…of a genius
In an age when reading books received a stake in its heart from Internet memes — after being wounded by the spread of TV — the passing of VS Naipaul probably won’t elicit more than a passing mention in the obituary columns of the dailies. Excepting with those columns now dead, the obit will, at best, be a column from some “humanities” academic – itself a dying part of the university curriculum.
And that’s a tragedy, because a close reading of the books by canonical writers like Naipaul wasn’t just a passing whim, but a recognition that, just as scientists may study the world of “nature”, it wasn’t just sociologists and psychologists who studied societies and people, but writers like Naipaul. Because their insights are couched in narratives, they are more accessible to those who read.
So what were Naipaul’s contributions that made him such a well-recognised writer? Firstly, there was the writing itself. Even his critics had to concede it was as good as any other writer in English, living or dead. But this was not just a “talent”. There was that, of course, but more than anything else, there was the brutal honesty to “tell it like he saw it”. For the Caribbean, the “it” was his assessment of us as a people in a world defined by those who “created and produced”.
His assessment was that our “picaroon” societies had created nothing – and so produced nothing beyond what the much-maligned colonial powers had organised us to do. Fifty years after his assessment, Guyana was still thrown into a tailspin when Europe removed preferential prices on our sugar!! We insisted on living out the fantasy of what the Europeans had defined us to be – “Bongo men” who performed for the coins they – now dubbed “tourists” — threw at us!
He saw our politicians as “Mimic Men” who aped the words and behaviours of the European ruling class with absolutely no experience – and thus no real understanding – of what such words and behaviours meant. And so, in Guyana, we have politicians in 2018 talking about “liberalism” and “socialism” that are irrelevant to our fractured plural society. In 1962, he’d advocated the devolution of real responsibility to the people in positions, and their measurement by the standard of efficiency, “to bring political organisation to the picaroon society”. Our politicians are still busy being “Massas”!!
In 1975, long before Walcott’s Nobel acknowledgement of our plurality, Naipaul emphasised that we have to “arrive at some understanding of all the strands of our upbringing. And we have so many strands here, on this island in the New World. We have to acknowledge them all.”
When will we heed his advice?
One of the most potent criticisms the PNC and AFC had levelled against the PPP regime was the latter’s inability to reform the security forces to deal with the security challenges that were overwhelming Guyana. It might’ve been the feather that broke the PPP’s back at the 2015 elections, since with the top-heavy security types in the PNC top echelons – starting with Brigadier Granger — their promise to clean up the security mess was taken seriously.
One specific PNC/AFC criticism was the PPP’s rejection of the British $4.6 billion-funded Security Reform Plan. The PPP claimed the Brits’ plan would “recolonise” us. Well, the moment they sneaked into office, the PNC-led coalition invited the Brits back, who sent in their man, ex-Lt Col Russel Combe, in 2017. His profile boasts of: “wide ranging operational experience from the ‘hands on’ tactical level to the strategic political military interface.”
But the latter’s recommendations – now focused just on straightening the GPF — has been gathering dust since its January handing over.
In the meantime, even the Police are turning to crime!!
Isn’t President Granger going to extend condolences to the family of Sir VS Naipaul at his passing? Surely this Caribbean literary icon – who even bigged up his leader Burnham’s oratorical prowess — deserves that!
Or aren’t we part of the Caribbean?