naipaul: ways of looking and seeing


To build an intellectual argument through storytelling has its pitfalls, and one of the common charges against Naipaul is that he overgeneralises from the particular. In this book, for example, India is condemned for its materialism because an Indian publisher produced a shoddy version of a book by Naipaul’s father. This is Naipaul in his dinner-party mode, snappily assertive, brooking no dissent. But the Powell essay isn’t guilty of that fault. The particulars illustrate the book’s essential argument that Naipaul had to find a new way of writing, entirely his own, because he could find no models that fitted his experience. He couldn’t, in the end, understand why Powell was a writer. Where was the need? European society was already “over-written-about” when Powell set out in 1930. Dickens, Eliot, the great Russian and French novelists—they’d crawled all over it: “very little about these great European societies had been left unsaid. The societies themselves had been diminished for various reasons… a diminished society couldn’t be written about in the old way, of social comment.” Poor Tony. The world had changed, his material was dead. Naipaul writes: “It is hard to be first. It is possibly harder to come near the end.”

more from Prospect Magazine here.