Saturday, October 27, 2007
Subrahmanyam, Sanjay. "Where Does He Come From [review of Naipaul's latest]?" LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS November 1, 2007
Many people have strong opinions about this Trinidadian expatriate, including the reviewers and interviewers he regularly deals with. The dividing line is essentially political, a fact that might be disquieting for a creative writer. In this respect Naipaul is more like Solzhenitsyn than, say, Joyce, whose appeal can transcend (or confound) traditional political divides. In the case of Naipaul, those on the left, especially defenders of the ‘Third World’ and its hopes, from C.L.R. James and Edward Said to Michael Gilsenan, more or less uniformly find him and his attitudes troubling and sometimes bigoted. He is portrayed as a self-hater and Uncle Tom, a product of the sorts of complex that Frantz Fanon diagnosed. On the other side are the conservative writers – those who might see Ayaan Hirsi Ali as a major intellectual figure – who celebrate Naipaul as an original voice, a writer who provides a searing, politically incorrect indictment of all that is wrong in the modern world: Islam in its various manifestations, the grotesque dictatorships of Africa, the squalor and self-inflicted misery of much of the Third World, the failure everywhere of projects of métissage between the West and non-West. A few fence-sitters meanwhile play down the significance of his non-fiction and praise his fiction, his pared-down style and capacity to write precise, economical, somewhat repetitive English. Naipaul is a prototype that has now been cloned many times over in the Indian subcontinent: the fiction writer who is also a travel writer. One can see why Pankaj Mishra may read and review Naipaul with an Oedipal frisson. Vatermord or ancestor worship? It can be a hard choice. Read the rest here: http://www.lrb.co.uk/v29/n21/subr01_.html.