31 August 2007

Some ideas are more peddleable than others

Bryan Appleyard interviewing novelist V.S. Naipaul:

He realised the extent of [his] isolation when, after publication [of Among the Believers] he was invited to Harvard. “They wanted to have a discussion with me — that’s what they said. They wanted no such thing. They wanted the fellows of their institute to all say their piece of rage and criticism. It was such a shocking occasion." ...

Harvard — and many other experiences — convinced him that nothing was to be expected of academia. And he has, ever since, been one of the harshest critics of universities. “I think academics are bad. They spread ideas about things that they are determined to get one to accept. They have their ideas about multiculturalism, for example, or about Africa. They distort publishing to some extent. They publish the books for these courses, and it gives an illusion for great popularity, of ideas sweeping the world. But they’re not.”

Rage masquerading as "discussion"; viewpoints which must be accepted; distortion of publishing — this all sounds fairly familiar to me.

Politically, he inspires intense unease. When he won the Nobel prize, in 2001, no invitation arrived from Downing Street. Blair was, perhaps, not big enough to overlook Naipaul’s past rudeness. “I said he was a pirate in 1999, or whenever it was. I said something about the dangers of encouraging a popular culture that honours only itself. These are good thoughts, interesting thoughts.” Big chuckle.

But the point is that Blair was something of a pirate, radical Islamism is an anti-intellectual creed of mad delusions, and academics do peddle ideas for the sake of it.

Mr Appleyard seems to be missing the point here. The problem highlighted by Naipaul isn't that academics "peddle ideas for the sake of it", but that there is now a stringent selection system about which ideas they are allowed to peddle, and what kinds of politics or worldview those ideas are permitted to support.