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reviews 109 Rob Nixon. London Calling: V. S. Naipaul, Postcolonial Mandarin. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. 229 pp. $35.00 "Because we read, really, to find out what what we already know." —V. S. Naipaul, "Conrad's Darkness" With Salman Rushdie, V. S. Naipaul is probably the most famous expatriate writer of the Indian diaspora. Lionized in the anglophone metropolitan press as an authoritative reporter on the socalled Third World, Naipaul has come increasingly to be a travel writer, less and less the gifted, if somewhat limited, novelist who burst on the English literary scene in the late 50s and secured a solid reputation in the 60s with A Housefor Mr. Biswas and The Mimic Men, by general agreement his two best fictions. As Rob Nixon observes in his authoritative study of Naipaul's travel writings, the move away from imaginative fiction seems to have liberated Naipaul, producing a steady stream of books that shows little sign of drying up, even as their subject matter becomes more or less predictable, their execution ever more formulaic' The comparison with Rushdie is virtually compulsory, not only because both he and Naipaul are products of the Indian diaspora that has brought so many sub-continental intellectuals to the West, particularly to London. On first inspection, nothing could be more obvious than their differences: Rushdie, self-proclaimedly on the left, Naipaul confessed of no particular political affiliation but redolent with Tory values and phobias, as Nixon justly observes; Rushdie attempting to write within and sympathetically about indigenous cultural traditions on the subcontinent , Naipaul scorning all that has come to be lumped together under the Western conception of the Third World, but most particularly (if only in sheer volume) excoriating the land of his ancestors; Rushdie berating the racist and imperialist culture that persists in the West, Naipaul pandering to that culture's deepest prejudices. But after noting the prominent markers that oppose the two, it is worth emphasizing (as, for example Tim Brennan has done in Salman Rushdie and the Third World, an excellent companion volume to Nixon's) their shared position as writers resolutely inside elite British culture. They write for some of the same journals, they compete for the same literary prizes, and they have both chosen to remain residents in the imperial métropole. When Nixon hypothesizes that Naipaul's "fundamental affiliations might be to London as a metropolis and, beyond that, to the London-New York metropolitan axis around which literary culture revolves in the English-speaking world" (p. 39), he might well have substituted Rushdie's name for Naipaul's. The question to which Nixon persistently recurs in evaluating Naipaul's writings concerns the most fundamental affiliations they evince to metropolitan, specifically British, cultural traditions . Naipaul's veneration for Conrad is of course familiar. Nixon expands upon this wellknown affinity to draw Naipaul into a broader network of post-Conradian writing that includes Graham Greene, Hannah Arendt, and André Gide, among others (chapter 4). In earlier chapters, he persuasively demonstrates Naipaul's relationship to Victorian and Georgian travel writing (chapter 2), as well as to Western ethnography from Malinowski to Lévi-Strauss (chapter 3). Possibly of more interest than Naipaul's writing itself (about which non-metropolitan intellectuals have been sufficiently scathing that there is little excuse for the Western left to retain any illusions about it) are the cultural contexts that have produced him. The great value of Nixon's study is to have turned over this rich, if rank, ideological sub-soil and brought to light the teeming, 110 reviews diverse elements that have sustained the most virulent as well as the subtlest forms of contemporary Western racism and ethnocentrism. Another significant dimension, which plays in and out of the book's narrative warp, is Naipaul's relationship to his family, particularly his father. It was the latter's thwarted aspirations as a writer, Nixon maintains, that drove Vidia from Trinidad in search of a more salubrious, sustaining world in which to pursue his literary career. But the path of escape from daddy's legacy , as any orthodox Freudian will tell you, is never so straight and narrow as Naipaul's flight from his colonial...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 109-111
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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