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As if by Magic, the Shopkeeper Appeared

Hearing the bell, the shopkeeper hid behind a rail of coats. A man in a dark suit came through the door and stood before the gun metal till. The merchant dropped to his knees and crawled behind the counter, unseen. He waited.

There was much to look at in the old shop, many racks to peruse and flick through. The customer pressed the lapel on a scratchy tweed jacket, stroked it with pink fingers. He took the jacket from the hanger with both hands and held it close to his face. As he sniffed the lining, the shopkeeper rose silently to his feet.

“May I help you?” he said.

The customer’s bowler hat fell from his head. He replaced the jacket and then his hat, straightening the brim carefully.

“Yes,” he replied, eyes vertical and narrow, “I’m looking for a costume”.

“Certainly,” said the shopkeeper, adjusting his weskit, “What do you have in mind? A stone age tribesman? A chef? A Native American brave?”

“Perhaps this,” said the well dressed man, standing in front of an astronaut’s suit.

“A very good choice,” said the dapper little shopkeeper, “Would you like to try it on sir?”

“No thank you,” said the man, “Just wrap it up for me and I’ll take it home”.

A breeze blew through the store, like Winter finding its way home. It smelled like frozen mothballs.

“You should really make sure it fits. The changing room is just over there,” said the shopkeeper. His tiny moustache twitched.

“I think it will be fine,” said the man.

“But, sir,” said the shopkeeper, his voice a fraction too loud, “The changing room is right there”.

The man placed his hands flat on the glass counter.

“I can see that. I can see it very well,” he said, “I’ll take the suit now, please”.

As the well dressed man left the shop, cradling a  paper bundle in his arms, the merchant’s gaze turned to the changing room door. His eyes were laced albino pink.


Later that evening, in his house on Festive Road, the man took off his bowler hat. He took off his stripey tie and black jacket. He put on the space suit.

With the  flicker of television reflected in the visor and foil plated neoprene chafing his skin, he began to wish that he had gone into the changing room after all. The costume was far too small.

Then, as tears prickled dry ducts, he sneezed inside the helmet.

The Fourth Kelamote

In the beginning, two or three doratones were more than enough. Then came devices with many doratones. Tens of doratones. Hundreds. Finally, we started seeing these things that could contain a thousand doratones. A thousand doratones. That’s what we call a kelamote.

I must seem like a ghost to you.

Why don’t we just pretend, you and I, that we’ve never seen the word “kelamote”. Even though you – from my future – use it every day. It is read and said, uttered softly and screamed aloud.

You, from my present, you know about kelamotes too – if only in a vague way. If only from advertising and hoardings and scans. There’s a third case, of course. You, from the far future. From a time when I have long since ceased typing. From a time when I have long ceased. We are ash and echoes to you, the kelamotes and I.

Pretend that when you look at the word – the word “kelamote” – you see an unfamiliar arrangement of symbols. A word, yes, you’re quite sure of that, but its meaning is null. You look at this word, which is as common as air, and no neurons fire. Jamais vu, a race called the French used to call it. The sensation of seeing for the first time.

But wait. Oh, this is quite delicious. Isn’t it strange how you can sometimes see all the captions, but miss the headline?

Because of kelamotes, there is a fourth possibility.

You may not be from my present or my future at all. You could be reading this in the past. You could be reading this before kelamotes were even invented or discovered! You could be reading this before I was born!

That would be marvelous. You have much to look forward to and so much to lose. So many ideas to change, so many of your values. Even those words – “change” and “value”. They mean little to us, now.

I should say no more. It must be a surprise, or it will never happen.

I dearly wish that I was you.

Food as Metaphor in Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies”

“Interpreter of Maladies” is the title of a 1999 short story collection by Jhumpa Lahiri. Born in the US, but of Indian extraction, the collection explores issues of diaspora, culture ritual, otherness and difference. Her prose is spare and her narratives expose the drama in the every day.

This text is from an oral presentation that explores the role that food plays in Lahiri’s collection, as metaphor and cultural signifier. As such the language is less formal than you might usually expect from an academic paper.

