- The Washington Times - Friday, October 19, 2001

After Sept. 11, whatever was left of Political Correctness collapsed along with the twin towers. Not that PC was ever

a solid structure to begin with. Now even the academy that awards the Nobel Prize has come out of its customary daze and given this year's prize for literature to that most politically incorrect of writers, everyman's curmudgeon, V.S. Naipaul.

The news will be welcomed by everybody who can tell the difference between thought and ideology, observation and propaganda, freedom and Liberation Theology.

V.S. Naipaul's unforgivable sin well, one of many has been to note that there is something worse than colonialism: what has followed it. No one with a Nobel was supposed to say such things before terrorism struck only a couple of miles away from the United Nations building instead of in Africa or the Middle East.

But V.S. Naipaul has been pointing out the murderous idiocy of the post-colonial world for years, which made him a pariah among the intelligentsia and a delight to the intelligent a kind of thinking man's Florence King.

Mr. Naipaul won his Nobel for " The Enigma of Arrival," which is about the limbo in which the exiled find themselves between the end of empire and the beginning of dissolution.

Some of us prefer his less abstract "A Bend in the River," with all its grim comedy on the same theme. He has a marksman's sight for all the incongruities of today's Third World and its admirers in ours. But his travel writings may outlast his fiction, for it detects like a minesweeper the long tolerated madnesses that erupted Sept. 11 and will be with us for The Duration.

Mr. Naipaul defies easy classification. An East Indian who was born in the West Indies, on the isle of Trinidad, he now lives in London. He is British only in the way India's exiles can be. He is, if anything in particular, a kind of artificial Briton, a son of the Empire rather than of England. He would despise the title Citizen of the World for its vapidity. And while he is certainly a man of the world, that description does not capture his talent for capturing the revealing, biting local detail that tells us all we really need to know about certain societies. Striving for utopia, they have delivered themselves not to Marx or Allah but Caliban.

Born with all the disadvantages of the outsider, Mr. Naipaul seized on its one great advantage the ability to see ourselves as others see us and made it a calling. Not a career, for V.S. Naipaul has never been one of those blurb-exchanging peers of the literary realm. Which is why they abhor him. He shows them up and, worse, in his own way and time. How this Nobel of his must gall them.

One of the nice things about winning a prestigious award must be the satisfaction it gives friends and admirers, but the nicest must be its purpling effect on one's enemies and on all the conventional critics whose principal reaction to talent is to misunderstand it.

Mr. Naipaul's affinity for the English language may not be natural, but his eye is unblinking which is how he acquired all those small-minded critics. And he doesn't just see and feel clearly, but dares to record what he sees and feels. Which is even harder.

It takes a Naipaul to put so concisely what every young person just starting out must think when confronted by another round of meaningless job interviews. He writes in "A Bend in the River": "With each job description I read, I feel a tightening of what I must call my soul. I found myself growing false to myself, acting to myself, convincing myself of my rightness for whatever was being described. And this is where I suppose life ends for most people, who stiffen in the attitudes they adopt to make themselves suitable for the jobs and lives that other people have laid out for them."

Mr. Naipaul has been called a misanthrope, but he pities and despises only the stupid, the pretentious, the reflexive and the unconsciously comic although, come to think, that does cover a wide spectrum of the human race, surely including many members of the Swedish Academy over the years. For the academy ordinarily dishes out Nobels to the likes of Italy's Dario Fo, whose reaction to the events of Sept. 11 was to say the world's economic system is already so homicidal it doesn't matter if a few more thousand people are killed.

There's a lot of that going around the nut left these days, which seems terribly eager to justify terrorism in the guise of explaining it. Or at least appease it. If V.S. Naipaul is an advocate of anything, it is civilization, specifically Western Civ, and that is what upsets those yearning for a wholly imagined past in which savagery is not savage at all, but a utopia.

In many ways, it is V.S. Naipaul who is the true subversive in an age that has made of politics a religion (be sure to call it Social Action) and indulged the terrorist by trying to find some elevated purpose to his violence. Too often our intellectual elite have saved their ire for those still attached to the idea of a free world a stable and peaceful world in which men might seek to save what, like V.S. Naipaul, some of us must call our soul.

Whom we honor is a sure sign of what we are becoming. Which is why a Nobel for Mr. Naipaul is such good news, and such a welcome exception to a dismal trend. After Sept. 11, maybe even the intellectuals will wise up.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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