Konfrontasi

Graham Greene stated that Evelyn Waugh

had the rare quality of criticising a friend, harshly, wittily and openly to his face, and behind the friend’s back of expressing only his kindness and charity.

Greene with envy

That is true. Greene also stated:

There were times when certain popular journalists tried to push us [him and Waugh] into what the Indonesians call a confrontation [a reference to the Konfrontasi, Jakarta’s struggle with Malaysia in 1962-68].

That is false. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe anything I read in the newspapers either. But you can take cherchez le journaliste too far. Greene, as I explain here, could be as silly as he was conceited.

Greene’s Konfrontasi with Anthony Burgess wasn’t choreographed by journalists; it was entirely of his own making. Greene became envious of Burgess’s mastery of the medium of television, and professed to consider Burgess’s appearances vulgar. The truth was that Greene, owing to the poverty of his ideas, lacked confidence in the glare of the television lights. In a one-hour documentary for the BBC, he refused to show his face, allowing only his hands to appear. Burgess, by contrast, had something to say and knew how to say it. It caused a gnawing envy in Greene, who au fond regarded Burgess as an upstart.

Matters between Greene and Burgess were not helped by an interview Burgess conducted with Greene for one of the London newspapers. Burgess took the trouble to travel to Greene’s place of residence in Antibes, Greene lacking the confidence to be interviewed anywhere but on home ground. Burgess was rewarded for his pains with snobbery and snideness. Burgess’s crime in Greene’s eyes appears to have consisted in the assumption that they could meet as equals rather than as master and apprentice.

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