Daily Archives: 9 October 2004

Naipaul on Intuition vs. Ideology

Both fiction and the travel-book form have given me my way of looking; and you will understand why for me all literary forms are equally valuable. It came to me, for instance, when I set out to write my third book about India–twenty-six years after the first–that what was most important about a travel book were the people the writer travelled among. The people had to define themselves. A simple enough idea, but it required a new kind of book; it called for a new way of travelling. And it was the very method I used later when I went, for the second time, into the Muslim world.

I have always moved by intuition alone. I have no system, literary or political. I have no guiding political idea. I think that probably lies with my ancestry. The Indian writer R. K. Narayan, who died this year, had no political idea. My father, who wrote his stories in a very dark time, and for no reward, had no political idea. Perhaps it is because we have been far from authority for many centuries. It gives us a special point of view. I feel we are more inclined to see the humour and pity of things.

Nearly thirty years ago I went to Argentina. It was at the time of the guerrilla crisis. People were waiting for the old dictator Peron to come back from exile. The country was full of hate. Peronists were waiting to settle old scores. One such man said to me, “There is good torture and bad torture.” Good torture was what you did to the enemies of the people. Bad torture was what the enemies of the people did to you. People on the other side were saying the same thing. There was no true debate about anything. There was only passion and the borrowed political jargon of Europe. I wrote, “Where jargon turns living issues into abstractions, and where jargon ends by competing with jargon, people don’t have causes. They only have enemies.”

SOURCE: “Postscript: Two Worlds (The Nobel Lecture [2001])” in Literary Occasions: Essays, by V. S. Naipaul (Vintage, 2003), p. 194

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The Saga of Asian Language Study in Australia

Macam-Macam has posted a lengthy update on the demise of Asian language study in Australia.

When the Howard Government scrapped the highly-regarded National Asian Languages and Studies in Australian Schools Strategy initiative (NALSAS) in mid-2002, the news received international attention. The CNN:

The Australian government has scrapped a $130 million (Aust. $240 million) 10-year funding program for teaching Asian languages in schools, four years before it was originally intended to end.

The program, introduced to Australian schools in 1996, was designed to promote the teaching of four key Asian languages: Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Bahasa Indonesia/Bahasa Malaysia and Korean.

How bloody short-sighted. Five months later, the Bali bombings happened and South East Asia suddenly moved front-and-centre in the Australian political psyche.

The decision was especially mystifying as it came from the self-professed masters of Australian economic management – could there be anything more valuable in clinching deals and strengthening ties than the ability to speak to East Asians in their own languages?

“How bloody short-sighted” indeed! Fortunately, the program seems to have become an election issue.

Both the Federal Government and the Opposition have promised money specifically to encourage the study of foreign languages at school. The Government has budgeted $110 million for all foreign languages, while the ALP has slated $64 million for Asian language studies.

Macam-macam concludes:

The Howard Government may have done much to tackle terrorism in South East Asia since the Bali bombings of October 2002, but nevertheless I can’t stop feeling that a grave mistake in the war on terror was made 5 months earlier when funding for NALSAS was terminated. The full repercussions of that decision may not be felt for some years yet.

Let’s hope the newly returned Howard Government wastes no time before reversing this grave mistake.

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