The suppression of ideas cannot be sustained here

Dear Editor,
I couldn’t help but notice the Minister of Culture, Dr. Frank Anthony, taking the time to respond with no small amount of opprobrium – and via Stabroek News’ letter columns – to what he considered a journalistic breach of ethics by Stabroek News sports reporter, Marlon Munroe.  In relation to Mr. Munroe’s reporting of a comment that the Minister took to be said in confidence, Dr. Anthony writes:

“At no time did he [Munroe] say that he would be using the contents of this private conversation to write an article… This smacks of unethical and unprofessional conduct.”

Speaking of which, I’d like to beg the editor’s indulgence in repeating my query to the Minister – or any officer he may wish to delegate to respond – regarding the public release of the names and relevant qualifications of the members of the literary contingents for Carifestas 8 and 9, and the recently concluded Inter-Guiana Cultural Festival.

At the risk of being accused of self-aggrandizement, let me offer a more or less detailed literary resume. I was a participant at the inaugural Cropper Foundation Writers’ in Trinidad in 2000; in 2001, I edited the Guyana Christ-mas Annual; in 2003, I received the Guyana Prize for Literature for Best First Book of Fiction – later that year I was a featured guest author at the inaugural Canadian-Caribbean Literary Expo in Toronto; in 2007, I received a certificate of recognition at the Guyana Prize 2006, for winning the 2002 Prize; I won the GT&T Carifesta X Literary Publication Award in 2008.

It is of course entirely possible that my literary qualifications – as outlined above – proved inadequate for membership on any of the government’s literary delegations to the festivals listed. I’ve simply asked the Minister – or any of his officers, Dr. James Rose, perhaps – to provide a list and the qualifications of those eminent literary persons who did make the cut, if only that I may be informed of the sort of creative achievement I should aspire to in order to fulfill the no-doubt objective placement criteria which governs the Ministry’s selection process for such contingents.

That rhetorical toying aside, again, I don’t expect an answer. There is none available that would not prove my point of the policy of nepotism that governs the government’s cultural policy.  My original j’accuse against the Ministry is over a year old and I have not received so much as squeak in response.

For anyone interested in a practical demonstration of how the imbecilic arrogance that underwrites hubris can be exposed, this would be it.  The government’s de facto policy towards literature produced in contemporary Guyana consists primarily of banking on the hope that whatever curious admixture of malign neglect and passive-aggressive sabotage that they subject it to is enough to damage it irreparably.  What is clearly at work here is that irrational fear of intellectualism that afflicts the irredeemably ignorant or mediocre.

I know there is the temptation to see my apparently relentless tirade as primarily personal and perhaps even compensatory of some shortcoming on my part.  I know for a fact that while there has been no public response to my queries, ironically there is a snickering whispering in certain circles that I may be trying to protest myself into consideration for some nebulous special literary commendation or recognition, some sort of affirmative action.

So, when I argue for the Guyana Prize to be held regularly and not at the whim of the political administration, and with the stipulation that there should be literary workshops facilitated by the Prize Committee, it must be because that I want the Prize to be given to me and my deficient literary work and not to overseas-based writers and their better writing.  It doesn’t matter that I’ve repeatedly said the Prize’ standards should not be lowered but the playing field leveled to give local authors the chance to compete effectively, in keeping with the developmental mandate, if not – granted – letter of the Prize.  Nor does it matter that the academics in their thrall are not falling over themselves to pronounce on my literary incompetence, despite my work being readily available.

Or when I point out the nepotism that governs the selection for Guyana’s representation at cultural events, it must be because I simply didn’t make the cut and protesting is my way of getting in through the backdoor.

It doesn’t matter that the Minister of Culture can’t simply discredit my accusations by publishing the names, qualifications and criteria for selection of those chosen to represent Guyana’s literary community at cultural events.

This is of course the sort of ironic, disingenuous, self-deluding, self-righteous rationalization that is the last refuge of the corrupt and the intellectually bereft.  These things are whispered but never expressed outside of their close circles because they cannot withstand the slightest interrogation.

Let me contextualise Dr. Frank Anthony’s policy in the selection of literary delegations thusly:
Imagine Ramnaresh Sarwan utterly dominating cricket locally, but the government of Guyana denying him the opportunity to represent the country internationally because he expressed legitimate criticism of the Demerara Cricket Board.  Now imagine Sarwan writing a letter to the press, publicly challenging the Minister – who also has responsibility for sport – to release the batting averages of those cricketers who were selected, and being met with silence.

Someone needs to send the administration a memo – the concept of eminent domain does not extend to the mind or conscience.  And while Minister Anthony is free to personally indulge in that particularly parochial delusion, he and the government he represents should be aware – as I think would be obvious considering the present environment in which they find themselves – that while this sort of ill-advised and petulant policy of the suppression of ideas may have worked forty years ago in Soviet Russia, it cannot be sustained here.

Yours faithfully,
Ruel Johnson

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