The word, the world, and the self: the significance of reading and writing in V.S. Naipal's The Enigma of arrival
v.s. Naipaul's interest in the ways in which world, self, and language interact in the reading and writing of texts has manifested itself recurrently in his work. In his latest novel, The Enigma of Arrival, he documents and examines how the acts of reading and writing are related to the individual's self-identity and concept of reality. Putting experience into narrative form involves changing the nature and meaning of that experience and alters the consciousness of the individual who organizes random events in this way. Naipaul presents a narrator in this novel who may be identified as the author himself. His inclusion of obviously autobiographical elements in the narrative directs the reader's attention to the realtionship between fact and fiction. In fictional representations of perceptions of the self and the external world, reality and illusion interact in a way that discloses more than what any prosaic statement of fact could convey. The fusion of autobiography and fiction is a technique that illuminates the enigma and mystery of human life. And expressing the mystery of existence in language, a sign system that conveys absence and presence at the same time, reinforces the impression that it is both paradoxical and profound. For Naipaul, writing about the self may be an attempt at self-preservation, but the writer is always aware that this attempt is sure to fail. Writing thus becomes a courageous act of defiance of the inevitabilty of death. Throughout The Enigma of Arrival, the death motif is persistent and underscores the impulse to preserve that Naipaul believes is at the bottom of all art. Naipaul communicates his "way of seeing" by explaining his own unique understanding of the meanings of words and texts, and takes his readers into an awareness of his perspective that infuses it into their own. He opens up the possibility that readers' ways of seeing themselves and the world will be touched by his own in a way that will enlarge their understanding. In this attempt to portray the essence of his own experience and insights, Naipaul finds it necessary to allude to a wide variety of influences on his way of seeing. He provides an example of the way that fiction comes out of the interaction of perceptions of the world and the needs of the inner self by describing how The Enigma of Arrival grew out of his response to a painting of the same name by de Chirico. He also explores the various ways that the same kind of experience may be perceived by different individuals with different needs. The result of his exploration is an illustration of the intertextuality of self-concept and narrative that is composed out of the raw materials of experience. The Enigma of Arrival is an example of narrative that illuminates the complex interactions of language, world, and self.
Bibliography: p. 133-137.
Mayhew, L. E. (1991). The word, the world, and the self: the significance of reading and writing in V.S. Naipal's The Enigma of arrival (Unpublished master's thesis). University of Calgary, Calgary, AB. doi:10.11575/PRISM/11759