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Chapter 2 - “The English Language Was Mine; The Tradition Was Not”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2024

Vijay Mishra
Affiliation:
Murdoch University, Western Australia
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Summary

Chapter 2 asks how one constructs a tradition and transforms an available genre in the absence of one’s own. An essay on the flower “jasmine,” triggered by a remark that in the tropics one did not know what the daffodils in Wordsworth’s heavily anthologized poem meant, is the starting point of this chapter. How to connect language to thought and how to reconcile a language with an absent tradition takes Naipaul to a search for an appropriate genre that would function as creative structural plinths to his Trinidadian social comedies. At Oxford he had translated the picaresque novel Lazarillo de Tormes but had failed to find a publisher for it. Now he turns to the picaresque genre and its more immediate expressions in Joyce and Steinbeck as a vehicle for his representation of an essentially Trinidadian picaroon society. In the act, Naipaul consciously deconstructs the regulatory nature of the law of genre with its very opposite, its tendency towards disorder. The chapter examines Naipaul’s early works beginning with Miguel Street (1959), his first written work albeit third published, as well as the cinematic adaptation of The Mystic Masseur.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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