Sunday, August 28, 2005

V.S. Naipaul on why it's more important to have beliefs and ask small questions than have doubts and ask complex ones:
Naipaul has said he wrote the novel ''Half a Life'' (2001) only to fulfill a publisher's contract, and that ''Magic Seeds'' (2004) would be his last novel. (Over the years, he has often hinted at retirement, only to publish another book soon after.) Yet the fact that Naipaul has continued to write novels does not undercut his acute awareness of the form's limitations; indeed, it amplifies it. His is the lament of a writer who, through a life devoted to his craft, has discovered that the tools at his disposal are no longer adequate. ''If you write a novel alone you sit and you weave a little narrative. And it's O.K., but it's of no account,'' Naipaul said. ''If you're a romantic writer, you write novels about men and women falling in love, etc., give a little narrative here and there. But again, it's of no account.''

What is of account, in Naipaul's view, is the larger global political situation -- in particular, the clash between belief and unbelief in postcolonial societies. ''I became very interested in the Islamic question, and thought I would try to understand it from the roots, ask very simple questions and somehow make a narrative of that discovery,'' he said. To what extent, he wondered, had ''people who lock themselves away in belief . . . shut themselves away from the active busy world''? ''To what extent without knowing it'' were they ''parasitic on that world''? And why did they have ''no thinkers to point out to them where their thoughts and their passion had led them''? Far from simple, the questions brought a laserlike focus to a central paradox of today's situation: that some who have benefited from the blessings of the West now seek to destroy it.

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