In times when his way of interpreting the world is seen with some dubiety but also rules large parts of the world, it’s only with some irony that we can regard the passing of V S Naipaul. It’s not an arbitrary fact that our times are filled with hate events: there is a connection here in the realm of ideas. Naipaul’s was a life filled with revelatory ironies, and we can read him now in the light of world history. A Samuel Huntington world, filled with binary truths.
As a literary mind, Naipaul’s eye was focused on the deliciously droll part of the world, the significantly banal detail. But he posed to be a historian of the times, not just a chronicler but an interpreter, and it’s in those terms that he will be read in future. Even if not directly affiliated, he articulated what the modern right-wing mind thinks. In pretty fine prose. And the ironies begin here. For, it was in the English language, bequeathed to the world through empire, that he sought to broadcast his views on a world structured by colonialism. Without, of course, acknowledging that part of it.
The happenstance of ‘good English’ came with indentured labour, which is just as good as slavery. In short, Naipaul’s worldview had been given to him by the same masters who had given him English. At some point, we must wake up to the politics of being bought over by ‘good English’, even if the pettiest ideas are given an airing through that dubious medium.
Amit Chaudhuri wrote in The Guardian: “Naipaul’s discomfiting assertions – about Islam, about women, about countries less fortunate than the one he lived and died in ... are often unjustified, unpleasant and untrue, though he insisted that, despite their unpleasantness, they possessed the unflinching quality of truth.” There is perhaps a fear here of acknowledging potential truths. Even a Kashmiri separatist was once heard saying that Naipaul was right in saying Islam effectuates an “erasure” of civilisational memory. A mind such as that must be encountered in its riskiest phase. So that we understand.