Genius and madness exist side by side
Stabroek News
November 14, 2001

Dear Editor,

Although I do not share most of Freddie Kissoon's criticism [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ] of Vidia Naipaul, I do share his concern about a nation that does not have the courage to admit the obvious flaws of one of its own. Perhaps the reason lies in the scary thought that Naipaul's flaws are our own West Indian flaws. So in "nicing" him up more than he should be, we are "nicing" up ourselves-washing away our sins with a Nobel Prize. It is this dishonesty, born perhaps of a mixture of innocence and madness, that I understand Kissoon to be avoiding and protesting and that is part of the almost fatal flaw in us, which Naipaul has long identified and condemned.

Naipaul, like most of our educated class, embodies more than others the Caribbean uncertainty about its identity and historical mission. W.E.B. Dubois' identification of the "Two-ness" in African Americans is equally true of the Caribbean. If genius means attaining the highest heights in human creativity, then the Caribbean has been the most "geniused" society of the last century. Our achievements in music, academics, cricket, language, art and literature, and leadership in the struggle for human justice tell the story. Yet our Caribbean society is one of the most socio-economically underdeveloped, one of the most elitist, one of the most authoritarian, one of the most mixed-up about who we are, one of the most racially intolerant, one of the most uncritical, one of the most spiteful, and one of the most structurally adjusted-a madness that contradicts our achievements.

But that genius and madness exist side by side in the Caribbean person; hence our own "Caribbean Two-ness." Naipaul is both a product and an embodiment of that two-ness. So too are our own Jagan and Burnham and their past and present disciples. But where Naipaul stands out is his courage to at least speak out in his art about the madness, while the Burnhams and Jagans added to the madness by using it as political capital while denying its existence. Naipaul ought to be criticized, as Freddie does, for not equally celebrating the genius in us. The irony is the madness that he identifies in the Caribbean is exactly what spurs Trinidadians and other West Indians to uncritically celebrate his achievements.

In the final analysis Kissoon musters the courage to say about Naipaul what most of us are scared to say, but Naipaul also had the courage to say some of the things about our Caribbean that many could not bring themselves to say.

Yours faithfully,

David Hinds