Naipaul's Nobel lecture can help us to understand him
Stabroek News
December 11, 2001

Dear Editor,

As an addendum to all that has been said about Sir V.S. Naipaul, all the debates that have raged, all the praise given, all the harsh words exchanged, is it possible that we take some time to read a few excerpts from the author's Nobel Lecture, entitled "Two Worlds" [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] , that was delivered last Friday? Perhaps these words spoken at the height of his literary career, and in which Naipaul gave his views on writing and writers, and explained his own focus as a writer, might give us all some new understanding of an author who is perhaps one of the most complex and controversial writers of our time. Even his harshest critics may glean some new understanding of Naipaul though they might still come away not liking his work.

He started his lecture thus: "This is unusual for me. I have given readings and not lectures. I have told people who ask for lectures that I have no lecture to give. And that is true. It might seem strange that a man who has dealt in words and emotions and ideas for nearly 50 years shouldn't have a few to spare, so to speak. But everything of value about me is in my books. Whatever extra there is in me at any given moment isn't fully formed. I am hardly aware of it; it awaits the next book. It will - with luck - come to me during the actual writing, and it will take me by surprise. That element of surprise is what I look for when I am writing. It is my way of judging what I am doing - which is never an easy thing to do."

Naipaul's lecture dealt with his background - Trinidad,

indentureship, his family - and his literary career. He quoted from Proust that a book is "the secretions of one's innermost self, written in solitude and for oneself alone that one gives to the public. What one bestows on private life - in the product of a quite superficial self, not of the innermost self which one can only recover by putting aside the world and the self that frequents that world."

His subjects as a writer were, he said, "those areas of darkness around me as a child ... The land; the aborigines; the New World; the colony; the history; India; the Muslim world, to which I felt myself related; Africa; and then England, where I was doing my writing...

"I worked intuitively. My aim every time was do a book, create something that would be easy and interesting to read. At every stage I could only work within my knowledge and sensibility and talent and world-view.

Those things developed book by book. And I had to do the books I did because there were no books about those subjects to give me what I wanted. I had to clear up my world, elucidate it, for myself....

"I had to travel to India because there was no one to tell me what the India my grandparents had come from was like....And when that Indian need was satisfied, others became apparent: Africa, South America, the Muslim world. The aim has always been to fill out my world picture, and the purpose comes from my childhood: to make me more at ease with myself. Kind people have sometimes written asking me to go and write about Germany, say, or China. But there is much good writing already about those places; I am

willing to depend there on the writing that exists. And those subjects are for other people. Those were not the areas of darkness I felt about me as a child. So, just as there is development in my work, a development in narrative skill and knowledge and sensibility, so there is a kind of unity, a focus, though I might appear to be going in many directions."

"Because of the intuitive way in which I have written, and also because of the baffling nature of my material, every book has come as a blessing....I feel - and the anxiety is still vivid to me - that I might easily have failed before I began."

Sir Vidia was due to receive his Nobel Prize at the prize-giving ceremony in Sweden on Monday, December 10th. It is a proud moment for the entire Caribbean region. (His Nobel Lecture is posted on "The Guardian" newspaper's website.

Yours faithfully,

Ryhaan Shah