From Ian Buruma’s “The Missionary and the Libertine”- A book of essays. The book is dedicated to Donald Richie.
From V.S. Naipaul’s India (1991):
Democracy is always a messy process. Many people in India fear this mess. The novelist, V.S.Naipaul fears it too. He is an orderly man. But he does not make a fetish of order. Disorder is an inescapable consequence of India’s awakening. This may be another reason why so many “progressive” Third World intellectuals see Naipaul as a reactionary figure; for it is they, the admirers of Mao and Kim Il Sung, who make a fetish of order, and it is Naipaul who has the deeper understanding of the social forces that progressives claim to despise—perhaps because they are themselves still in the grip of those forces.
The fetish of order is something many progressives, in East and West (or, if you prefer, North and South), have in common with many conservatives. Mao Tse-Tung of China was much admired by conservative leaders such as Henry Kissinger, Edward Heath and Georges Pompidou. They were impressed by the discipline Mao imposed. Many saw a unified society of busy bees, all expressing great confidence in their leaders, all working in serried ranks toward a glorious collective future. Some even saw the regimentation of China as a mark of superior civilization, so unlike our own disorderly world. Left-wing Indian intellectuals admired China so much that they developed an inferiority complex about messy, chaotic India.
What all these admirers chose (and, alas, often still choose) to overlook was that China’s order was the order of a slave state. It is said that Mao, however much blood still sticks to his waxy hands, restored pride to the Chinese people. If so, it was only to the “People”, and not to people that he gave this pride. The price for Mao’s proud banners was the virtually complete destruction of Naipaul’s universal civilization, which did exist in China: the individual, responsibility, choice, the life of the intellect and so on. In this respect, despite all the subcontinent’s problems, China should take a leaf from India’s book.
What makes Naipaul one of the world’s most civilized writers is his refusal to be engaged by the “People”, and his insistence on listening to people, individuals, with their own language and their own stories. To this extent he is right when he claims to have no view; he is impatient with all abstractions. He is interested in how individual people see themselves and the world in which they live. He has recorded their histories, their dreams, their stories, their words.
As we know, the first thing that leaders or worshipers of the “People” do is to rob people of their words, by enforcing a language of wood. Naipaul’s characters, most of whom talk at considerable length, never speak a language of wood. In his interviews, Naipaul insists on details: he wants to know how things smelled, felt, sounded, looked—especially looked. And where it concerns ideas, he wants to be told how they were arrived at: not just what people think, but how they think. This is also the method of his own writing.