A child-slave’s blood washes the feet of the black prince in the mute heart of Africa. The prince will later use his blood-soaked feet to escape the lynching mob. One expects the dead child’s family will be in the mob. But the little chief will use his Mercedes as well. One can always rely on a German automobile to run.
Naipaul (a Brahmin) in relation to:
– non-Brahmin Indians of Trinidad
– black people of Trinidad
– mixed people of Trinidad
– self-made people of South America
– native people of America (noble savages)
– the British
– independent people of Africa
– the East Europeans
Guess, for Naipaul, the worst thing that could happen to a MAN is to be born as a BLACK WOMAN, in Africa…
– Little Chief is a member of the African aristocracy, that’s why he has Naipaul’s sympathy. After all, Indian women are traditionally sacrificed when their husbands die. Naipaul is not shocked when a child’s blood is used in a ritual, for him the ritual is beautiful. Only when Little Chief runs before the people, before his low-caste African slaves, is Naipaul disappointed with him. That is when he leaves him, cuts him off and the little chief becomes just another barbarian…
– Blair – a self-made man – a proof that the transition between castes is not possible. He earns a part of an aura of a noble savage but has to die and not by the hand of the ruling caste, but murdered by the same savages he has risen from and whom he tried to save, bring up. To be vulgar: where should a monkey die but on a banana plantation?
The definition of the highest caste – No one belongs to it unless born into it. Although, one can fall out of it. Naipaul has an instinct in detecting imperfection, impurity. He’s also surprised by his own fallibility but here is always the reassurance brought by the fact of birth. He’s carrying an abstract pattern of superiority comparing everyone with it.
He ends every segment of the novel at the point when his fascination with the subject subsides, when he discovers his subjects don’t fit the pattern, don’t live up to his expectations. develop this
Back home we had a big library we were working on. Three thousand volumes we had collected in seven years. Had at least one work by every winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It was quite an accomplishment to find a good Croatian translation of Bunin, so we taught ourselves basic Russian from a MIG 27 Flight Manual and labels collected from jars of black caviar and transparent vodka.
For the last year that we were gathering these books we made literature a part of our lives. Every morning we would start the day by reading a few lines from the Bible, La Divina Commedia, Good Soldier Schweik, Bukowski’s Post Office and the Farmer’s Almanac. We would play games, guessing the names of all the Dostoevsky’s character, or construct elaborate edifices with books as building blocks. We used to separate the pages with thrilling, illuminating passages, crush them in our soup instead of dried basil leaves, boil pots of paper tea, make love on a bed of open volumes, wipe our asses with last pages of first editions only, careful to rub the pages with our knuckles.
Then we had to leave and leave everything behind.
We take a look at “A Way In the World”. Take turns in taking a look at it. Interestingly enough, Naipaul was the only Nobel Prize winner not included in our abandoned library. Now we think it’s more than just a coincidence. Now we think he deserved it.
And we deserve a break.
It’s been raining, off and on, for the past week. All we did was just run between the car and the apartment, laughing to ourselves how a person could live an entire life in California without ever owning an umbrella. But now we really have to take out the trash.
Next to the dumpster we find a box full of rain soaked books.
“Horrible! Horrible Americans!” says N.
“Savages!” says O.
There’s no respect for the written word in the consumerist society, we complain. For them a book is worth no more than an empty Coke can. Useless, once you drink up the contents. Throw it away. Recycle. Forget.
We dig in like the homeless. The first layer of books is ruined, wet pages crumble in our hands, but underneath some are quite dry. The vile smell of decomposing garbage finally chases us away. We could use a fifth hand to let us back in the building.
A woman in her thirties. Brown, rather than black. Pacing. In a room. Measuring it, from a door to a window, from a wall of shelves to a wall of framed photographs. The photographs stare at her, menacing, with black and white faces, with big blown up eyes that speak in a foreign language. Shelves are grinning with their missing teeth, like a mouth of a person lying too close next to her, stealing her breath, suffocating. The window scares her so much that she doesn’t even walk all the way up to it. The door?
We pick through our newly found treasure. Read the titles out loud in the order we had taken them out of the box. Most of them are still damp so we sort them out on our kitchen floor to dry.
