A novel of "witnessing" Saturday may be, but not many commentators, including Ganguly, have reckoned with the curious meeting of political witnessing and the medical gaze in the novel. Their convergence can be explained through the collapsing of political and medical rehabilitation in the novel. Even as Baxter's disability is a phobic trope for violent Islamic terrorism, Perowne's hegemonic clinical gaze is symptomatic of a Western perspective that surveils, generalizes, stereotypes, and reduces individuals of the Islamic world into a monolith. Hence, we have the colonial gaze: "Radical Islam hates your freedom"; and "It's not just Iraq. I'm talking about Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, a great swathe of repression, corruption, and misery."14 As well as the clinical gaze: "Once a patient is draped up, the sense of a personality, an individual in the theater, disappears. Such is the power of the visual sense. All that remains is the little patch of the head, the field of operation."15 This flattening "field of operation" may as well signify American-led coalition operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the visual sense also manifests as unmanned aerial vehicles. As I have argued elsewhere, like the generalizing clinical gaze, the gaze of a surveillance or armed drone cannot distinguish between combatant and civilian, erasing all personal individuality to disastrous ends.16
Perhaps the biggest irony in Saturday is that, for all of Perowne's positivism and his regard for the visual and the "objective," his sympathy for the Iraq War is based not on fact but on conjecture. As his daughter Daisy reminds him, neither was there any evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, nor was there any proof of WMDs. There is a moment in the text where, through free indirect discourse, McEwan lets his reader know Perowne's disparaging views of magical realism: "Please, no more ghosts, angels, satans or metamorphoses. When anything can happen, nothing much matters. It's all kitsch to me."17 And yet, the lies concocted by the Bush administration to justify the Iraq War, especially by the recently deceased Donald Rumsfeld, were nothing if not fables wrought of magical thinking (or outright fantasy).
The kind of vision that Perowne champions is inherently liable to contamination by the fantastic. This is because he would rather gaze from far away, an act of looking not unlike the generalizing, abstracting gaze of the clinician or the drone: "Catastrophe observed from a safe distance. Watching death on a large scale, but seeing no one die. No blood, no screams, no human figures at all, and into this emptiness, the obliging imagination set free."18 The "horror of what he can't see" is part and parcel of Perowne's so-called objective witnessing, a vision necessarily incomplete because of its safe and distanced vantage point. 2b1af7f3a8