Food plays several roles in Jhumpa Lahiri’s work.  My intention here is first pick out the main signification before moving on to smaller ways it manifests as meaning in stories featured in Lahiri’s collection “Interpreter of Maladies”. In doing that I think we see some of the themes that run through the other stories too.

There’s an overarching sense throughout this collection that food – its preparation and the rituals of consumption – are representative of the dislocation of Indian culture.  Lahiri’s description of the making and then the serving of meals serves as a shorthand for “diaspora” – the transplantation of people from one culture into another.

There’s often a contrast between the food prepared and the settings in which food is eaten.

For example

“You made rogan josh” Shoba observed, looking through the glass lid at the bright paprika stew”

Pg 9 “A Temporary Matter”


Then, a little later, there’s this description of the meat.

“It’s ready,” he announced.
The microwave had just beeped when the lights went out and the music disappeared

The Western technologies of the microwave and HiFi are set here against another life, rich in other ways, where another set of values is important.

I think it’s interesting that when the food is ready, the lights go off.  As the story progresses, the couple bond over this shared part of themselves – a shared culture through food – that is at its purest when there’s no electricity to power the “American side” of their lives; the computer Shukumar retreats to when they were both grieving, for example. That’s made explicit in an observation that Shoba makes on page 10 where, as they eat in the dark, she says “It’s like India”

Later,  in the story “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine” – the sense of shared culture between Mr. Pirzada and Lilia’s family is underlined by the meals they take together – even though he is Pakistani and they are Indian.  Again, that’s contrasted against the trappings of the culture that they’ve been transplanted into.

“We did not eat at the dining table, because it did not provide an unobstructed view of the television set.  Instead, we huddled around the coffee table, without conversing, our plates perched on the edges of our knees.  From the kitchen my mother brought forth the succession of dishes: lentils with fried onions, green beans with coconut, fish cooked with raisins in yoghurt sauce”

Pg 30 “When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine”


And this continues as an almost sensuous description of the meal – one that emphasizes its diversity and exoticism and the family’s identity.. However, by placing the family in front of the television as they eat, it also becomes a metaphor for dislocation and diaspora.

Analysing more deeply, food can be seen to stand in for more specific aspects of, mostly, Indian culture:


Family – especially in When Mr. Pirzada Came to Dine

Love – in A Temporary Matter


Home – in Mrs Sen’s (which is about Mrs Sen’s house, her world as much as Mrs Sen – hence the possessive apostrophe).

Food is culture, and culture is family, love and home. And of course, most importantly, food is life.

This idea is at its strongest in Lahiri’s work when life ceases to matter to Lahiri’s characters. She demonstrates this by showing that food no longer matters to her protagonists.

For example, food becomes secondary to grief during “A Temporary Matter”, in which Shoba loses the will to cook and it’s up to her partner Shukumar to assume that role.

In one of the collection’s few instances of Western food being eaten – the absence of culture, of family, home or love – and more literally the lack of money – are  illustrated by the protagonist’s eatign habits in the last story, The Third and Final Continent

Waiting for his wife to arrive in the States, a student eats nothing but cereal throughout the story.  Lahiri describes this in plain, matter of fact terms.

We’re left with the sense that the frugal, convenient consumption of corn flakes is the opposite of the Indian cultural experience that unites families in the collection’s other stories.  The protagonist here exists  rather than lives.

(An aside here, his landlady Mrs Croft only eats soup.  Her daughter turns up and opens cans for her, then she goes.  So, the student and Mrs Croft have this “lack” in common. She is at the end of her life, he is waiting for his to begin; they are both alone).

There are a few places where eating food has negative metaphoric connotations – and when that’s the case eating or abandonment of food is the desertion of one’s culture or morality.

In the collection’s key story, Interpreter of Maladies, the abandonment of an Indian staple snack food leads to the story’s focal event.

Mrs. Das – a heavily Westernised Indian woman seeks the counsel of Mr. Kapasi – an“Interpreter of Maladies.”She wants advice about dealing with her feelings about an affair that lead to the birth of her son, while the family are on holiday. The answer she gets is not the validation she’s after – but it is an authentic reflection of her feelings.

What follows is a metaphoric representation of that cultural guilt. She storms off, dropping hot mix behind her like breadbrumbs, trailing her culture behind her.  Monkeys follow the trail and find her son at the end of it – then attack him.