The Norton Anthology of English Literature Volume Two
The Fire of Your Life… Scream When You Burn
How To Read a Poem… Eating Chinese Food Naked
America’s Dream… Women and Common Life
The Dreams of Women… Goddesses in Every Woman
Beloved, Crooked Little Heart
How To Work a Room… Putting Away Childish Things
Born of a Woman… In Cuba I Was a German Shepherd
The Mother I Carry… The Chorus of Stones
The Fruitful Darkness
City of One
Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton
“Beloved?” says N.
Interestingly enough, Morrison was the only Nobel Prize winner not included in our abandoned library. More than just coincidence. O. opens the book and out falls the letter.
W ◦ W ◦ Norton & Company ◦ New York ◦ London
500 Fifth Avenue – New York, NY 10110-0017
7077 Hollywood Blvd. #795
LA, CA 90028
November 16, 1998
I’m delighted to enclose a galley of City of One by Francine Cournos. This is a powerful and beautifully written memoir about growing up without parents, and ultimately about the way the self negotiates in the world. I found it incredibly moving, and hope you’ll agree, and feel inclined to offer us a comment for our jacket.
If you should decide to comment, I’ll need to hear from you by early December.
75 years of Independent Publishing
Tel: 212-345-6500 / Fax: 212-879-0823
There’s no way we’re going back to Naipaul right now. We’re much more fascinated by this monster of a woman throwing her books out in the rain. We look her up on the Internet.
A native of Ghana, Phyllis Quaddan emigrated to the United States, at the age of six with her family. Her first book, Pillows Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Odyssey Through Depression, was published in 1998 by W.W. Norton & Co. to great acclaim. It was the first book published by an African-American to address the topic of depression. The Washington Post hailed the book as “a vividly textured flower of a memoir that will surely stand as one of the finest to come along in years.” As a result of this groundbreaking work, Phyllis Quaddan was featured on The Today Show, Lifetime Television for Women, ABC World News Tonight, and she was the subject of two documentaries on the topic of depression. Phyllis Quaddan was also chosen by the National Mental Health Association to be the national spokesperson for their “Campaign on Clinical Depression,” an initiative that specifically targeted African American women and was launch in cooperation with organizations such as the National Council of Negro, the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and the National Association of Black Social Workers.
Phyllis Quaddan is the editor of the anthology: Turning American: Personal Essays by First Generation Immigrant Women, which is forthcoming from W.W. Norton & Co. in July 2002. Currently, she is completing a creative nonfiction book for Riverhead, which will be published in 2004 and writing a novel for the young adult market. She lives in Los Angeles.
Take a random sequence of events, choose a point, use it as an axis around which to mirror the narrative, a stalk to attach the petals of a paper flower, you have an Event Rose.
If there would only be a book with pages opening – first one from left to right, next from down up, next from right to left, then from up downwards and in a cyclical counter-clockwise motion, like loves-me-loves-me-not plucking of a daisy all the way to the bare stalk of the explanation – cold and irritating, implying the way the rest of the piece is supposed to unravel, not questioning the sequence of parts, the anticipation of the reader gets enhanced by knowing in which order new segments will appear. This sharpens the edge of the content, cuts both ways, one can use it to cut or to get cut on – one hands a knife to the other holding it by the blade – it is a custom, Roman or Japanese, Trinidadian or African…
To keep the appearance of consistency the author is at this point forced to give out the ending. A reader can choose whether to read through or skip it and return to it later.
– to be read after reading the rest of the story –
- & O. will never finish their Naipaul essay. They’ll decide it’s not worth it. They are unworthy. He’s not worth it. The reader is free to choose.
Wet books will eventually get dry. N. & O. will clean the covers with rubbing alcohol. One can never be too cautious about other people’s ailments. First one the two of them will start to read will be the Abnormal Psychology. It’s a large book with lots of disturbing images, so they’ll read it in their bed, before going to sleep, as a bedtime story.
The woman who got rid of her books, the writer (brown, rather than black), N. & O. will see her in the hall, one afternoon, while picking up their mail.
She’ll be standing on the top of the stairs. It’s only one floor but for a moment they’ll think she might be considering throwing herself down. Then they’ll notice she’s with a man who’s kissing her neck, holding one hand on her breast. Phyllis will be smiling and the reader will imagine the rest.
