Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wounder and wounded

My man, The New Yorker's James Wood has written the most insightful review (Wounder and wounded) of V S Naipaul's biography by Patrick French. It is just brilliant. A must read.

The Indian social theorist Ashis Nandy writes of the two voices in Kipling, which have been called the saxophone and the oboe. The first is the hard, militaristic, imperialist writer, and the second is the Kipling infused with Indianness, with admiration for the subcontinent’s cultures. Naipaul has a saxophone and an oboe, too, a hard sound and a softer one. These two sides could be called the Wounder and the Wounded. The Wounder is by now well known—the source of fascinated hatred in the literary world and postcolonial academic studies. He disdains the country he came from: “I was born there, yes. I thought it was a mistake.” When he won the Nobel Prize, in 2001, he said it was “a great tribute to both England, my home, and India, the home of my ancestors.” Asked why he had omitted Trinidad, he said that he feared it would “encumber the tribute.” He has written of the “barbarism” and “primitivism” of African societies, and has fixated, when writing about India, on public defecation. (“They defecate on the hills; they defecate on the riverbanks; they defecate on the streets.”) When asked for his favorite writers, he replies, “My father.” He is socially successful but deliberately friendless, an empire of one: “At school I had only admirers; I had no friends.”


Here is an audio interview with Woods on his New Yorker piece.

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