Finally, in Interpreter of Maladies there are several mentions of bubble gum.  A child tries to feed a goat some gum, Mrs Das offers some to Mr. Kapasi on the ride out – and on the way home a child calms his traumatised brother by offering him gum.

Just  as the meals described elsewhere in the collection are iconic of Indian culture, displaced – bubble gum here is Western and particularly American.

The Indian food we Lahiri describes is carefully prepared, colourful and  nuanced.  In comparison – the gum is pre-packaged, disposable, artificial and provides no nourishment.  You can’t even eat it.  All you get is a “thick sweet burst of liquid” on the tongue – then it’s over. It’s tasty, but temporary and offers no nutrition.

The intended comparison is clear.


Cloud Atlas – a transmedial movie


Cloud Atlas, the film of the unfilmable novel, has had a belated UK release. With an epic cast including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and High Grant, it’s ambitious and watchable and complex – but clearly nowhere near as complex as the source material.

Both take six stories spread across time, from a Polynesian, Conrad-esque sea adventure to a far future tale of storytelling tribes. The sections have connecting themes and motifs. But, although the film and book contain the same stories and characters, the whole is very different.

The key difference is that the novel isn’t so much about history as it is about the end of history.

The filmic Cloud Atlas becomes a narrative about humanity’s interconnected history. The key theme is freedom, told through a series of stories of servitude.

That’s also what the novel does – but only in one layer.

The novel explores these and much bigger themes, as transparent fictions. Each section is told in a different literary style. It, famously, does so within a Russian doll, Calvino inspired temporal structure.

Cloud Atlas the movie changes these integral, structural elements. There are no clear stylistic changes from genre to genre. We cut back and forth between periods rapidly (sometimes too rapidly) in order to impose a linear, classic realist structure from conflict to resolution over the course of two and three quarter hours.

Despite the involvement of multiple directors (Matrix makers the Wachowskis and Perfume’s Tom Twyker) the film strikes one note throughout. Each period is as lush, slick and Hollywood generic as the next.

The result is a very different kind of story.

I enjoyed it, still. It reminds you of Terry Gilliam in places… It’s worth watching as a kind of crazy, folly of a blockbuster. It’s deliriously expensive looking.

Or, as occurred to me this morning after two coffees and no breakfast, you might think of the movie as a meta-textual artifact that has fallen from David Mitchell’s original novel.

Just as Timothy Cavendish totes around the manuscript for Half Lives in his tattered leather satchel, or Somni 451 watches Cavendish romp free from the old folks home in a film adaptation… You could choose to see Twyker and the Wachowski’s Cloud Atlas as another meta-fiction – a metafiction about the novel Cloud Atlas.

This, in some ways, makes more sense. Without the source material, the film is hideously difficult to follow….

Pretentious? Certainly. But fun. And most definitely in the spirit of the book.

Time out of Joint Pt. 6: Conclusion and Mediography

A version of this essay was originally submitted in partial fulfilment of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester in 2009.

Please note that if you quote or cite this work that it is  © Karl Hodge 2012. The correct form of referencing is:

Karl Hodge. (2012). Time out of Joint Pt 6: Conclusion and Mediography.  Available: . Last accessed DD/MM/YYYY.

In A.L. Kennedy’s Day and in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, we find narratives that are stylistically different, but that both embody a post-modern approach to time and temporality, history and historicity.

In each text pastiche and simulation are key, placing the stories they tell within a “periodising construct”.  I choose that term carefully, because “historical setting” is not appropriate.  In Cloud Atlas there are future narratives, every bit as constructed and (in)authentic as their historical equivalents.

Both texts can be read as taking place in a hyperreal, perpetual and self-referential present, independent of the temporal elements elsewhere in the text.

There are, of course, more technical methods of suggesting temporal setting at work in both Day and Cloud Atlas. The use of tense and of personalisation, in particular.

Day employs a fractured approach to narration, for example, shifting from third to first person and, notably, second.  Using the second person is a jarring and discomforting choice. It forces the narrative into the present, into the reader’s point of view, as part of the metatextual trickery of pastiche or simulation.

