Tuesday, June 07, 2011


The Enigma of Naipaul

That controversial Trinidadian, V.S. Naipaul, has been at it again, making comments that have aroused fury in certain corners of the writing world (does the writing world really have corners? I thought it was spherical). This time he has had the temerity to claim that no female writer is his equal... As might be expected, female writers have reacted angrily and sarcastically; and some male writers, keen to display their maturity (and eligibility?) in front of those female writers were even quicker off the mark, denouncing Mr Naipaul with all sort of curses and imprecations.

I find all this strange for one rather small but rigorously logical reason. Imagine that a hypothetical reader cites Naipaul as his favourite writer (I am sure there are real readers out there who regard Naipaul as their favourite writer). Hasn't that hypothetical reader made exactly the same claim on Naipaul's behalf that Naipaul himself made? When that reader says, "My favourite writer is V.S. Naipaul", he is simultaneously saying that no female writer can match him. Isn't that claim therefore inherently misogynistic?

And yet readers are happy to announce their favourite writers in public. Nobody expects any repercussions from doing so. My favourite writer is Italo Calvino. The moment I say that Calvino (a man) is my favourite writer I am automatically implying that no female writer is his match. Such exclusion is a logical consequence of having a favourite writer. It works the other way round. If (for example) Angela Carter was my favourite writer and I was prepared to say so aloud, I would be denigrating all male writers by making that claim.

Clearly absurdity lies this way. In Britain we still (just about) live in a society free enough to permit various forms of verbal and written dissent. We aren't forced to say 'socially acceptable' things all the time. It's not yet illegal to have forceful opinions. Naipaul's 'crime' (or 'sin') in this instance seems merely to be equivalent to listing himself as his own favourite writer. And yet, secretly, all writers regard themselves as their own favourite writer. How could they not? Does this mean that all male writers should be condemned for misogyny (and all female writers for misandry)?

I read a Naipaul novel many years ago, A House for Mr Biswas. It is vastly better than anything Jane Austen wrote. That's my opinion. If you don't like it, sue me in the Court of Fictional but Very Serious Crimes.

That depends on how your regard your own opinion. I tend to understand my personal preferences as exactly that - as subjective, not objective, value judgements. So "my favourite" is not synonymous with "the best". I'm not even sure I have one favourite writer - if pushed, I'd likely say Tove Janssen though. Sexist git that I am.
True... 'Favourite' is not always synonymous with 'Best'... But if I acknowledge that fact my whole pseudo-argument would fall down.

And the point of my pseudo-argument was to mock those pompous and pretentious men (one in particular, let's call him SB) on Facebook who saw the controversy as an opportunity to strut in front of females. "Look at me, I'm so mature; I'm all the things that Cosmopolitan says that women want men to be!"
Ha, well good work mocking the pompous and pretentious Cosmo Men. They deserve all the mockery that can be thrown at them.
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