names, biographies, wardrobes, marriages, and families-whole new identities for actors thus transformed into "personalities." Gossip columnists, themselves newsworthy, were media alchemists who turned celebrities into stars. The packaging of celebrities and the glamour of their lifestyle were integral to the Dream Factory and kept world attention focused on the place where movies were made—Hollywood, which thus became the undisputed headquarters of this twentieth-century dream industry. Not only were the movies made there, the people who made them lived their dreamy lives there. The movie industry's campaign to promote the dreamer as the dream made Hollywood into everybody's Elsewhere.
The invention of the motion picture heralded the electric age, just as the mass-communications industry generated by technological and electronic advance defines the century at its close. Film financing is now global, production casts and crews are international, and films have worldwide TV and theatrical distribution. In a windowless tent in the Guatemalan village of Chichicastenango the night before market in the zócalo, Mayan peasants watch Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, having made the weekly trek to the village from their isolated mountain farms. Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility plays on a VCR in an east LA storefront, the British-made film's social and economic messages competing with looters shattering the windows.
Previous storytelling had never been so easy or so accessible—nor was it ever so powerful—as it became via the motion-picture image. The movie audience's dream is literally focused through the lens of the camera-revealed through the window of the camera lens. The conduit of storytelling through cinema has become integral both to artistic creation and to artistic perception, and it is noteworthy that today, storytellers are among the filmgoing audience. Mass communication has made the moving picture into the most powerful global influence of this or any other time. For all it promised to do so, however, ultimately the Hollywood Dream Factory couldn't possibly, in reality, make its audiences' dreams come true.
Hanif Kureishi's stories follow the immigrant beyond the closing credits and confront the incendiary results of the dream's failure. The twentieth century opened with emigrés pursuing this cinematic dream—the quest to find some place better exploded into the largest mass exodus from the grip of an old world into the hope of a new order. But today, no journey across an ocean can replace the crumbling old world with a promising new one. Those pursuing the dream in underdeveloped nations spill their blood to find freedom and strain to find food, while others in developed nations struggle with unemployment and hide from violence and crime. Hoards of refugees flee from "ethnic cleansing" and waves of street people fight to set up communities on the edges of today's defined societies. They seem to come from everywhere and be heading nowhere. The dream of some place better still burns, but it is a dream unfulfilled.
Too many immigrants have never attained their dreams after moving to the new promised lands. Utopias suffer from overpopulation, pollution, economic recession, unemployment, discrimination, and violent crime. Even among those who do realize their dream, many immigrants question the price paid for having done so. They refuse to forsake their identities; they struggle both with old conflicts and with revisionism within their traditions. They dream of assimilation, and they demand acceptance.
Kureishi's immigrants struggle with reality: with political hypocrisy, racial and ethnic prejudice, and economic failure. Their journey often challenges not only national borders but also economic barriers. My Beautiful Laundrette's white Johnny, and Omar, too, Clint of London Kills Me, The Buddha of Suburbia's Changez, and The Black Album's Chad—all dream of escaping the streets to find a land of opportunity. The quest of today is often not a transatlantic or transcontinental odyssey, but instead is a journey around the corner from urban squalor and poverty to the comfort of lower-middle-class neighborhoods. It is an immigration of class.
Immigrant dreamers have continued changing as the world has changed, and mere passage to some new geographical location, therefore, can no longer satisfy today's immigrant dreamers. Finding a better Elsewhere is not so straightforward a journey as it once was; today, it involves more than finding streets paved with gold down which to travel. Consequently, modern-day immigrants undertake trips down a yellow brick road that leads beyond Dorothy and Toto's Oz to some psychological destination on an internalized map.
As the twentieth century ends, global communication has linked the world electronically. The earth is imaged as a coherent unit on a satellite picture from space, while conversely its myriad races, religions, and sects demand recognition of their individualism. Immigrants now not only come from more distant nations, cultures a world apart from each other now exist on opposite corners of a city intersection. Assimilation and identity grow more problematic. Worldwide, political, social, even personal quests become the stories told every day, but these quests—and their retelling—only serve to further fragment populations into new communities. Multiple cultures coexist, although they may appear to commingle.
Hanif Kureishi defines today's hostile melting pot-turned-boiling pan. His is the urban world of street people and street crime, a world of gangs and family, of love and prejudice. His plots include drug dealing, entrepreneurism, sex exploration, and violence. He portrays both whites and Asians in a "warts-and-all," yet affectionate, depiction. His works are concerned with expanding issues, and he is experimenting in new genres to carry his themes.
His stories relate the multicultural incidents of a world redefining itself racially, economically, and artistically. Aware of the past and unflinching in his assessment of the present, Kureishi writes stories that present the universal truths underlying the idiosyncratic activities of his unconventional characters. His prescient point of view gets Kureishi into trouble with critics. The sense of humor evident in his storytelling is most provocative for today's global society. It is humor born of melancholy, the defensive retort of an idealist. His bold presentation of racism stings; political correctness, revisionism, and flagrant prejudice affront and coexist in his ironic stories. "When somebody says, `fuck off home, Paki,' you have to laugh," he explains. "The fucking irony—you drown in it." He chronicles the overlap of poverty and wealth, of power and oppression, of custom and dream to illustrate his unique perspective of today's dreamers, immigrants in a new world.
Kureishi asserts that "the immigrant is the characteristic figure of the twentieth century." Moreover, his characteristic immigrant figure is new, taking a place in the world, with both hope and resentment. This is the significant evolution in his dreamers: they resent that the price paid for attaining the dream is the forfeiture of their history, and they resent even more that it is a price that is often paid without any gain. Unable to achieve their dreams, they fail even to find assimilation. "Elsewhere" had promised the fulfillment of their dreams, but had only delivered exile and alienation.
Just as European immigrants had surrendered their names to officials at Ellis Island, so the earlier Anglo-Asian dreamers embraced assimilation into London life at any price. Kureishi's fiction benchmarks today's break from these attitudes. In conversation, he explains: "In those days, . . . there wasn't the same thing about having your own identity that there is now. Now we want to have our own culture, find our own background. Even in the sixties I think the idea was that you should become as English or as American as you could if you were an immigrant. You would strip yourself of the past, of your identity." Kureishi sees the dreamers' demands as having evolved during the last decades of the twentieth century. "In the sixties the idea was to fit in here. Then through the seventies and eighties there was a sense of holding on to your own culture, whatever that was." He continues by expressing the paradoxical resentments of today's dreamers: "Then in the nineties there's also a sense that by holding on to their own culture here, people here are getting left behind."
The contradictions and problems of reshaping identity overlap in differing cultures; the evolution of the dream of Elsewhere that underlies them remains, and remains unfulfilled. Portraying the tension in herent in this retooled immigrant dreamer's quest is fundamental to Kureishi's themes. His pairing of "immigration and exile" exposes the contradictions that he sees intermingled in multicultural acceptance and assimilation.
Kureishi views the world through liquid windows. Divisions are transparent. Dreams are images framed on the silver screen. Perceptions reflect and are themselves reflections because his translucent windows are also looking glasses. Because of his hybridity, Kureishi realizes that contradictions are inevitable from every perspective. "But I don't care," his first novel's narrator qualifies, "Englishman I am (though not proud of it) from the South London suburbs and going somewhere." He records our mutability and realizes its inevitable rhythm. Living is, after all, he writes, kinetic. Kureishi writes with humor about today's disparity and diversity, and neither romanticizes nor propagandizes present-day incongruities.