Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Amongst the Unbelievable: Rage, Faith and Reason in Selected Writings by V.S. Naipaul/Te Midde Van Die Ongelooflike: Woede, Geloof En Rede in Uitgesoeke Werke Deur V.S. Naipaul

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Amongst the Unbelievable: Rage, Faith and Reason in Selected Writings by V.S. Naipaul/Te Midde Van Die Ongelooflike: Woede, Geloof En Rede in Uitgesoeke Werke Deur V.S. Naipaul

Article excerpt

This article focuses on the representation of faith as conveyed by Naipaul in the course of four travelogues. Drawing on historical scholarship pertaining to Islamic societies in transition, and comparing this to a selection of the literary critical reception that Naipaul's writing about Islam has evoked, I argue for a revision of literary readings of Naipaul's travelogues. My premise is that the author's subject positioning influences both a self-critical as well as more compassionate perspective on the relationship between faith and political transition in developing societies.

Hierdie artikel fokus op die uitbeelding van geloof in die loop van vier reisbeskrywings deur Naipaul. Met die gebruik van geskiedktmdige navorsing oor Islamitiese samelewings tydens verandering, en 'n vergelyking hiervan met 'n keur van die litererkritiese ontvangs wat Naipaul se skryfwerk oor Islam ontlok het, bepleit ek 'n hersiening van die literere leeswerk van Naipaul se reisbeskrywings. My uitgangspunt is dat die outeur se posisionering van die onderwerp beide 'n selfkritiese en 'n deernisvoller perspektief oor die verhouding tussen geloof en politieke oorgang in ontwikkelende samelewings beinvloed.

Introduction

Representations of faith (the Islamic faith in particular) as problematised by V.S. Naipaul are analysed in this article. Naipaul shows that whilst Islam offers some intellectual and cultural possibilities, these possibilities are contorted by the differences imposed by faith on converted people, the faithless and the spaces occupied by both in a globalised world. I argue that the author's subject positioning steers the reader into a particular reading of faith. With reference to political and sociological analyses of Islam, I will show why Naipaul's perspectives on Islam are revealing in terms of the impact of Islam on third world (postcolonial) states in transition. I argue that the perspectives offered by Naipaul also reveal his anxieties and ambivalences with regards to the impact of colonialism more generally. I believe a re-reading of the travel texts written by Naipaul, and the literary critical reception of these, is justified, in relation to selected analyses of Islam as offered by sociologists and historians. At the turn of the new century religious strife, together with Western interference, often seem to have led to an escalation in violence. That escalation points to the need to re-examine perspectives adopted as authoritative in order to ascertain whether the critique of Naipaul is merited.

The article is structured in terms of an introduction and five sections to explore the above argument. The first section specifically examines the complexity of Naipaul's subject positioning with reference to four travel texts: An area of darkness (1964), Among the believers (1981), India: A million mutinies now (1990), and Beyond belief (1998). The possibilities offered by Naipaul to the reader are framed and filtered at a number of levels, even though the ostensible focus appears to be Islam. In this section I show that the delimitation of subject position and the selection of interviewees make for a highly selective reading of Islam. Section two, 'Transitions to faith', concerns itself with perspectives offered by the narrator and his interviewees on the effects of conversion to Islam, whilst the third section explores faith and its relationship to the state. Naipaul suggests that intellectual tolerance of difference is associated with modernity and so the fourth section provides a discussion of faith in relation to intellectual work. In this section I also suggest that the filtering process described in the first section, makes for a series of insights revealing the author's perspectives on faith and tolerance. The fifth section explores the associations between faith and daily life.

The methodology here is twofold: Firstly, a description of Naipaul's interrogation of the legacy of Orientalism and colonialism in relation to Islam with some reference to the literary critical reception of Naipaul's already well documented works. …

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