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Sir Vidia Speaking


The New York Times carries an interview with V.S Naipaul, part of a profile by Rachel Donadio titled The Irascible Prophet. Naipaul is his usual self in the interview: Provocative, grumpy and full of himself. He disdains the novel as an inadequate format , dismisses Proust as “tedious” and claims to have “little respect” for Joyce.

[…]although Naipaul said he thought Conrad was “great” because he “wished to look very, very hard at the world,” he also insisted that Conrad “had no influence on me.” “Actually, I think ‘A Bend in the River' is much, much better than Conrad,” he said.

But Donadio discovers this interesting little quirk as the conversation wears on… that “[…] the more dismissive Naipaul is of a writer, the more likely it is that he has engaged deeply with that writer's work.” Hmm.

How can someone so obnoxious and loud write with so much grace? If Naipaul wrote like he spoke, he'd be Subhash Ghai's screenwriter, but as it turns out, he writes well enough to win the Nobel. Donadio explains the dichtomy,

[…] like so many of Naipaul's utterances over the years, seem calculated to provoke. In his interviews as in his life, Naipaul is famously irascible, difficult, contradictory, an ideological lightning rod. Yet in his writing, he is an artist on whom nothing is lost. Naipaul addressed this split in his Nobel acceptance speech, in which he seconded Proust's argument that “a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.” Naipaul's work is as subtle as his interviews are clamorous.

Link through Amit and Kitabkhana.