Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Odds and Ends

I have nothing substantial to post and this has been the case for a while now. There’s an article I am working on but that will take a while to finish. So, to keep things going, this will be a filler post consisting of some quotes and some links from here and there – odds and ends really, with no unifying theme.

1) Pankaj Mishra recently wrote an article in The Guardian that was lambasted in the blogging world. Salil Tripathi's very civil and measured response to Mishra's article can be found here; Mishra writes to Tripathi here; and Tripathi writes back again.

2) On to Naipaul, whose books and travel writing I can’t stop reading and who continues to intrigue me. I am currently reading A House for Mr. Biswas, undoubtedly one of his masterpieces. Naipaul traces in the book the life of Mohun Biswas – the character is based on his father – in the Trinidad of early and mid twentieth century.

In 1992, Naipaul gave a lecture at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank based in New York. In the opening paragraph, Naipaul is apologetic about the grand title of his lecture, "Our Universal Civilization".

"I've given this talk the title Our Universal Civilization. It is a rather big title, and I am a little embarrassed by it. I feel I should explain how it came about. I have no unifying theory of things. To me, situations and people are always specific, always of themselves. That is why one travels and writes: to find out. To work in the other way would be to know the answers before one knew the problems; that is a recognized way of working, I know, especially if one is a political or religious or racial missionary. But I would have found it hard."

Although he does not mention it directly, Naipaul is referring to western or modern civilization. The lecture is really a paean; and here are some sentences from Naipaul’s finishing paragraph:
“This idea of the pursuit of happiness is at the heart of the attractiveness of the civilization to so many outside it or on its periphery. I find it marvelous to contemplate to what an extent, after two centuries, and after the terrible history of the earlier part of this century, the idea has come to a kind of fruition. It is an elastic idea; it fits all men. It implies a certain kind of society, a certain kind of awakened spirit. I don't imagine my father's parents would have been able to understand the idea. So much is contained in it: the idea of the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect, the idea of vocation and perfectibility and achievement. It is an immense human idea. It cannot be reduced to a fixed system. It cannot generate fanaticism. But it is known to exist; and because of that, other more rigid systems in the end blow away.”
For some heavy but not scholarly or measured criticism of Naipaul, see Meena Kandasamy’s Casteist. Communalist. Racist. And Now, A Nobel Laureate.

3) Some excellent blogs I’ve come across in the last month or so: Samanth Subramanium and Chandrahas Chaudhry.


Rashmi said...

I've never known much about Mishra than now. It's not surprising he's all over the place given that he just came out with his new book. His NYT article was much more subdued than the one in Guardian almost as if in respect for the country (given the frothing pit of capitalism that it is) it was being published in though I doubt "respect" had anything to do with it (well, what do I know!).

Also, thanks for mentioning those two new finds of yours, especially the former!

Hari said...

Mishra has been around for a while; I've been following his writing for more than two years now. I liked his last book An End to Suffering: The Buddha in the World. I believe his latest book is a collection of the essays he's written from his travels to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, and in India. Mishra has collected a fair number of detractors along the way, judging from the responses he gets in the blogworld for some of his articles.