restricted access V. S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading (review)
In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Selwyn R. Cudjoe. V. S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading. Amherst: U of Massachusetts P, 1988. 287 pp. $32.50 cloth; pb. $13.95.

Selwyn Cudjoe's V. S. Naipaul is essential reading for serious students of Naipaul and aficionados of postcolonial literature more generally, for Naipaul's defenders and detractors alike, and for both First World and Third World critics. The first book-length assessment of Naipaul grounded in contemporary literary theory, V. S. Naipaul offers a "materialist" reading (one that locates the author's work in the politico-historical and sociocultural context of colonialism and postcolonialism) as a corrective to earlier "idealist" interpretations (those that neglected the ideological and cultural determinants of Naipaul's ouevre and saw only his technical virtuosity, not his limitations). A Trinidadian native, Cudjoe presents an extended analysis of what he terms Naipaul's "increasing identification with the dominant imperialist ideology and racist preoccupation of the time." Cudjoe's overall aim is polemical—to demonstrate to First World scholars and critics that despite Naipaul's ethnic and national background, he evinces a growing racism and misanthropy that invalidate his observations regarding postcolonial societies.

Although Naipaul professes to be a "rootless" writer, "without a past, without ancestors," Cudjoe rightly contends that the impetus behind most of his writing is his ambivalent relationship with his original home, Trinidad; his work should therefore be studied in the context both of Caribbean literary and historical tradition and the larger field of postcolonial discourse. Basing his analyses on a thorough knowledge of West Indian literature and contemporary literary criticism—the theories of Freud and Bakhtin, Althusser and Williams, Lacan and Foucault, and Eagleton and Jameson, among others—and displaying considerable familiarity with Hindu philosophy, Cudjoe presents a close chronological reading of all of Naipaul's texts (except the 1989 travel book, A Turn in the South). He demonstrates the evolution of Naipaul's vision from a productive ambivalence toward the Third World in the early texts to what he deems a "morbid" self-preoccupation and "nihilistic" racism in the later ones. [End Page 389]

The Introduction articulates Cudjoe's "materialist" aim and methodology (encompassing primarily psychoanalytic, Marxist/historical, and linguistic approaches), presents Third versus First World readings of Naipaul, and identifies the Caribbean context of Naipaul's writings. The thoroughness of Cudjoe's research is demonstrated early in Chapter One as he discusses Naipaul's short stories from the Miguel Street collection and the BBC Written Archives' holdings to delineate what were to become recurring themes in Naipaul's work: exile, the concomitant search for identity, and the tensions in the lives of Trinidadian East Indians between their Eastern past and increasingly Westernized present.

Chapter Two investigates the social development of Trinidadian Hindus portrayed in The Mystic Masseur and their political dispossession depicted in The Suffrage of Elvira. A House for Mr Biswas is, Cudjoe admits, "the great realist novel of Caribbean literature"; Chapter Three concludes the examination of the first phase of Naipaul's writing by analyzing House as a prose tragedy that traces the emergence of Hindu feudal society into a nascent capitalist order.

Chapter Four studies the second period of Naipaul's development—encompassing The Middle Passage, An Area of Darkness, and Mr Stone and the Knights Companion—during which, according to Cudjoe, Naipaul's ambivalence toward the Third World is replaced by admiration for the dominant colonialist-capitalist society and corresponding disdain for the colonized.

Chapter Five examines "A Christmas Story," "A Flag on the Island," The Mimic Men, and The Loss of El Dorado in political as well as psychoanalytical terms to establish what Cudjoe sees as Naipaul's increasingly "savage manner" of describing the colonial and postcolonial condition. Drawing upon Freud and Lacan in particular, Cudjoe attributes Naipaul's depiction of mimicry and "psychic crampedness" in Mimic to his inability to progress beyond the "mirror stage" of development and to sever his "incestuous relationship with the mother (country)"; and Loss Cudjoe interprets as a "distorted," "ideological" interpretation of events rather than as an objective, scientific appraisal of Caribbean history.

In Chapter Six, Cudjoe turns to Bakhtin's study of carnivalesque humor to prove that as Naipaul accepts the ideology...


pdf