naipaul: at the mercy of the “bow and arrow men”

“If a writer doesn’t generate hostility, he is dead. …Writers should provoke disagreement.” – V.S. Naipaul. Naipaul is something of a master craftsman in putting down rivals, the art of invidious comparison, and the guile of over-the-top self adulation. It apparently is a practice that goes back to Marlowe and Shakespeare. Naipaul has been expanding that tradition, but in a frightful manner; that does seem to mask that he is a most boring, conservative writer, yet can write the most perfect prose with near miraculous syntax  in the tradition of say, the Academie Francaise. In another sense, it seems to be the way the literary world keeps itself in the news….

---This time, the winner of the Nobel prize for literature has lashed out at female authors, saying there is no woman writer whom he considers his equal – and singling out Jane Austen for particular criticism. In an interview at the Royal Geographic Society on Tuesday about his career, Naipaul, who has been described as the "greatest living writer of English prose", was asked if he considered any woman writer his literary match. He replied: "I don't think so." Of Austen he said he "couldn't possibly share her sentimental ambitions, her sentimental sense of the world"....He said: "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think it is unequal to me." ...this was because of women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world". "And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too," he said. He added: "My publisher, who was so good as a taster and editor, when she became a writer, lo and behold, it was all this feminine tosh. I don't mean this in any unkind way." Read More:

William Langley:His claim … female writers were doomed to inferiority by their “sentimental” attitudes and “narrow view of the world” certainly did the trick. But only to the extent that at 78 -a cranky old man grown out of an even crankier young one -it was almost expected of him. He boasted the works of the greatest female novelists were “unequal” to his own efforts, and dismissed his celebrated former publisher, the saintly nonagenarian Diana Athill, as a writer of “feminine tosh.” Read More:

---“Naipaul’s fiction shows Africans as either nameless personalities or shady chance-takers eager to cash in on the goodwill of the mzungu ,” author Rob Nixon has written . This, and his reported reference to Africans as, among other things, “bow and arrow men”, earned him labels such as “post-colonial mandarin”. But admirers of Naipaul’s unflinching, politically incorrect reportage read him precisely because he is not caught up in romanticising “primitive” societies.... extracts from Patrick French’s biography portraying the writer as callous, sexist, violent and racist. One well-nourished lady, whose raison d’être in Johannesburg is her interracial marriage, blurted out a quote from French’s biography she had by-hearted, where Naipaul allegedly said of a friend’s daughter: “She’s fat … and she did what all fat girls do; she married a Zulu.”---Read More: image:

There has always been something of the white man’s pet in Naipaul; someone on a short leash who is willing to lick the bowl clean for a seat on the bus, an entrance to “good” society as long as the guard dog continues to espouse patriarchy, misogyny and racism under the pretext of not being politically correct; albeit in some of the most beautifully constructed sentences ever committed to paper. But, this puncturing of liberal pieties, is it often not like an adolescent mawing on the hand that feeds him?

---He was "a grouch, a skinflint, tantrumprone, with race on the brain," Mr. Theroux wrote. "He was then, and continued to be, an excellent candidate for anger-management classes, sensitivity training, psychotherapy, marriage guidance, grief counselling and driving lessons -none of which he pursued." Bad as all this sounded, there was plenty worse that Mr. Theroux -thanks to his publisher's lawyers -left out. "I wanted to write about his cruelty to his wife," he recalled later, "his crazed domination of his mistress that lasted almost 25 years, his screaming fits, his depressions, his absurd contention that he was the greatest writer in the English language."---Read More: image:

Evidently, Naipaul presents the liberal for the most part, literary establishment with something of a dilemma to resolve. Useful while he rendered service, he seems to be ready to be flushed; “he had some good ideas, but he went too far” refrain. Or, as A.N. Wilson has remarked, for Naipaul, it was a self protective decision to turn himself into a monster. In any event, there is something comic, cinema noir even bedroom farcical about Naipaul; even his monster persona is more on the lines of “Heykel” in Chaplin’s Great Dictator that a true and tested evil. Despite all the cleverness with words, is he just a lightweight, perhaps depressive, clearly self-hating individual desperate for escape? This inability for anyone to ever meet expectations raises the issue.


---Where Naipaul does both Africa and himself a disservice is in failing to verify much of his information. Somehow, when it comes to Africa, rigour flies out of the window. Naipaul talks of rituals performed using human body parts. Neither Naipaul nor we know if any of this is true. I would treat it with scepticism, as sorcerers famously like to big themselves up by creating a culture of fear. If locals are turning to magic (which they may well be), it is perhaps because such beliefs the world over are the last resort of the poor, the disenfranchised and the dispossessed – in short, those with no other way to change their lives. It is only in South Africa, where the legacy of apartheid proves enduring and unavoidable, and where the sangoma's hollow promises find ever more seekers willing to believe, that Naipaul comes close to this understanding.---Read More:

It can be inferred that Naipaul has almost a pathological need to be conspicuous and protect and enhance his status. Reading  Naipaul is high culture; he is a leisure class habit who is at the conjunction of the relationship between class status, private property and social inequality; in other words a spoke in the wheel of consumerism and Naipaul’s corrosive broadsides are just a reflection on the need to maintain and uphold status providing the motivational  framework that establishes the dynamic for invidious comparisons among persons,nations and so on  that maintain  the idea of status hierarchy. Joseph Heath in his study of Thorstein Veblen provides a comprehensive analysis in which cultural products like Naipaul’s, geared for the higher strata of the food chain, fit into the overall system, which means there will always have to be people to be dissed and marginalized:

The predatory character of the upper class is reflected in the fact that it is not only exempt from any “industrial” employment, but is positively barred from it. This produces a sort of transvaluation of values, in which the useless becomes celebrated, precisely because it serves as sign that one is a member of the dominant class – hence the social significance of leisure. Of course, the instinct of workmanship is never entirely
extinguished. Once the predatory class is sufficiently entrenched, fewer opportunities present themselves for displays of prowess. Thus this class invents for itself new, labor-intensive activities, which may involve great effort and skill, but which are demarcated from the activities of the laboring classes by virtue of being explicitly futile in their aim. Sport is the most obvious example, but more controversially, Veblen also includes under this rubric religious observances, etiquette, esoteric learning (such as classical languages), aesthetic appreciation, “domestic music,” and a variety of other activities (1899, 45). Hence the perverse spectacle of the best (if not necessarily the brightest) applying themselves with boundless energy and selfless commitment, developing advanced competencies in activities that have absolutely no redeeming social value. The term “leisure class” is, in this respect, somewhat misleading, since members of this class often find their lives to be just as hectic and demanding as those of the laboring classes. This is why Veblen describes leisure, not as mere “indolence,” but as a “performance”(1899, 58). (For example, he observes that, “good breeding requires time, application and expense”[1899, 49]).Read More:


From the Opinioness of the World-Megan Kearns- ( saturates society. When we hear and see so much misogyny, people often become anesthetized, ignoring it. Perhaps it’s part of the reason so many women and men think we’ve already achieved gender equity and parity.

---Sexist, racist and homophobic: it’s small wonder that Norman Mailer had any friends to actually fall out with prior to his death in 2007. Still, he persevered, locking horns with Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote and critic Michiko Katutani, who he described as a “one-woman kamikaze”, during his career. His finest altercation was arguably with Gore Vidal, though. Vidal described Mailer’s work, The Prisoner of Sex, to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to serial killer, Charles Manson. Mailer reciprocated in 1971 by head-butting Vidal in the green room of the Dick Cavett Show. Six years later, Mailer threw a drink at Vidal and punched him. Prostrate on the carpet, Vidal managed to utter the immortal line: “as usual, words fail him,” a comeback that’s gone down in history. Still, the pair grew tired of fighting and reconciled in 1985. ---Read More: image:

Going further, statements and sentiments like Naipaul’s feed into the misogyny machine that churns out crap telling women they are lesser than men: less significant, less powerful, less valuable. It stifles women, overtly and covertly telling men what they have to say carries far more weight than women’s views. In a perfect world, only the quality of writing or a compelling story would matter, not a writer’s gender. But with asshole chauvinist creeps like Naipaul spewing sexism, it proves we still have a long way to go. Read More:
A.N. Wilson: Yet reactions to it have been adverse – and principally, it seems, because critics have struggled to find in the great writer the material for a clichéd idea of an ideal husband. How could such a masterly writer turn out to be such a monster? No doubt it is upsetting when Naipaul admits to French a scene of terrible violence with his Argentinian mistress, Margaret Gooding, during which – having discovered that she had been unfaithful to him, “I was very violent with her for two days; I was very violent with her for two days with my hand; my hand began to hurt . . . . She didn’t mind it at all. She thought of it in terms of my passion for her”. She stayed with him for a quarter of a century.

No doubt Naipaul wanted this told – the violence and the infidelity. He claims that he hastened his wife’s death by telling a journalist that in younger days – when Pat had been supporting him in poverty by working as a teacher – he had been “a great prostitutes man”. (Do we believe this bluff claim to be one of the lads? How was it paid for at this period of abject indigence? When he took up with Margaret Gooding in 1972, she complained about premature ejaculation; he seemed all but inexperienced. In Magic Seeds, 2004, he wrote, “The fact is all sexual intimacy is distasteful to me. I’ve always considered my low sexual energy as a kind of freedom”.) And although he says that he has never read his wife’s painful diaries, with their aching sense of frustration and rejection, he obviously wanted them to become public knowledge. “Doctored truth is not truth”, Naipaul said; “I think the completeness of the record is what matters.”

Naipaul, like Tolstoy and Evelyn Waugh, has made the self-protective decision to turn himself into a monster. Of course, the women suffered. And of course Naipaul has always gone in for saying and writing calculatedly offensive things. “Like monkeys pleading for evolution, each claiming to be whiter than the other, Indians and Negroes appeal to the unacknowledged white audience to see how much they despise each other” (The Middle Passage); “I am beginning to feel more and more that women are trivial-minded, incapable of analysing or even seeing their motives”. Nor was this habit of frankness solely attributable to old-man grumpiness. As an undergraduate, condemned to lodge in what he considered a slum with some cousins during an Oxford vacation, he wrote, “I am years and ages away from these people . . . . I find their English coarse and acidulous”. Read More:

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