A 21 May 2008 Times Literary Supplement article/essay by novelist A. N. Wilson, V.S. Naipaul, Master and Monster, makes me – again- think of Koestler. Is this not a species of pathological narcissism? In the jargon: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is also Borderline Personality Disorder, which has a slight overlap with the former syndrome. But maybe Schizoid Personality Disorder fits the bill better, with its elements of narcissism. By the way the last has a table comparing over and covert aspects of SPD.
For some reason the phrase master and monster evokes rather, Master and Commander, from the nautical novels, with the image of the captain having to be in tight charge of the ship in order for things not to fall apart: clear objectives, setting the right course, navigating the difficulties, the rest.
Does it matter if the writer is a complete four letter word? I am on the side which says it does, partly because, once known, a fact about a writer cannot escape the works themselves; psychology pure and simple. It is possible to epoche (accent on the final e but I can’t get hold of the character set right now) the writer from the work, but it is a conscious decision to assess the quality of the writing despite the character and personality of the author.
Stalin was a monster: he had people killed; Lenin was, too, though not many people tend to think that. Naipaul is more what one might call an utter bastard – he is welcome to sue: I ain’t got a su, or a reputation to uphold. A cursory reading (even of the outdated Shub) demonstrates Lenin’s methods pre-power, as a exiled emigre, essentially terroristic and anarchistic. When he ruled he became totally totalitarian eschewing the anarchistic, opportunistic methods he partly used to achieve power, coming down hard bureaucratically on those he suspected : but he was always of a terroristic, psychopathic disposition from the beginning. It might be argued – it always is; he claimed it himself – that he had to be that ruthless to achieve the task he set himself. Lenin, once a hero of the Left, is now less revered as it becomes known what a gangster he was: Stalin is taken to be the gangster, while Lenin the Robespierre. Lenin, while having certain political principles – one questions the psychological roots of his modus in knowledge of the state execution of his elder brother for terrorist activity when Lenin was a young boy – was totally unethical in most of his political life. The image of the London conferences where he removed the best brains of the wider movement to achieve his objectives, shows this. So does the way the movement was financed: mostly by bank robbery inside Russia, not unlike the IRA with robbery and drug dealing in its time, with a bit of ad hoc assassination here and there, home and abroad, thrown in. His left-hand man in the emigre years, whose name now escapes me, was an out and out psychopath.
A great many writers have been equally tough-minded and ruthless — within their paradigm, or milieu — as these political monsters in creating their works and in defending their reputations even if they haven’t stooped to killing to do so: character assassination being of a different category from straight old physical elimination.
In the literature: Othello.
Narcissistic characteristics that either Othello or Iago show include high self-esteem, selfishness, underestimating the abilities of others, greed and envy, lack of empathy, and emotional coldness.
As if by default, this always leads back to Nabokov. In literary monstership terms, how do Naipaul and Nabokov compare? Lolita is said to be autobiographical: the correspondences tight: Nabokov’s relationship with his uncle, who despite abusing him a child, left him his fortune. In the most simplistic psychobabblish terms: Naipaul was just born a bit nasty (he adored his father) while Nabokov (we have to examine what he said did in his life) lost his parents early and was sexually abused so had a perfectly good reason to have a jaundiced view of the world.