Cloud Atlas is, ironically, more conventionally stylistic in storytelling method.  But, much of the novel’s innovation is in its infrastructure.  With such a bold reliance on pastiche, Mitchell is subservient to his sources.  One notable observation though; five of the six stories are told in the first person.  This is an intensely periodising choice, enabling Mitchell to employ the language, style and cadences of his characters – to “speak” through their voices.  The exception to this is Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery.  Here, he employs a third person viewpoint which is softly omniscient.  As such, the Half Lives section relies much more on objects, fashions and artefacts to suggest temporal setting.  In the opening paragraph there’s the “boom” of disco music.  Early pages refer to M*A*S*H, Joni Mitchell, the Disney version of The Jungle Book and LP records in quick succession.

It is narrative time that interests me most though. When history is an artificial, self-referential construct, what separates it from the future?

The answer is that history becomes multiple choice, a pick and mix of past texts reiterated as pastiche or simulation, channelled intertextually.  When the real is replaced by reconstruction the future and past are cut from the same cloth.  That is, essentially, the only mode of production available to the creative practitioner in the age of postmodernity.





Jean Baudrillard, The Ecstasy of Communication, (Autonomedia, 1988)

J.P. Connerty, History’s Many Cunning Passages: Paul Ricoeur’s Time and Narrative in Poetics Today, Vol. 11, No. 2, Narratology Revisited I (Summer, 1990), Duke University Press.

Thomas Docherty, ed., Postmodernism: A Reader, (Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1993)

Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, (Picador 1986)

David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, (Blackwell, 1990)

Ursula Heise, Chronoschisms: Time, Narrative and Postmodernism (Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Fredric Jameson, ‘Postmodernism and Consumer Society’, in Postmodern Culture, ed Hal Foster, (Pluto Press, 1995)

Douglas Kellner, ed., Baudrillard: A Critical Reader, (Blackwell, 1994)

Jean Francois Lyotard, ‘The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge’, in The Postmodernism Reader,  ed. by Michael Drolet, (Routledge 2004)

Larry McCaffery, ed., Storming the Reality Studio, (Duke University Press, 1991)

Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative,  (University of Chicago Press, 1990)

Robert Stam et alNew Vocabularies in Film Semiotics, (Sightlines, 1992)



Kingsley Amis, The Old Devils, (Vintage Classics, 2007)

Martin Amis, The Information, (HarperPerennial, 1996)

Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451: The Temperature at Which Book Paper Catches Fire and Burns, (Random House Inc., 1997)

Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, (Corgi, 2004)

Dan Brown, Deception Point, (Corgi, 2004)

Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange, (Penguin, 2000)

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, (Vintage, 2007)

Joseph Conrad, The Shadow Line, (Oxford University Press, 2003)

Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, (Penguin, 2007)

Philip K Dick, Time out of Joint, (Gollancz, 2003)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, (Penguin, 1993)

William Gibson, Neuromancer, (Penguin, 1995)

Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!, (Tom Doherty Associates, 2008)

Joseph Heller, Catch 22, (Corgi, 1985)

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker, ( Pan, 1982)

Victor Hugo, The Man Who Laughs, (Norilana Books 2006)

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, (Flamingo, 1997)

A.L. Kennedy, Day, (Vintage, 2007)

Herman Melville, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, (Penguin, 1972)

David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas, (Sceptre, 2004)

Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, Watchmen, (DC Comics, 1986)

Alan Moore, Brian Bolland, Batman: The Killing Joke, (DC Comics, 1988)

Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5, (Vintage UK, 2000)



The Dam Busters, dir. by Michael Anderson, (ABPC, 1955)

The China Syndrome, dir. by James Bridges, (IPC, 1979)

Cold Lazarus, dir. by Renny Rye, (BBC, 1996)

The Great Escape, dir. by John Sturges, (The Mirisch Corporation, 1963)

Logan’s Run, dir. by Michael Anderson, (MGM, 1976)

The Omega Man, dir. by Boris Sagal, (Warner Bros., 1972)

Soylent Green, dir. by Richard Fleischer, (MGM, 1973)

THX 1138, dir. by George Lucas, (American Zoetrope, 1971)


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