In short, prolepsis looks like evasiveness. Compared with the simplifications of melodrama, however, prolepsis has its virtues. Consider again Shamsie’s first sentence. The sentence does some unexpected negotiating: the cloud of smoke from the munitions factories that ends the sentence may foreshadow the mushroom cloud that is shortly to cover the city, but it is also a reminder that this peaceful-looking city is manufacturing munitions, hence is part of a war effort, hence in the eyes of some is not entirely distinguishable from the war’s more active battlefields. In other words, it contains the elements of an unpredictable conversation about whether, remembered by the survivor as gray, the day’s event should in fact be seen as gray and not, melodramatically, as black and white.
This impulse toward moral qualification may seem almost indecent, given what is being alluded to. And yet moral qualification is something we get again and again, and the examples suggest that we should not be sorry to get it. Go back to Rushdie’s account of the Amritsar massacre in Midnight’s Children. The announcement of the grandfather’s death “years later” doesn’t just reassure us that he is not killed here and now. Why are two place names given for the site of the grandfather’s later death, one of them Hindu and the other Muslim? And why are they separated by an “or”? At the moment of the massacre, the conflict between the British and the Indians seems the only meaningful conflict. Even at this moment of world-historical dreadfulness, however, Rushdie reminds the reader that in fact the confrontation of colonizers and colonized was never the only meaningful conflict. You cannot understand modern India, he suggests, without also thinking of the division between Hindus and Muslims, which began before the British came and continued after the British left. Even if the British deliberately made it worse, which by all accounts they did, the religious division cannot be attributed solely to colonial rule. Rushdie urges on to us this extra thought in the very act of describing an atrocity that is being committed by the British, which is to say at a moment when the temptation to locate absolute evil in the perpetrators is overwhelming. Prolepsis allows him to do this by stretching the temporality of the moment so as to include a future that will relativize even this world-historical evil, seemingly as absolute as evil can get.
oooh i like this a lot