Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Sun has Set on this Empire, Or Why VS Naipaul is such an Asshat

Perhaps some of you heard that Nobel-prize winning charmer and all-around curmudgeonly scamp, VS Naipaul gave a splendidly tone-deaf interview to the Royal Geographic Society recently wherein he delightfully expressed his charming, old-world views about womenfolk and their confounding insistence on getting out of the kitchen and birthin-room because they want to be all writer-like. Pffft. Women. When will they learn?  Never! According to Naipaul. (In case you missed it, here's the Guardian article:

Oh ha ha. That Naipaul.

Seriously, once I realized the pot-bellied septuagenarian's comments were made in earnest, with a straight face and everything (I had to first be sure this was not another Onion article), I was puh-lenty pissed. And, my buttons being sufficiently pushed (if one considers being hit with the force of a sledgehammer being "pushed"), I did what any appropriately outraged person does in the 21st century.  I posted my disapproval on Facebook.

And then I seethed about it. "What a jerk!" I thought. "Who does he think he is?" I fumed. I read Enigma on Arrival and it sucked! Really. It did. Could not finish it. In fact, I hated it so much that I take every opportunity to remind the instructor who assigned it for a class how very much he missed with that selection (apparently, I have a bit of the ole VS charm myself!).  Enigma, for me, committed one of the seven deadly sins of writing: It was, above all else, boring as hell.

Why, you ask? Well, aside from being glacially paced--in no small part because the writer insisted upon suspending all progress while he lingered, descriptively-speaking, on the maddeningly mundane minutia of his surroundings (Here's a tip, novice writers: Lots and lots and lots of adjectives and other descriptive language does not automatically equal good or important writing)--it was also unfocused and meandering (in scope). And, (wait for it) it was sentimental. Yup. Ironic much, VS, buddy?

Honestly, though, unlike my paunchy friend, I can't go into much more detail about the book--in part because, as I said, I could not bring myself to finish it (I believe I opted instead for the more exciting and dynamic act of watching my nails grow), but also because I believe my natural defense mechanisms have blessedly blocked much of the offending and traumatizing memory.

Thank you defense mechanisms!

As I write this, it's the end of the day. I've had time to get all uppity about it; now my ire is slowly deflating.  The more I think about what he said, the more he starts to sound like someone's grandfather who is wistfully remembering a long-ago overly romanticized ideal. You know, the good old days.

Look, Naipaul is of another era. Born in Trinidad to Indian parents, he was educated at Oxford. He's a product of British colonialism. That's what he knows and that's what he's clinging to.  So, really, his comments shouldn't come as much of a shock (they now seem to me, mere hours later, more quaint then incendiary); they are of another time, too. No, it doesn't make his attitude right, but, when taken within the context of his upbringing, they almost make sense. Almost.

His comments call to mind the fading glory of an empire weakened by time and age, propagated by a doddering old writer decades past his prime. They call to mind--not hostility or distaste--but pity.

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