In 2001. V. S. Naipaul will receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1994. he’ll write “A Way in the World”, a novel.
We are scared there is a black woman deliberating on suicide in our building. Will Phyllis Quaddan gas herself? Hang? If she has to do it we’d prefer she’d use pills. We’re afraid if she drowns herself in the bathtub the water will flood our apartment as well, get all our books wet. Only for a second do we consider going upstairs, knocking at her door, talking to her about it. Try to dissuade her. Convince her life is worth living.
Then ask her in a roundabout way if she could connect us to her publisher. Like Naipaul did with Foster Morris.
There is always the danger of her not being at the end of her rope. Us coming to discuss her suicide, the suicide she’s not even thinking of – it’s a kind of responsibility we don’t need, putting the thought of dying in the woman’s mind. So we decide to wait, wait for her to come up with it on her own, then go up and try to talk her out of it.
Good! Phyllis is satisfied. The room looks much better now. More space. To move around. To think. To play. To breathe. All the books are in the bench-trunk in the corner. Those that didn’t fit she left in the backyard. Phyllis forgets this is a rainy season. She had to do it. Books cause allergies. Or so it says in “The Good Housekeeping Illustrated Book of Pregnancy and Baby Care”. They could be wrong, but Phyllis doesn’t want to take that chance.
We look at our American library. It’s small, it’s growing, being fed by FedEx deliveries from Amazon.com. But it’s small. It’s focused, subject driven, it’s an arrow, a bullet, a canon ball of a library. A thunderbolt. It would still fit in just one suitcase. A suitcase library for people living out of their suitcases. People with two camping foldable tent beds, foldable table and chairs (Euro foldable chairs!), foldable lamps, a pair of laptop computers, with yellowed pages of LA Times taped on the windows instead of curtains. We’re getting ready to leave, any day now. We don’t even clean the apartment, mildew bruising the shower curtain, dust blown in blue clouds over the floors, like tumbleweeds across the desert, stove top encrusted in spill-overs of food and olive oil. We don’t wash the dishes either, we throw them away, plastic disposable bowls, eat on the chairs, the table is rendered unusable for eating on it, littered with scrap paper and scrap thoughts, it’s a desk determined not to be a dining table.
- puts a plastic bowl of Campbell’s chicken noodle soup on a piece of paper that says:
Phyllis Quaddan came from Ghana to America. V. S. Naipaul went from Trinidad to Britain. They write.
Proverbs, pronouns and projectives
True change is brought on by those ignorant enough of the past and those aware enough of the future.
There is nothing intelligent one can hear from a person who doesn’t listen.
A banana peel has more appeal to a banana you peel, but it feels it more appeals to a person feeling the peeling.
Slavs have unlocked the mystery of existence: Life is hard and then you die!
There is no such thing as free association, someone always pays for it at the end.
Notes on language acquisition: coin a new word every day, then forget what it’s supposed to mean, like OTHERWHERE – a pronoun of place, PROJECTIVE – a noun, or OBJECTILE – noun or an adjective?
Why does Naipaul despise Africans?
They have no aristocracy. The same reason why he doesn’t like East Europeans, they’ve chosen socialism and thus abolished the aristocracy.
Why does he have certain sympathy for Amerindians – because they are described as natural born aristocracy. No sympathy for Indian workers dying of famine. The British on the other hand, have kept their aristocracy – Naipaul likes people on the upper side of the class division.
The feeling of superiority is derived from a system of exclusion – caste.
The only reference to Gandhi (who was born into a caste of merchants) is to compare him with the character that will eventually be unmasked as a savage he was born as. No progress in a caste system – if hierarchy remains the world stagnates. That is why Europe became the Engine of Change in the modern world, because the people have seen royal heads roll. This made them think they can be whatever or whoever they want to be. The chief caste is the Hinduistic representation of Heaven, for an average Hindu the paradise is more concrete than for an average Christian. There’s Heaven on Earth – to be born as a Brahmin.
There can be a thing which is very lovely but very cold, beauty doesn’t imply goodness, doesn’t imply truth (Leni Riefenstahl?).
Why does he use history? Because it is fixed, there are variations of the interpretation but something had happened at the certain point in time, the eye of God had recorded it:
history as paradigm of future – for Naipaul nothing ever changes
if it does then it’s for the worse
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.”