VS Naipaul Complete DBag or just and out of control ego


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VS Naipaul Complete DBag or just and out of control ego

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Jun 5, 2011, 8:21pm


Jun 5, 2011, 8:36pm


Jun 5, 2011, 10:49pm

Has anyone read any of his work? I haven't and can't really comment on it, but he has an excellent reputation as a prose stylist. On the other hand, Paul Theroux wrote what was apparently a pretty damning biography of him a few years back (which I also haven't read). I'm a bit leery of using biographical details to critique a writer, but as someone pointed out on a literary listserv I'm on, Naipaul really broke the rules in calling out an entire group of writers based on who they are IRL. It's par for the course to diss other writers individually, but to dismiss an entire group of writers just because of their gender--that, as someone pointed out, is a rejection of the suspension of disbelief that makes fiction possible. The real person of the author is supposed to vanish in the fiction. Not sure I'm entirely convinced by that (l'ecriture feminine is premised on the belief that women can use their bodies to write a distinctively "feminine" writing...though that assertion in itself is controversial), but I also think it's ridiculous to say an author like George Elliot or Flannery O'Connor or Mary Astell is sentimental. And what about all the sentimental male writers--Mackenzie, Sterne, Richardson, Steele, etc. I'm more inclined to agree with Naipaul that women authors are less likely to be "masters of a house" but there are two problems with this: (1) is that kind of patriarchal mindset really necessary to be a "good" writer? and (2) Wouldn't being "master of a house" be something women *could* be capable of but have more difficulty in achieving given the restrictions on their physical movement historically. Women having sufficient freedom to explore the world and give free rein to their curiosity is a relatively recent development. Mary Wollstonecraft's point was that women's mental faculties are *of course* limited by their physical restrictions. Now that women are less physically restricted than they were in Wollstonecraft's time, women have been developing more robust prose. It is telling that Naipaul would demand "mastery" of a house in order for a writer to be any good and yet criticize Austen for precisely her mastery of the domestic detail. What he seems to mean is that good fiction requires some sort of domination; that craft is about subduing the reader. Is that mentality necessary to good fiction? I don't think so.

Jun 6, 2011, 1:29pm

I have never read anything of his and until David brought him up, had no idea he existed.

I think you are right Madonella though that good fiction does not always have to be the kind that smacks you upside the head with it. It can be the kind that arrives in a storm and the kind that tiptoes gently in to your conscious like a drizzle. The first Terry Pratchett book I read was like that, Small Gods, blew me completely away (and made me think a lot about faith and the nature of G-d.) However the first Mercedes Lackey book I read-Arrows of the Queen just slipped in to my mind and has yet to leave. :)

If this guy has no subtlety to him, then how can he be that great of a writer? You can write a good smack upside the head novel once, but that does not mean it is always going to be good.

Jun 6, 2011, 8:52pm

Beth, I agree--very different reading experiences can stay with you and continue to produce impressions and meanings that weren't at first apparent. "What Maisie Knew" was really tedious when I first read it, but I've come to feel a kind of awe toward it over the years. Terry Pratchett is someone I keep meaning to read and have never gotten around to...I really should. As for Naipaul, I think he's most famous for "A House for Mr. Biswas" roughly based on his father's experience as a Hindu in Trinidad. I have "A Bend in the River" but haven't read it yet, it's supposed to be pretty depressing. Not having read him, I can't say whether he lacks subtlety, I guess by "dominate" I meant that he wants to overpower the reader...which you can do with subtlety, but I don't think that's where he's coming from, based on what he has said in interviews. Hemingway, who can be subtle, seemed to have a similar mentality. Pablo Picasso seems to have had a very similar way of relating to women, almost as if he needs women to be a canvas and their pain lets him know that he's doing work. I could be pulling this out of my ass...I guess I'm just disturbed by, and wanting to understand why, violent jerks can be great artists. And not only that, but that they can associate their artistry with their attitude to women. I don't think this attitude is necessary to great art, but psychological solitude is, and perhaps some people need to keep themselves distant from others through violence in order to be or to feel creative. Fellini might fit in to that argument, too--he used people very intensely and then abandoned them when they had served his artistic purpose. There's an erotic side to art and some artists may need to dominate just as some lovers do. I don't know...just trying to work out my impressions.

Edited: Jun 8, 2011, 8:44am

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Jun 8, 2011, 9:13pm

Then I would recommend Small Gods because it quite literally shows this many levels while being funny:

The nature of God and humans.
The nature of our relationship to God.
The nature of faith.
What God gets from us, what we get from God.
What it means to become more then we thought.
How history changes
The nature of evil
What faith means when you do not believe
What scares us?
Greek philosophy
Mechanical engineering for war or peace
Science v faith
Encountering new ideas
Can we ever know the truth about anything?
Why do deserts seem to create prophets?
The nature of insanity or sanity
When good men do terrible things
Thinking for one's self v following a set regiment of rules and orders
And there is good eating on those tortoises

Actually I am sure there are more things to tease out if you read it. (I had to add a few while writing the rest of it because my goodness it is just that deep.) That book, in my never humble opinion should have been or should be eligible for a Nobel or Pulitzer but because it is "silly" it was never even considered.

Violence for artistry-I remember oddly enough this one TV show about this guy was an awesome artist but he fell in love and his art became terrible. The moral of the story was "great art requires great suffering." Which makes no sense because there are thousands of artists who did amazing work that did not involve suffering. Georgia O'Keefe for example. The idea that you have to be violent to make art great is also weird-although I think a person can be a complete smeghead and still make good art because humans are so complex emotionally that it is impossible to be completely one or the other.

Perhaps it is the idea of using violence to force one's self to grow as a person?

Jun 9, 2011, 11:09pm

Wow! Well, that settles it, "Small Gods" is officially on my summer reading list! It might take me a while to get a hold of a copy, but we should definitely have a Pratchett discussion this summer!

Jun 10, 2011, 5:28pm

Read the book at least twice because the stuff that requires thought takes a bit of time to shine through but once it does...well, you saw what I had to say.

Jun 11, 2011, 12:01am

Pratchett is a wonderful author.

I haven't read any of Naipaul's work, so I can't say too much about the man. I will say that from reading that interview I got the same "The world is interfering with my greatness!" vibe I get from James Joyce. Joyce could write, of course, but he was a real asshole and it came though in his work.

I also have to wonder if Naipaul is the kind of author who falls into the "he's not entertaining so he must be deep" category.

Jun 13, 2011, 11:21pm

So, I've started "A Bend in the River." Not very far in, but so far it seems worthwhile--he has a compelling way of using prolepsis (forewarnings that the "big man" will come and rename everyone, lie, and then destroy what they've created) to give you a sense of suspense and impending doom. Also, he uses repetition in a way that keeps the reader conscious of the symbolic significance of the scene (the "bend in the river" is literally a location of commerce, but it seems it will come to represent the larger issue of whether and under what conditions civilization is possible) without seeming gimmicky. There is some racism ("it helped to make Zabeth the good and direct businesswoman that, unusually for an African, she was")--but that is the voice of the narrator (Naipaul doesn't have a great reputation when it comes to statements about Africans, however.). So far it kind of seems like "Heart of Darkness" the sequel, but, again, I'm not very far in.

Jun 15, 2011, 11:54pm

I found "Small Gods"!!! And I also picked up "Monstrous Regiment." One of the bookstores here has a surprisingly good Pratchett selection. So pleasantly surprised.

Jun 16, 2011, 1:51pm

Awesome sauce! I need to put in an order for the next book...there will be so very few more...