Cosmopolitan bias: Salman Rushdie reads Richard Burton

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Taking as its point of departure Rushdie's use of Burton's Nights and South Asian travelogues in Shame and The Satanic Verses, this paper reads Burton and Rushdie against their cultural moments and their variant understandings of cosmopolitanism. Contra Appiah's deployment of Burton in his seminal study of cosmopolitanism, it suggests that Burton's prejudices were not as Appiah ventures “counter-cosmopolitan” but (because they were often acquired abroad) integral to his cosmopolitanism. In his fiction Rushdie repeatedly deploys the image of a boy's discovery of Burton's Nights in a patriarch's library as emblematic of a neglected cosmopolitanism. Yet he may also be invoking Burton to critique the prejudices of Burton's cosmopolitan personae in commenting on South Asia and the Nights. In engaging the legacy of Burton's Nights, Rushdie's narrators appear most certain of the dangers of neglecting the inheritance of a cosmopolitan tradition than of the virtues of embracing it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-106
Number of pages18
JournalCambridge Journal of Postcolonial Literary Inquiry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2014


  • 1001 Nights
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Imperialism
  • Postcolonialism
  • Prejudice

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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