I refer to Abu Bakr’s letter captioned “Naipaul has re-invented himself as an upper class and unpredictably eccentric English-man” (07.11.02) .” Mr. Bakr mentions Naipaul in the same category as the 20th century French Novelist, Marcel Proust, one of the greatest creative writers the world – whether Europe, North America, Africa, Latin America, India, the Caribbean, etc – has ever known, and probably will ever know. (Editor’s note: Mr Bakr has since pointed out in a note that we published that he had intended to refer to Froude not Proust).
Proust was neither a travel writer nor an elitist writer, and definitely cannot be compared to traditionalist Anglo writers like Trollope, Kingsley, and least of all VS Naipaul. Proust wrote one novel (and a prior juvenile one) that went on for volumes and over a thousand pages, A La Recherche du Temps Perdu or in English, In Search of lost time” or Remembrance of things past which concerns the nature of passing time and its effect on his life, whereas Naipaul has written several books on all sorts of topics, countries, cultures, and people outside the Caribbean. Naipaul tells us many things about himself, how he grew up, his influences etc. in Anglo-Colonial Trinidad. But his style is far less exploratory of language than Proust’s, because his conception of language is that of something, an instrument, to express opinions and inform us of them. Language is Naipaul’s servant, and he manipulates it like a puppet master.
Proust on the other hand is the servant of language, he writes without knowing where he’s going, he explores, he has no didactic analysis or opinion in advance of his sentences which trace the exploration of his fluctuating mind, and what he experiences among others. He sees things from endless view points, which leave readers open-minded and without biased conclusions. Proust is a modern writer, his style is the essence of modernity, which is endlessly self critical and exciting.
Proust grew up in an upper class, aristocratic or elitist family structure and social atmosphere, but he was not an elitist writer, far from it. In fact Proust has been credited with discrediting the continuation of elitist views left over since the French revolution in 18th century France. Proust criticizes his society from within its elitist circles and from within himself.
His interests and style of writing are far from VS Naipaul’s and far better as well. Naipaul never reveals the sort of intimate and sensitive topics that Proust reveals, since Proust wrote mainly about class relations from an intimate viewpoint; his great book is filled with eroticism, sexual adventures, all sorts of love affairs among all sorts of people, jealousies, political and social attitudes he listened to. He enjoyed the company and beauty of common people, servants, village girls, peasant girls, washer women, prostitutes, gigolos, homosexuals, artists, writers, old snobbish couples etc.
This is what modernity is about, language exploring itself and writer’s self via such topics. Naipaul is not a modernist but a learned provincial. Modernity in literature which Proust helped develop, is the exploration of our consciousness by self criticism, self criticism, self criticism. This is a lesson local and regional creative and other writers need to learn and practice more, in a less provincial manner than either Naipaul or Walcott.