Arriving at Naipaul's Enigma

I lay on the floor beneath the glow of the cast iron stove. Burlap bag as blanket. Brown zafu as pillow. Angled above me, V. S. Naipaul’s The Enigma of Arrival. The fire in the metal box dances above the wood (rather than within it), making light shimmer against the yellowed pages. 

It is Sunday. Sunday nights have a separateness about them. It is a threshold night, a tipping point night. It is capstone and eve of beginnings.

I am reading Enigma because I heard Karl Ove Knausgaard read the first section on The New Yorker podcast. The stove near me, a Jøtul, is as Norwegian as Knausgård. Was this the reason I tipped Naipaul’s book from the shelf? The mind’s hazy remembrance of a reading by a Norwegian? 

The rain on the metal roof pelts the corrugated tin, a light but metallic ring. 

I read: “Jack lived among ruins, among superseded things.” 

I ask V. S. Naipaul, Why superseded? Why not supplanted

No reply. 

He continues: 

But that way of looking came to me later, has come to me with greater force now, with the writing. It wasn’t the idea that came to me when I first went out walking. 

It almost always comes later and most always with the writing. Distance fosters illumination. The mind’s bits of string strung together to make sense of randomness, of ruin.  
I am taken by Naipaul’s fragments, I try to string the random collection together:

  • … when the land had more meaning, when it absorbed more of my life …
  • …. If I say it was winter when I arrive at that house in the river valley, it is because I remember the mist, the four days of rain and mist that hid my surroundings from me and answered my anxiety at the time, anxiety about my work and this move to a new place … 
  • Snow dusted the lawn in front of my cottage; dusted the bare branches of the trees; outlined discarded things … 
  • After all my time in England I still had that nervousness in a new place, that rawness of response, still felt myself to be in another man’s country, felt my strangeness, my solitude.
  • ... the sense of space was overwhelming. 
  • It was possible on this stretch to hold onto the idea of emptiness. 
  • ... another carefully made thing abandoned; another piece of the past that no longer had a use but had not been thrown away. 
  • As though, in that little spot around the farm buildings and Jack’s cottage, time had stood still, and things were as they had been, for a little while. But the sheep-shearing was from the past. Like the old farm buildings. Like the caravan that wasn’t going to move again. Like the barn where grain was no longer stored. 

I hear coyotes all around. Two or three packs yelping a heinous chorus. Last week, the lake lay frozen. They stalked the ducks toward the center, remnants of feathers the remaining remark.

Last night, a fox attempted to make off with one of the chickens. A chunk of the chicken’s back was gone. Coyotes disembowel their prey on site; foxes retreat with their meal back to their den. I must have startled the fox when I walked outside, robbing him of his fresh dinner.

The rain has slowed to a resonant tapping. The fire glows embers. I read one more section before heading to the house and to bed:

That idea of ruin and dereliction, of out-of-placeness, was something I felt about myself, attached to myself: a man from another hemisphere, another background, coming to rest in middle life in the cottage of a half-neglected estate, an estate full of reminders of its Edwardian past, with few connections with the present. An oddity among the estates and big houses of the valley, and I a further oddity in its grounds. I felt unanchored and stranged. Everything I saw in those early days, as I took my surroundings in, everything I saw on my daily walk, beside the windbreak or along the wide grassy way, made that feeling more acute. I felt that my presence in that old valley was part of something like an upheaval, a change in the course of the history of the country.