Homi K. Bhabha on V.S. Naipaul: in conversation with William Ghosh

We’re told that literature is the immortality of words, but in fact reputation fades quickly. The work of VS Naipaul once drew flowery phrases from big names: “To understand the modern country, we are often told that we must read VS Naipaul” (Pico Iyer); “His writings are a kind of basis for thinking about certain things” (Barack Obama); The modern public literary field in India “already started with Naipaul” (Amitav Ghosh); “Sweeping Naipaul’s imagination” [is] Without equality today” (Elizabeth Hardwicke); or, in a different perspective, “the most immoral movement was by Naipaul…” (Edward Said). But today, it is unlikely that undergraduates arriving at university would have heard of it. Homi K. Bhabha wrote in proposing his new book in progress: VS Naipaul and the case of literature. But “VS Naipaul’s literary legacy is in danger of getting lost somewhere between elegiac celebration and violent controversy.”

He spoke to me Bhabha across the Atlantic, from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. My own book on Naipaul, a study of his associations with twentieth-century Caribbean writers, artists, and thinkers, was recently published and was read by Bhabha, a frequent student of Naipaul’s work. “Very well thought out, beautifully written, very to cautionHe said, with a slight smile, acknowledging that talking about the VS Naipaul topic can sometimes cause anger and humiliation. Why do we continue to read, study and teach? What is the significance of Naipaul today?

A founding figure in postcolonial theory, Bhabha first read Naipaul as a student in what was then Bombay. DPhil wrote about Naipaul’s work at Oxford in the early 1980s. He told me it started with a confession. “When I read Naipaul—especially the early works—I encountered a local native English. This is the way we spoke so much in Bombay. He legitimized this form of writing, and the thinking that accompanies it.” With time and careful consideration, turning to the more intense works of Naipaul’s middle period, he began to see more. He says, “For me, Naipaul was a transitive character, navigating the most classic formulations of the canon of English literature, while at the same time opening windows in the novel’s house to the experience of the oppressed, the marginalized, and those whose ambitions have hitherto outstripped their ability to realize them. Yet who stuck to them!”

Bhabha’s Essays taught me to see, as a student, how Naipaul allowed these “translations” of dialogue, setting, and environment to distort the literary forms he was using. The Naipaul characters have learned to respect the English language, but its grammar has become fresh in their mouths. Narrators have an exaggerated respect for the classic forms of English prose, yet they try to replicate them in colonial settings, and end up breaking them. House of Mr. Biswas, for example, “She had the spaciousness of a big man, yet everything about her ruined the traditions of the bildungsroman.” The Bhabha goes back to one word, ‘weirdness’: ‘This enormous educational embarrassment, which was not critical in style – the work is polished, elegant and exquisite – but rather concepts. The books are a montage of general parts, but the sum of the parts provocatively does not add up to the whole.’

Today, Bhabha’s ideas infiltrate far beyond literary scholarship. His book 1994 culture site It quickly became a staple text for students of postcolonial history, culture, and politics (One Robot on the publisher’s site claims 59,351 citations). It is amazing how many key terms from Bhabha’s later work – dualism, cosmopolitan vernacular – appear repeatedly in his discussion of Naipaul. Did this early and tireless study of Naipaul shape his later concepts? “Sure,” he says. “Naipaul was a matrix for some of my early thoughts.” At this point, Naipaul became the favorite witness of the defenders of imperialism in Britain and America. Bhabha’s interest in Naipaul did nothing to dispel suspicions among some left-wing thinkers that postcolonial theory was not politically radical enough: Brahmin in its concerns and expressions, it focused on language and culture at the expense of material inequality. Regarding Naipaul, Bhabha admits, “I wasn’t betting on a horse that most people thought would be such an important breakthrough for anti-colonial politics. Naipaul had many opinions that were incompatible with anti-colonial thinking. You know, I didn’t agree with him on a lot of things.” Much of my work is critical of it. But I felt that the problems raised by Naipaul needed to be explored.”

I think one problem is that “anti-colonialism” and “post-colonialism” are not really synonymous, and often postcolonial theory addresses a specific cultural question. That is, how do we talk about the differentials, the strangeness, the points of resistance and the embarrassment that are found in the morals, writings, and ideas of people from the formerly colonized world who have been completely assimilated in many ways? Bhabha says, “I totally agree with you, and this is the predicament of Naipaul, and the predicament of many post-colonial writers. At that time, people were trying to view people as either anti-colonial or collaborators. So Naipaul had to be collaborator. But it was clear that he was More complicated than that. What Naipaul requires of you is to live with contradiction, like Mr. Biswas or Ralph Singh, his characters live in contradiction. They have to tolerate duality as a condition of survival. But in the end it provides creativity.”

Naipaul is gone for his passing now, but his subjects are still with us. Bhabha describes finding himself in New York with a driver listening to Hindi bhajans (devotional songs). While talking to him, Bhabha realized that the man was not an Indian but a Trinidadian. ‘I asked him if he enjoyed bhajans.’ He said, ‘Yes, but I don’t understand them. Can you? Can you explain to me?”’ “I grew up in India to believe that people who grew up between languages, between cultures, were really second-class citizens. Even elites will mostly listen to classifiers, such as young Wagner, young Strauss, etc. But what we coveted was the ingenuity of knowing Wagner in full, all of it. This is why the Naipaul is important. He said: The mosaic, the complex, the known half, and the amalgam. This is amazing It has value in itself. This will be my topic. So the New York taxi driver was essentially Naipaoli.”

At the heart of Bhabha’s interest in Naipaul is a worldview drawn from the shattered Naipaul characters who, he says, “look to the mundane relationships that exist in the midst of the movement of ideas and images in the great cities while keeping their eyes trained on a horizon of hope.” in another place. Sometimes, the traffic bypasses the island, but the creative imagination refuses to give up the freedom of writing from elsewhere while never stopping to recreate the landscape of the house.” He explains that this is not the world of the rich, where mobile citizens move from one nation to another, mastering Rather, it is a non-elitist “slang” cosmopolitan of immigrants, the homeless, the diaspora, living among languages ​​and cultural traditions, and insecure—even paradoxically—connected with different visions of culture. “This is why the Naipaul is important today, because it Contrasted, asymmetric and strange. When everything seems to be going the other way.”

Main image: Trinidad – Port of Spain (Library of Congress Department of Prints and Pictures, Washington, DC)

Latest articles

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here