The futility of “interviewing” V S Naipaul


With some effort you can think of this sketch as that of V S Naipaul. You can. (Sketch by Mayank Chhaya)

Nobel laureate Sir V S Naipaul has long been fully canonized. Whatever he does or says now is mainly for his own amusement and/or edification.

For instance, if asked whether there is anything that interests him in President Barack Obama, he could say, “Not really. I don’t like the way he talks.”

As a matter of fact he was asked that by Isaac Chotiner of The New Republic (TNR) in a recent interview and that is precisely what he said.

IC: I was wondering what you thought of the president. He has a very interesting life story and background—mixed race, grew up in different environments. Have you thought about his story and any similarities with your own?

VSN: No. He is too far away from me.

IC: Is there anything that interests you about him?

VSN: Not really. I don’t like the way he talks. … I don’t like … [sighs] I have heard too much of him now. I don’t want to get mixed up in American politics.

The TNR interview is strange because you could clearly feel that the famously irascible 80-year-old writer is not particularly interested in it. Why he granted it in the first place is not worth analyzing because as I said having long been fully canonized he does things for his own amusement/edification. In fact, Chotiner did ask him about being part of the canon. I take it that the interviewer means it the way I mean it. (He was knighted in 1989 and conferred the Nobel in 2001.)

IC: You have spoken of coming from a place “without a canon.” What does it feel like to now be part of the canon?

VSN: I don’t feel that.

IC: You don’t feel you are part of the canon?

VSN: No, I think it is something you have said, in your letter to us about what you wanted to write about. You are bringing very fixed ideas and applying them to me instead of seeing what is and how I am reacting.

The ostensible purpose of the interview was to engage Naipaul on the Arab Spring and other broad themes. Instead, what it turned out to be was a conversation that smacked of “Why-are-you-here-and-since-you-are-here-I-will-play-with- you” attitude. “Be content with the courtesy I have extended you by meeting you” is what I sense in the conversation.

Here is my unfounded speculation. Naipaul agreed to do the interview on an impulse and because he might have thought he could hold forth of grand themes that do justice to his towering, if somewhat disdainful, intellect. And then he saw this 30-year-old interviewer at his door and thought to himself, “Oh, he is too young to know anything.” So he instead chose to offer fractured and desultory replies.

However, the interview was worth it for me for two specific comments, one a putdown of Obama and the other the way he dismissed the Arab Spring. It was quite the Naipaulian thing to say that he does not like someone because he does not like the way that someone talks. As for the Arab Spring and whether he was hopeful about it, the author said, “Not at all hopeful. I think it’s nothing. You saw how it ended in Libya. It ended in a kind of mess, you know. It will happen elsewhere, too.”

With advancing age Naipaul’s famous disdain has become very distilled. I personally see no purpose in anyone interviewing Naipaul any longer. The interviews mean nothing because he wants them to mean nothing. I suppose he has said all that he wanted to say over the decades and should be allowed the luxury of amused silences. The other option is to just let him talk whatever it is that he wants to talk about. It was always difficult to interview him. Now it is futile.


About chutiumsulfate

South Asians can infer from my name what I am. View all posts by chutiumsulfate

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