I love to read the biographies of great writers. Yes, their lives inspire me, but most importantly, their weaknesses make me feel like I have company.
Anything that makes me feel like a part of the human race is good in my book.
I’m reading the latest triumph by Patrick French: "The World is What it is: The Authorized Biography of V.S. Naipaul"
Like Naipaul, I too stand for "high civilization, individual rights and the rule of law." Like Naipaul, I "made malign jokes about people with darker skin than himself, blamed formerly oppressed nations for their continuing failure…" Like Naipaul, I like to sport with people:
…Naipaul "was playing ole mas," meaning he was masquerading or making trouble for his own entertainment, a Trinidadian trait. I noticed that when he was being rude or provocative in this way, Naipaul was full of glee. Creating tension, insulting his friends, family or whole communities left him in excellent spirits. He might for instance, on the basis of a photograph in the Daily Mail, denounce Queen Elizabeth’s granddaughter Zara Phillips for having a "criminal face," or say that a friend’s daughter was "a fat girl, and she did what fat girls do, she married a Zulu," or accuse a journalist of "doing disreputable things like mixing with Bengalias — and other criminals." Later, after I had visited Trinidad, I realized this style of conversation was not rare in the Caribbean. It was what Trinidadians call "picong," from the French "piquant," meaning sharp or cutting, where the boundary between good and bad taste is deliberately blurred, and the listener sent reeling.
I often say outrageous things, but I do this to start conversations, not to end them. If I am talking to someone I don’t care for, I usually won’t go to the bother of saying something outrageous. V.S. Naipaul often says in interviews that he learned nothing at Oxford and this inevitably generates headlines. I dare say that Naipaul is just playing in the same way I do.
I wonder if Sir Vidia spends hours thinking about the ways he is similar to me?
My own dad could’ve sent this note about me: "You know, at heart he is not a bad fellow; only a bit erratic & thoughtless and callously unconventional."
I identify with this description of Vidia at Oxford: "He was overdeveloped and underdeveloped all at the same time, intellectually advanced and emotionally restricted, alone in an alien world…"
Vidia wrote a friend from Oxford: "A feeling of emptiness is nearly always on me. I see myself struggling in a sort of tunnel blocked up at both ends."
A girl broke up with Vidia, telling him he was "too forceful and too intense." Boy, have I heard those sentiments throughout my life.
I reckon I’ve been dumped ten times for every time I’ve sent a sheila on a walkabout.
It’s just not fair.
Good thing there’s porn — a land where psychic recompense can be had and the frustrations of real life solved (for the moment before you feel worse).
I love Vidia’s undergraduate description of prayer: "Incense for the incensed God."
Vidia got two free sessions from a psychologist and said later: "…[I]f you go and expose yourself to someone at a moment of your greatest weakness you do hate them."
Patrick French writes: "While in Madrid, he bought a kimono for Pat which she was to keep for many years; wearing it made her feel sensual, and it became a sexual indicator between them."
During a brief remission in his wife’s cancer, the Nobel Prize-winning novelist V.S. Naipaul casually explained to a journalist that he had always been "a great prostitute man," mongering among the whores from the early days of his marriage.
The publicity that followed from the remark "consumed" his wife, he later admitted to his biographer, Patrick French. "She had all the relapses and everything after that. She suffered. It could be said that I killed her. . . . I feel a little bit that way." Unfortunately, he didn’t feel "that way" enough to think it inappropriate to move into his house, the day after he cremated his wife, his new mistress, a Pakistani journalist he’d just met (and would, in short order, marry).
Even before the whoring revelations, Naipaul’s first wife, a middle-class woman named Patricia Hale whom he’d met while he was a student on scholarship to England, had known about a prior mistress–but only because Naipaul himself decided one day to tell her, explaining the violent acts he enjoyed with the woman, some of them memorialized in photographs he brought along to aid the explanation.
The woman’s name was Margaret Gooding, and Naipaul met her in 1972 in Buenos Aires. French’s new biography of Naipaul, The World Is What It Is, quotes extensively from her letters: unbearable scrawls that read like clinical case studies drawn from the pages of Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. She begs, moans, despairs, and pleads for Naipaul’s "cruel sexual desires." She calls him her "god," her "black master." Her multiple abortions of his children sicken her, but she offers them up to him as proof of her love and abasement.
And all this sex stuff is only the beginning. Throughout The World Is What It Is Naipaul shows himself arrogant beyond belief, and vile-tempered, and as self-obsessed as a man simpering while he looks at himself in the mirror. His letters and conversation are full of references to "niggers" and dismissals of Africans and dark-skinned Indians.
The man was capable of bouts of extraordinary cruelty: Unhappy with Margaret at one point, Naipaul explains, "I was very violent with her for two days. . . . Her face was bad. She couldn’t appear really in public. My hand was swollen." But then, he was capable of ordinary, everyday cruelty, as well: "You are the only woman I know who has no skill," his wife’s diaries reveal Naipaul once told her, just in passing. "You behave like the wife of a clerk who has risen above her station." He moved on to the mistress who would become his second wife because his inamorata Margaret had simply grown unworthy of his use: "middle-aged, almost an old lady."
If a woman such as Margaret chooses to stay in an abusive relationship, is it abuse?
I must be a bad man because I don’t see any of these revelations as so horrible. I can only assume that Pat and Margaret chose to stay with Sir Vidia because the rewards they got from being around this great writer outweighed the price they paid.
I bet they preferred to be abused by Sir Vidia than bored by an ordinary man.
Many of the cruelest things ever said to me were by a writer friend who was equally generous and kind. When he ended our friendship, I was the poorer for it. I missed him desperately. I even missed his abuse (or maybe not). I’d rather be abused by my former friend than praised by milquetoast.
