A Faustian Bargain?
In today’s New York Times Book Review George Packer examines the already much praised and notorious “authorized biography” of V.S. Naipaul. Packer begins:
A great writer requires a great biography, and a great biography must tell the truth. V. S. Naipaul wanted his monument built while he was still alive, and, sticking to his own ruthless literary code, he was willing to pay the full price.
Naipaul’s code of accountability lies in facing the truth, but it’s a limited truth, with no sense of agency. He cannot begin to see himself as his biographer or reader sees him, for the pain of others always reverts back to his own. And yet this bottomless narcissism, together with the uncompromising intensity of his vision, holds the key to Naipaul’s literary power. He had the capacity in his writing to project himself into a great variety of people and situations, allowing him to imbue his work with the sympathy and humanity that he failed to extend to those closest to him in life.
“A limited truth, with no sense of agency … bottomless narcissism:” sounds pretty much like the unredeemed human condition to me.