Naipaul is himself is mimic man
Stabroek News
December 7, 2001

Dear Editor,

I would like to respond to those who have adversely commented on my perceptions of V.S. Naipaul in these pages, namely, Mr. Ravi Dev, Ms. Ryhaan Shah, Mr. Robin Muneshwer, and Rakesh Rampertab. Before doing so I would like to extend my respect to an analysis of Naipaul published in SN, Sunday, Dec 2 by Abu Bakr of France. I don't know if this is the same Abu Bakr with whom I shared a warm friendship during our radical student days at UG but if it is, then a special hello to you Abu. I still have that type-written page of your terrible devastation of A.J. Seymour. I would be glad to fax it to you to evoke memories of good, old UG. Please collect my e-mail address from the Stabroek News

Mr. Dev's outpourings in defense of Naipaul lack an essential mechanism. The biographical assessment of any great literary writer must connect his essential being with his work. I know of no academic treatment of any such writer that fails to adopt this methodology. It is now common knowledge that Shakespeare's literary philosophy emerged out of his confused sexuality. The novels of the brilliant Russian writers came out of their peculiar European fatalism.

All Dev has done so far is to accept without reservation, the social commentary of Naipaul on the Caribbean which he (Dev) says arises out of his (Naipaul's) "commitment to tell the truth as he discovers it...." But here is the problem which Dev out of frenetic admiration refuses to address -- Naipaul's discoveries are in his mind not in concrete reality. Ryhaan Shah at least acknowledges that "Naipaul is not an economist, historian, social scientist...." We must therefore be careful then how we accept his analytical observations, for example as in Enigma. But back to the methodology of Ravi Dev.

Dev is elated that East Indians whom he has contacted have reacted positively to Naipaul. I hope Dev sees the flaw in that statement. Every Afro-American I spoke to believed Mike Tyson was innocent of raping a young woman. But if Dev had contacted me and the other person who he refers to as a doctor in literature then he would have known that at least two East Indians think Naipaul is pretty off the mark. Unless of course we are not East Indians. But Dev acknowledges we are East Indians but he calls us liberal. I wonder what that terms means. I hope Dev is following his master (Naipaul) carefully. Dev tells us that Naipaul "avoids jargon and buzzwords like the plague." I think the word "liberal" is a buzzword. But whatever it is, I am not sure what it has to do with me writing about Naipaul. I simply believe that Naipaul is an extreme, pathetic psychological case that European colonialism produced in the fifties. Why I am a liberal for saying so only Dev can explain?

Dev has shown us that he (Dev) is capable of using Freudian techniques to understand writers. And he applied his psychoanalytical skills to Paul Theroux. Theroux, himself an accomplished writer, has finally exposed Naipaul for what he is - a self-obsessed narcissist, superficial, artificial Englishman who is also jealous of other great writers. Theroux's book was given positive reviews in almost every literary journal and the arts section of the major broad sheets in the UK. But Dev informs us that Theroux's book is a "petulant Oedipal outburst".

So Mr. Dev finds that like Edward Said, Naipaul too looks at the role of imperialism on culture. This is not exactly correct. Naipaul is interested in colonialism not imperialism. He does not see an umbilical connection between colonialism and imperialism. But let us for the sake of argument concede that like Said, Naipaul deals with imperialism. What then is the difference between the approaches of the two? Edward Said presents a theory of counter-colonial discourse. It is best to quote Said himself. In his book, Orientalism, he writes, "the Orient is an idea that has a history and a tradition of thought, imagery and vocabulary that have given it reality and presence...." Though the Caribbean as a colonial area has had a different evolution from that of the East, this statement is equally valid for this region and other colonial areas. For Said, colonially dominated people have produced the culture of resilience which in turn has produced the culture of alternatives in the process of struggle. For Naipaul, colonialism has produced the culture of denial in its subject. Resistance was insincere, resistance was a unpsychic, resistance produced the politics and culture of caricature. How true is this?

I simply don't know why Ravi Dev, and other supporters of Naipaul credit Naipaul with being an original, astute, critical observer of the evolution of post-colonial society. Abu Bakr cites CLR James. Added to him should be Franz Fanon. In fact, for Mr. Dev's information, Professor Said has been torrid in his criticism not only of the way the third world turned out after colonial dissipation but also of Afro-centrism in the US where he teaches.

There is much in Naipaul's condemnation of the Caribbean that Mr. Dev would find interesting, but as someone who claims that he filters his truths through political lens then there is hardly anything Dev has in common with VS. Dev, as an Indian rights activist in Guyana, has been pointing us into directions that we need to look at in terms of our definition of the Caribbean and what constitutes Caribbean culture. Dev wants us to put the East Indian problematic in a contextual stream. One has no quarrel with that. Dev finds a Caribbean that is defined by Afro-Caribbeanists as an extension of the African diaspora. For this reason, he rejects Rex Nettleford's advocacy of a greater acceptance on the part of East Indians of Caribbean culture. But what has this got to do with the outrageous, politically, historically backward racist views Naipaul has of the Caribbean? If Dev finds Afro-domination of the Caribbean unacceptable, then as someone who filters his praxis through political lenses, he knows the intellectual approach to such a discourse. Naipaul does not. Naipaul has no sense of political history. It is for this reason I find Dev's obsession with Naipaul's condemnation of the Caribbean bewildering.

