Publication Year: 2003
From his reporting on Islamic true believers to his descriptions of the postcolonial world, V. S. Naipaul has been a controversial figure in contemporary letters. Winner of the Nobel Prize, Naipaul has traveled throughout the world, looking at its varied cultures and seeking out others' stories, recording and transforming them. His engagement with postcolonial cultures informs his novels, such as Guerrillas and A Bend in the River. However, it is his documentaries (such as Among the Believers and Beyond Belief) and his works that combine actual and fictional histories and memories (Finding the Center, The Enigma of Arrival, and A Way in the World) that best exhibit a growing awareness of the complexities of cultural difference -- and the incompleteness and uncertainty of understanding "strangers." In this book, Dagmar Barnouw explores the sophisticated strategies and experimentations that Naipaul employs in his cultural critique and in his enterprise of learning about and documenting the enduring strangeness of this world.
Published by: Indiana University Press
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Introduction: Cultural Plurality and Cultural Value
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This study of Naipaul’s writing focuses on the documentary interests and approaches in both his fiction and his travelogues. Present from the beginning, they have become increasingly visible over the course of a long writing career that demonstrates the author’s growing attentiveness to a multitude of other voices. Quintessentially a traveler, Naipaul has inhabited a large part of the...
1. Understanding Strangers
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There is perhaps no significant contemporary writer whose work has been shaped as profoundly by his cultural background and who, in learning to write about it, has made its disorienting strangeness as intelligible. A traveler and looker, moving away from his origins but never leaving them behind, V. S. Naipaul has learned to pose questions that go to the core of cultural...
2. Postcoloniality and Historicity
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Two writers who in the past had liked, even admired, Naipaul’s work have come to attack Naipaul in ways which light up sharply the enduring difficulties of difference and point to his work as a lightning rod for misunderstandings and resentments caused by ethnic and racial separations: Theroux, in his bad-temperedSir Vidia’s Shadow: A Friendship across Five Continents (1998), and Derek ...
3. Stories of Other Lives: Novels
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In A House for Mr Biswas (1961) Naipaul drew on his memories of the world he had left behind and his father’s stories about it—writings that were crucially important to the success of the book because they refreshed the already receding sounds and shapes of that world. The recently published correspondence with his family while he was at Oxford makes very clear the conflict between the need...
4. Stories of Other Lives: Documentaries Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey
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Travel has meant understanding the world, if partly and provisionally, and in that it has been the core energy for Naipaul’s writing. His comings and goings have had little to do with “the writer’s” proverbial existential homelessness on the melancholic margins of the human condition. Instead, he has over many decades traveled to many places to meet with and listen to a great variety of...
5. Stories of Other Lives: Documentaries Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples Iran
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In 1995, Naipaul went back to fundamentalist Islam, recording the results of traveling for five months in four non-Arab Muslim countries.1 The book was preceded by an essay about Iran in the New Yorker (26 May 1997) that explored the connections between the processual, incomplete nature of knowledge and the goal of documentary accuracy. Revisiting Tehran after sixteen...
6. Stories of Other Lives: Documentaries Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions among the Converted Peoples Pakistan
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On his second visit to Iran, Naipaul saw for the first time historic Isfahan, now again open to tourists. He was familiar with the magnificent seventeenth-century imperial Moghul paintings that presented the emperor Jehangir (1605–27) with images of his great rival Shah Abbas (1587–1629). For Jehangir, the India of his empire and the Shah’s Persia were by far the most important powers...
7. Uncertain Histories: Finding the Center and The Enigma of Arrival
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A Bend in the River (1979), a novel in the strict sense of the author’s relative independence from the contingencies of the factual, is narrated by the fictional East Indian merchant Salim. In certain ways he shares his author’s voice and provides a bridge to the documentarist Naipaul in Among the Believers (1981). Documentary narratives remain “naturally” incomplete because they articulate...
8. Uncertain Histories: A Way in the World
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Western concepts of time and history opened distinct temporal spaces that shaped Naipaul’s writing. Peter Hughes’s observation that he joined the “great modernists” in retrieving through “style” what has been “lost through history” does not take into consideration Naipaul’s keen awareness of the historicity of understanding.1 Coming from a place that he thought had no history, Naipaul...
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Page Count: 200
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2003