I don't really mind being called a pig-ignorant hooligan by someone I have not knowingly met, and I reluctantly accept the dismissal of my book as an "overpraised rant" in a paper that has not reviewed it. But I must rebut Boyd Tonkin's suggestion that I directed "racist insults" at the novelist Anita Desai.
I have never voiced an opinion on Miss Desai's work. I believe that time is the only reliable judge of literary merit. I mentioned her, in passing, in a discussion about changes in the English literature curriculum, where some have sought to replace traditional authors with modern ones. One critic of the existing curriculum suggested that the most dynamic English writing today was often found outside England. He listed, among others, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Anita Desai, Nadine Gordimer and Chinua Achebe as examples of this. I wrote: "It would be a bold person who suggested, now, that these fashionable writers will endure to become part of the great canon of English literature. Is it possible that they have been chosen not so much for their quality as for their sex, colour, or for their concern with modish causes?"
It is not racialist to believe that the literature taught in schools, rather than that shortlisted for the Booker Prize, should be chosen because it transcends its own time.
One of the sad effects of our cultural revolution, and the stifling conformism that it seeks to impose, is that any resistance to liberal opinion tends to be met not by reason, but by allegations of personal wickedness. Do people still not understand where this sort of thing can lead?