The quest for identity in the Caribbean
Stabroek News
November 25, 2001

Dear Editor,

While Naipaul is not overly enamoured of academia and its jargon-filled cliches that frequently confuse definitions for insights, from his vantage point as a Rodneyite 'organic intellectual,' Dr. David Hinds is well situated to critique V.S. Naipaul's 'truths' on the Caribbean. [SN 11/14/01 "Genius and madness exist side by side"] [ please note: link provided by LOSP web site ]. However, I must confess that I found his comments somewhat enigmatic.

Dr. Hinds upbraids those of us who have commended Naipaul's writing for "washing away our sins with a Nobel Prize" (a million pieces of silver?). And what is the cause of those sins? A dishonest and cowardly obliviousness to Naipaul's "obvious flaws." (Incidentally I thought sins could only be washed away by the tears of the founder of the one true path - but then again this could be the confused understanding of a self-confessed heathen.)

However, quite disappointingly, the only 'flaw' that Dr. Hinds identifies is Naipaul's refusal and obstinacy towards "celebrating the genius in us."

So we are back at SN's original clamouring whine of the insecure for a pat on the head. Now I know Dr. Hinds is a very benign activist who would not cast us out into eternal damnation merely for not tar-and-feathering Naipaul because he did not sing the Caribbean hosannas. I shudder to think what these other Naipaullian "flaws" might be, of which not even Dr.Hinds dared to speak.

At the risk of putting Dr. Hinds on the spot though, I think it would further the discourse on identity in the Caribbean, and other ancillary matters, precipitated by Naipaul's Nobel, if he could set aside his admirable reticence in protection of our sensibilities, and reveal the other 'flaws' he has discerned in Naipaul's writing (One shudders some more.) It is my firm conviction that neither Naipaul nor any one of us, is in possession of the totality of truth on any matter. It is only through the sharing of our insights with candor [which Naipaul has done] and the receiving of the same without bias [which we may not have done] that we may deepen our understandings and perchance quicken our relationships. Is it too trite to remind ourselves that identity is ultimately not a static possession but a dynamic set of relationships?

Naipaul avoids using buzzwords and jargon; not that he is unaware of them but he fears the stultifying effects posed by the baggage of understandings and emotions that accompany these words. From this perspective it is of more than passing interest that Dr. Hinds invoked Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois' construct of "twoness" in this discussion. The proposition that African-Americans were torn apart by their simultaneous drive to be either authentically African or integrate into America, with its concomitant "lure and loathing", has dogged them for a century. It has been roundly criticized, not the least by Du Bois himself when he chose the nationalist route of Pan-Africanism over integration.

More insidiously, however, and more germane to our present enquiry into identity in the Caribbean, was Du Bois' conferring of an eternal essence in African blood and soul. This proved quite debilitating to the development of the African-Americans psyche, not only because of the unchangeability of all 'essences' and its negative implications for growth, but also because Du Bois went on to suggest explicitly that Africans (he mentioned artisans, doctors, etc.) should not be judged by the same standards and by implication (here it comes) should not face the same criticisms as whites.

With this as background I am not convinced that the present discourse is furthered by the introduction of an analogous bifurcation of our Caribbean experiences and reactions into "madness and genius" - much like Mittleholzer's Kwayana's Children. Is Dr. Hinds going to deny us - as Du Bois did to African-Americans because of his reputation as their towering intellect of the last century and the dispenser of received wisdom, - the opportunity to define ourselves in the full variegation of our human potential? Identity, like consciousness, is much more complex than double.

I know Dr. Hinds to be committed to the creation of a more human and humane Caribbean society. I trust that he will not leave us with mystifications on dubious 'essences' and 'flaws'. After all, look where Herder's supposed more 'positive' use of such constructs led the Germans and left the world.

Yours faithfully,

Ravi Dev (MP)

Leader of ROAR