The truth is that both Dev and Ryhaan Shah find Naipaul truthful in what he says about the Caribbean because Naipaul sees Afro-Caribbean society as a failure. But Dev and Shah have to go much deeper in their analysis of Caribbean society.

The subordinate Indian flock have now risen from the ashes and have taken power in Guyana and Trinidad but while stable-Afro-dominated Barbados and Antigua move on, look what is happening in the lands of Indian rebirth.

Guyana's famous PPP keeps declining in its electoral strength. Charges of intolerable levels of corruption come from respected quarters; people have been gunned down in protests not in Georgetown but in Berbice; and genuine anti-dictatorship fighters are denuded, disrespected, and denied. How much different is that from Naipaul's Afro-Caribbean government? In Trinidad, an East Indian party from the rural areas takes its rightful place in Caribbean society then implodes and look set to become a footnote in Trinidadian history. It was uprooted not by Afro-Trinidadian violence but by divisions within its ranks about accusation of the existence of moral turpitude. Really Mr. Dev and Ms. Shah, how right are the reflections of Mr. Naipaul about the Caribbean? Let me end this section of my letter on Dev by urging him to see that Naipaul himself embodies all that he is so critical of in the Caribbean. The West Indies' biggest mimic man is Vidia Naipaul.

Ms. Ryhaan Shah's zealotry is something she is entitled to; that is her right. But at least she should be familiar with the works of her hero and obviously she is not. She says, "Naipaul is not just a hero for Indian people. His talent transcends such narrow communality." Which books of Naipaul has Ms. Shah read? Naipaul himself would deny that he writes for people in general. It seems Ms. Shah knows nothing about her hero.

And there is a point in one of my previous letters that I wish to reiterate - so eager are some East Indian people in Guyana to have East Indian heroes that they are selecting the wrong type of East Indians. What a world we live in. Just to have a hero, someone would pick on anyone who comes along.

I would advise Ms. Shah to apply her thinking on race to Naipaul rather than me. She says in "his zeal to appear non-racial, Kissoon misses another point completely." This is bizarre. I analysed a well known Caribbean/world personality, and my motive for doing so is because I want to appear non-racial. What appalling nonsense. This is racist rubbish at its worst. Naipaul is a world figure who makes fantastic political statements. I am a political analyst working at a university, as part of my job I make comments on people like Naipaul. What has that got to do with race? So let's ask Ms. Shah a question. Is she supporting Naipaul because he is an East Indian or because he is a brilliant writer. If her answer is the latter then I would expect an apology from her.

Rakesh Rampertab is even more ridiculous than Shah. He says that Naipaul is an achiever, regardless of his accent and his views on race. He didn't tell us what Naipaul achieved. I wonder if Mr. Rampertab knows that Naipaul's achievements are based on that very accent and those very racist views. I wonder if any of Naipaul's supporters contemplates two questions: (1) why was he bypassed for the Nobel Prize every year for the past two decades? (2) Is there any connection between his acquisition of the prize at the very time that the West is in confrontation with an assertive Islam seeing that he is a trenchant critic of Islam? At least Rampertab is an honest man. He says that he is looking for East Indian heroes and once they come along, he will honour them. The trouble is, in this case, the hero does not want to be honoured by small, non-white societies like Guyana. So Mr. Rampertab's accolades would be refused by the great man himself who lives in London.

Finally, Mr. Robin Muneshwer asked me for my list of Nobel Prize nominees. If I had such a list it would not include Naipaul. My criteria for the Nobel Prize do not include brilliance per se. It is when that brilliance is put to the service of mankind. Brilliance is an obligation. Brilliance must be used to make the world a better place or it would have failed. It must have a human and a humane face. VS Naipaul is a brilliant writer of prose. It begins and ends there. He is not an achiever. He has an amorphous psychology that leads him to condemn irrationally. For this reason he has been treated with disdain for the past 20 years by the Nobel Prize Committee who felt that he was too bitter, eccentric and pessimistic to be visited with the prize. He won the Booker Prize but the criteria there are totally different from those of the Nobel Prize.

Mr. Naipaul is in company he does not deserve. He mentions a lengthy list that includes British poet, Ted Hughes, Russian writer, Tolstoy, American poet, Robert Frost, Hemminway, Orwell and many others too numerous to mention. But I wonder if Mr. Muneshwer is familiar with the works of these people. They gave us fantastic comfort. Some were critical and pessimistic like Kafka but none in Mr. Muneshwer's list was as contemptuous, racist and arrogant as Naipaul.

I close by urging all these Naipaul supporters to what is commonsensical in the study of great writers - look at their essence and you see why they write what they write. George Bernard Shaw once said: " the essence of man is not who he says he is but what he is."

Yours faithfully,

Frederick Kissoon

University of Guyana