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For Eakin, what Naipaul does with the relational life in Enigma is to present it from the perspective of the eternal, outside of time. The story of the individual self, therefore, comes to represent one of countless stories profoundly shaped by the end of colonialism and the great flow of human movement across the globe which followed the end of the Second World War and the dismantling of colonial structures. This is a notion of the relational dimension of selves that form in an environment of cultural as well as existential instability.
With the loss of an inheritance of land and culture, the anchor in Enigma is instead a notion of the historical reality of that predicament. Thus, we shift from the interaction between self and other to how both may understand themselves as selves-in-the-world. Let us consider the way in which Finding the Centre complicates generic boundaries.
It is not an autobiography, a story of a life or deeds done. It is an account of something less easily seized: my literary beginnings and the imaginative promptings of my many-sided background. The suggestion Naipaul makes is that his current project goes in search of something more complicated and harder to grasp than the mere telling of a life lived — but to fathom the original traces within and of a writing life, to trace the original impulses to imagination, located within a multi-faceted and, as Naipaul discovers, incompletely known background, and mediated through the lives of relational others.
Unlike other autobiographies, there are no photographs of the author, although the proper name looms largest on the front cover. Thus, there are significant motivations for us to read the text autobiographically in the sense sanctioned by the Lejeunian model. It suggests that the examination of his literary beginnings is somehow a preliminary discourse to something that comes after that can be understood in autobiographical terms. Finding the Centre is an amalgam of an autobiography of the artistic ambition and a biography of others, most notably the father, whose life, and death, helped give form to that artistic ambition.
This is not the same as an autobiography of a life lived, and the benefit of this pact is that it enables the generation of new insight into areas that go beyond the mere life lived, beyond the historical life of the author, the flesh-and-blood V. These other selves possess their own stories which the relational narrative demonstrates are interwoven with the story of the autobiographical subject.
This storied consciousness is presented as driving the desire to be a writer, and give form to the voices that speak to and through him. As we discover with Bogart, the relational life produces the material through which the act of writing and not just autobiographical writing is made possible, deepening literary experience with the social experience and vice versa. The first traces of the literary imagination take the form of multiple voices heard on the street of the Port of Spain.
The Ben Okri Bibliography: Secondary Sources
Memory selects one — Hat — and invokes the imagined story of another, Bogart. The anxiety of his existence as an ex-colonial in exile living and writing in London, the struggle to find appropriate subject matter for his writing, Naipaul returned to the street of his childhood, to Bogart, to Popo the carpenter, and began to write about the past he fathomed, filling in gaps in memory imaginatively or through the rumours and whispers elicited from family members. In fictionalising the lives of others through his writing, Naipaul implies the power such real-life relations had on his development as an artist.
It is also through the writing that he comes to know them again, to know their world more intimately. In the self-reflexive commentary of the foreword the relational other most fully present is that of the implied reader.
This valorisation of the writing activity is executed through an appeal to the relational other that the implied reader constitutes. It is one way in which Naipaul uses the relational life to maintain in part the autonomous presence and value of the artistic ambition that belongs to the writer. Thus the title, Finding the Centre, is as much describing its own creation as a book as the signifier for its primary content and themes. More than providing the historic understanding required to write a narrative, travel becomes the method with which Naipaul stabilises his understanding of himself and his vocation as a writer in the present: My uncertainty about my role withered; a role was not necessary.
I recognised my own instincts as a traveller, and was content to be myself, to be what I had always been, a looker.
Book Fiction And The Incompleteness Of History: Toni Morrison, V. S. Naipaul, And Ben Okri 2007
And I learned to look in my own way. For Anderson, Naipaul discovers an alternative scene of writing, another way of locating the writer as participating in movement, and in this finds his own subject. By telling their stories, and thus his own, Naipaul generates the kind of insights into living in the New World he could otherwise not possibly have accessed.
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This, as Eakin suggests, could be a sibling, friend, or lover, but most frequently is a parent. In these stories, Seepersad like Naipaul would do later recreated his own background by writing about Indian village life and Hindu rituals. But to me they gave a beauty which in a corner of my mind still ensures, like a fantasy of home to the Indian village life I had never known.
These inheritances are concerned with writing and the writing life: He never talked about the nature of his illness. This was his subsidiary gift to me. That fear became mine as well.
It was linked with the idea of the vocation: the fear could be combated only by the exercise of the vocation. At the peak of his breakdown, Seepersad fails to see himself in the mirror and begins to scream. With the loss of the vocation, the means by which he has created a meaning for his life, he can no longer see himself. If Moore-Gilbert is right about the symbolic power of this episode for the blankness with which the colonised subject faces in his search for identity, than it is a blankness Naipaul tries initially to escape by leaving Trinidad for England.
However, the exploration of this relational life for Naipaul, even if exposing the falsehood of previous truths about his father, produces new possibilities. However, to redress this he points to the act of writing a life and the exercise of self-determinism the autobiographer experiences in creating in text the life of the other. This seemingly shifts the balance once again.
We have seen how the biography of the father, the storied consciousness of the narrative voice and the relations with lives resembling his own are used to produce insights into the historic conditions of movement and displacement which Naipaul inherited and spent a career writing about. In Finding the Centre, Naipaul retains the value of autonomy by showing how relational lives helped him to a sense of his vocation.
It is in understanding his relations with his father and with others that Naipaul is able to achieve a kind of artistic autonomy which still acknowledges the relational nature of all lives in the act of painting them. It is also true that he examines how the notion of his writing vocation is profoundly shaped by such conditions. London: Routledge, Taylor and Francis e-Library. Bakhtin, Mikhail M. Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Michael Holquist.
Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, ProQuest ebrary. Burkitt, Ian. London: Sage, De Man, Paul. Douglas, Philip.
Eakin, Paul John.