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This report is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

On Not Writing Vahni Capildeo
Honey, We Told the Bees

On Not Writing in Response to Kei Miller’s Essays

In V.S. Naipaul’s Miguel Street (1959), the early collection of linked short stories (like James Joyce’s Dubliners) which fictionalises and funhouse-mirrors the inhabitants of Luis Street in Port of Spain’s Woodbrook area, in mid-twentieth-century Trinidad, there is a character called Man-man. He is one of the town’s numerous ‘madmen’, the ‘vagrants’, who are known, if not quite accepted, as a visible and (for the narrator recollecting his childhood) important part of community life.  

Man-man is introduced as different even within creolised Port of Spain’s millefeuille classificatory system: ‘But I am not so sure now that he was mad, and I can think of many people much madder than Man-man ever was.’ He runs for every election and always garners three votes; the mystery is who the two voters (other, and madder, than himself) can be. Man-man asks, in his unusually English and highfalutin accent, whether the narrator is going to school. He then chalks S, C, H on to the pavement, and loops a series of ever smaller, eventually cursive O’s from street to street, around the block, until the narrator’s return. At this point Man-man finishes the word with a large L. How perfect is the timing that brings Man-man’s word to its end in Miguel Street just as the schoolchild gets back there?

Man-man creates himself as representative; he sticks up posters, he supervises or frames the day by his unacknowledged durational performance art. ...

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