Saturday, September 25, 2004

Said on Naipaul

Really liked Said's comment on Naipaul and others in the essay "Writing to the moment" (Tom Paulin in The Guardian, September 25, 2004):

"Macaulay admitted he had "no knowledge of either Sanskrit or Arabic", but went on to assert: "The intrinsic superiority of the western literature is indeed fully admitted by those members of the committee who support the oriental plan of education ... It is, I believe, no exaggeration to say that all the historical information which has been collected in the Sanskrit language is less valuable than what may be found in the paltry abridgements used at preparatory schools in England."

As Said remarks, this is no "mere expression" of an opinion, because Macaulay has an ethnocentric opinion with ascertainable results: speaking from a position of power he was able to make an entire subcontinent submit to studying in a language not its own. It was reading Said on Macaulay and then reading the complete minute that made me realise that the beautiful standard English RK Narayan employs in his subtle novels is pitched at such a perfect level - a level with no vernacular resonance - that it reads, with a deliberate irony, as though it is translated from Narayan's native Tamil. Narayan, I remember, was attacked by VS Naipaul, and from time to time Said criticises Naipaul as a writer who tells western power what it wants to hear about its former colonies. He is "a sensibility on tour". For Said, the yeast of culture, as Louis MacNeice phrased it, is debate and argument - his address as a lecturer was never shrill or monologic, and the same is true of his written prose."

So Naipaul as "a sensibility on tour!" Makes sense to me.

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