Paul Theroux writes: "Now French’s biography amply demonstrates everything I said and more. It is not a pretty story; it will probably destroy Naipaul’s reputation for ever, this chronicle of his pretensions, his whoremongering, his treatment of a sad, sick wife and disposable mistress, his evasions, his meanness, his cruelty amounting to sadism, his race baiting. Then there is the “gruesome sex”, the blame shifting, the paranoia, the disloyalty, the nasty cracks and the whining, the ingratitude, the mood swings, the unloving and destructive personality."
Are any of these things so bad? Why should we castigate a man for visiting prostitutes? What is evil about that? If his mistress consents to him beating her, what’s so terrible? If his wife chose to stay with him despite his patronizing of hookers and keeping of a mistress, why should we condemn him for that? Vidia’s race baiting strikes me as comic. How can any sex between two people who love each other be "gruesome"?
He who is without these vices, let him throw the first stone.
Theroux condemns Vidia for treating his mistress as "disposable." How else are you supposed to treat a mistress? As an honored wife? Mistresses and whores are disposable. The man who can upgrades to the newest models.
It reminds me of the porn industry when certain directors and producers would be condemned for having sex with the girls. What else are you supposed to do with a porn star? Talk Shakespeare with her? The whole point of sex workers and sluts is to have your fun and move on. It’s the men who fall in love with hos who have the true mental problems.
Vidia is condemned for being uncaring towards his dying wife. Well, very few men are as caring for their sick wives as wives are for their sick husbands. Women are by nature more nurturing. Pat signed up to live for decades as Sir Vidia’s wife. His treatment of her is sickening, but that’s the man she chose to stand by. She signed up for her punishment.
As for Vidia’s racism: He is a black man. Why is his use of the word "nigger" any worse than that by millions of other black men? "Nigger’ is simply a form of the word "negro", which should be a perfectly acceptable description of those with dark skin.
As the wikipedia entry for "nigger" puts it: "The word originated as a term used in a neutral context to refer to black people, as a variation of the Spanish/Portuguese noun negro, a descendant of the Latin adjective niger, meaning "black"."
We don’t do blacks any favors by pretending that "nigger" is a cosmically evil word, the very sound of which wreaks havoc on fragile psyches. Yes, the word can be used as a vicious slur, just as a knife can be used to stab someone, but that doesn’t make knives inherently evil and the use of the word "nigger" isn’t inherently evil either. V.S. Naipaul isn’t a bad man for using it. In the wrong context, the use of the word is vicious and Naipaul is undoubtedly vicious at times to people of all races.
I have Jewish friends who privately describe Jews they don’t like as "kikes." I don’t see anything wrong with this. My friends who do this lead lives, in general, of a high moral calibre.
I hate the way certain vices, such as whoremongering and race baiting, are used to dismiss people. Sir Vidia has given the world a great deal more than he has taken from it. We should be grateful to him, even if he’s needed to purchase the services of a few whores along the way.
Perhaps I am being too generous with Sir Vidia, but frankly, I don’t expect the rest of the world to be as righteous as I am (I’ve never bought a whore (though I would if it made me as great a writer as Vidia), I’ve never used the word "nigger" to put people down, and I don’t beat my mistresses).
My philosophy on these matters is simple — as long as a bloke isn’t sending people up chimneys, he’s probably not such a bad sort, even if he likes to poke sheilas who aren’t his lawfully wedded.
I wonder how much of the abuse Sir Vidia is copping these days is because he likes white girls. What’s wrong with that? He didn’t want to mate with the darkies. Is that so terrible? Germans like French women and many dark men prefer their women pale. I, on the other hand, feel that when it comes to the ladies, the darker the better. Do you condemn me for my Jungle Fever? Well, God made me the way I am.
Alright, sir. It looks like you’re attempting to conjure up controversy in order to get some good copy, perhaps a few outraged e-mails, etc. I’ll bite.
Regarding disposable mistresses and prostitutes, there is a story (perhaps apocryphal) that someone once asked Jack Nicholson why he paid prostitutes for sex when he could just as easily score with numerous other women for free. Jack replied that he didn’t pay them to sleep with him. He paid them to go away in the morning. In any event, a hooker knows the score.
There might be several reasons why a woman might stay with an abusive man.
a) she’s into the abuse.
b) she’s psychologically damaged in some way.
c) she’s dependent upon him economically, for drugs, or for some other resource.
d) abuse serves some psychological need for her.
e) many women have an urge to mate with a "bad boy".
I would have more sympathy for women in categories (b) and (c) than for women in categories (a), (d) and (e).
This subject is politically loaded because feminists instinctively argue that all abused women are either in category (b) or (c), and all abusive men are evil. However, in the interest in assisting your quest to foment controversy, I will theorize that gravitating toward "bad boys" and abusive males is an often normal psychological component of the female psyche, perhaps the result of some evolutionary process for fostering procreation.
In the interest of fomenting even more controversy, perhaps she gravitated to a black man as some weird way of humiliating herself and bringing herself down. (I don’t mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with interracial marriage. Rather, in a somewhat racist society, marrying Mr. Naipul may have been, for her, an act of self-humiliation and punishment.)
As for the author in question, I never read any of his books, but it sounds like he’s dealing with some psychological baggage of his own, perhaps seeking revenge for the slights he encountered in the Anglo world. Sort of like seeking vengeance as an adult for the sand that was kicked in his face when he was five. Sounds like a fragile ego.
In any event, I think humanity will brand him a big jerk.
I never had much admiration for high falutin’ literary types. I’ll bet he’s an effeminate wanker with bad breath. Secretly, Luke, he wishes he was you. But that is something he can never have. None of us can.