Naipaul does not believe in the superficiality of political correctness

Stabroek News
December 28, 2001

Dear Editor,

I have been following the discussions on V.S. Naipaul in the Stabroek News. The writers have said some truths while drawing conclusions that are not accurate.
A holistic view of Naipaul would indicate that both the writer and the man have traveled full circle. So while it was true that he started out on his quest for success by throwing off his Indian and West Indian clothes, because he believed that that was necessary in the context of the time and place he wanted that success to be manifested, it is also true that by the time he received the Booker Prize, Naipaul had started to embrace both his Indianness and his West Indian identity.
Hindu philosophy speaks of the constant of change as positive when it is evolutionary. From the standpoint of his ancestral and national (by birth) identities Naipaul has exemplified that evolutionary change.
And while it may have been true that he made no direct reference to Trinidad during his first reaction to winning the Nobel Prize, he indeed made extensive reference to his birthland during his acceptance speech in Oslo and one could sense both nostalgia and wistfulness in the writer's words.
Certainly the latter should weigh much more heavily than the former?
Many writers have referred to Naipaul's 'treatment of third world societies'. But how far off the mark has Naipaul really been? Criticizing the Nobel laureate for merely stating truths is saying that if you're one of us you should not criticize. This attitude has epitomized third world postcolonial politics and been, in no small measure, responsible for the social and economic shambles that dot the landscape of the developing world. This attitude has also been used by adherents of religion to mask the harsh realities that exist in practice.
Some have also referred to what Abu Bakr terms "a racist joke that is Naipaul's rendering of our reality". What these people fail to see is the sharp, incisive wit of a man who does not believe in the superficiality of political correctness - an instrument that has become so self-serving in contemporary times. With respect to humor and wit, Naipaul is somewhat similar to the legendary boxer, Mohammed Ali, who as recently as last week displayed that politically incorrect wit that so many these days only share behind closed doors and within small circles. Yet Ali has never been perceived as rendering anybody's reality as a racist joke. And certainly Ali's impact on the world stage is as great, if not greater than Naipaul's.
Yes, Naipaul can be accused of many things. But the makeup of the man is the whole man, not mere parts that would seem to serve the purpose of particular critics. Unlike many who have striven to take the selected parts and make them the whole, Naipaul has remained true to himself, always. And yes he has been a creature of circumstances. But then who is not? The difference between
Naipaul and others is that the former has often been able to mould those circumstances and sometimes overcome them.
While I commend Mr. Abu Bakr for his case may I ask him whether as a Muslim, "sworn to reject all distinctions based on race, caste or class" he has been just as stridently critical of those distinctions wherever they exist throughout the Islamic belt in Africa and the Islamic nations in Asia? And may I also ask him just what is this "Afro-Caribbean model of the melting pot"? Is not this model the instrument by which some have taken great pains to make Caribbean synonymous with African. Even today, here in the United States, Caribbean leaders (and I know them all) make no distinction between the two. And when that is pointed out, as I have often done, they become all defensive and attempt to backpedal. Almost every organization and institution in the US that carries the word Caribbean as part of their label, are comprised only of blacks, advocate only for blacks and present themselves as black entities. Is negating the geo-ethnic identity of an entire people not blatant racism? Racism that has been institutionalized, made into academic reality and become accepted practice?
To ensure that such negation is never reflected theorists in the US have coined the phrase multiculturalism as an inclusive reference to many races and cultures. For they have realized that one cannot melt away whole groups of people in a society with a rich tapestry of multi groups.
I do agree with Abu Bakr that criticism is not sacrosanct. But it should not be self-serving either. Nor should it be selective.
Finally Abu Bakr writes "And what we are examining is not Naipaul's social self but precisely what is secreted and is luminous in his works - the racial bias, pandering, and shallowness." But as Naipaul pointed out in his acceptance speech, "The nineteenth-century French critic Sainte-Beuve believed that to understand a writer it was necessary to know as much as possible about the exterior man, the details of his life."
Perhaps, however, the Nobel laureate says it best in these words, "I will say I am the sum of my books. Each book, intuitively sensed and, in the case of fiction, intuitively worked out, stands on what has gone before, and grows out of it. I feel that at any stage of my literary career it could have been said that the last book contained all the others."
Not only is the man not intrinsically different from his writings but both the man and his writings have gone through a process of evolution. Thus the holistic perspective.

Yours faithfully,
Annan Boodram