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Arundhati Roy: In This Blitzkrieg of Idiocy, Fascist Marches, Fake-news Coups, and What Looks Like a Race Toward Extinction – What is the Place of Literature?

Arundhati Roy: In This Blitzkrieg of Idiocy, Fascist Marches, Fake-news Coups, and What Looks Like a Race Toward Extinction – What is the Place of Literature?

Scroll India

May 18, 2019

 

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The following is an excerpt from the “Arthur Miller Freedom to Write” lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy at the Apollo Theatre in New York. ‘India is fighting for her soul’: Arundhati Roy on fascism, Modi and being a writer in today’s world -‘In this blitzkrieg of idiocy, fascist marches, fake-news coups, and what looks like a race toward extinction – what is the place of literature?’

 

 

As the ice caps melt, as oceans heat up, and water tables plunge, as we rip through the delicate web of interdependence that sustains life on earth, as our formidable intelligence leads us to breach the boundaries between humans and machines, and our even more formidable hubris undermines our ability to connect the survival of our planet to our survival as a species, as we replace art with algorithms and stare into a future in which most human beings may not be needed to participate in (or be remunerated for) economic activity – at just such a time we have the steady hands of white supremacists in the White House, new imperialists in China, neo-Nazis once again massing on the streets of Europe, Hindu nationalists in India, and a host of butcher-princes and lesser dictators in other countries to guide us into the Unknown.

While many of us dreamt that “Another world is possible”, these folks were dreaming that too. And it is their dream – our nightmare – that is perilously close to being realised.

Capitalism’s gratuitous wars and sanctioned greed have jeopardised the planet and filled it with refugees. Much of the blame for this rests squarely on the shoulders of the government of the United States. Seventeen years after invading Afghanistan, after bombing it into the “stone age” with the sole aim of toppling the Taliban, the US government is back in talks with the very same Taliban. In the interim it has destroyed Iraq, Libya and Syria. Hundreds of thousands have lost their lives to war and sanctions, a whole region has descended into chaos, ancient cities – pounded into dust. Amidst the desolation and the rubble, a monstrosity called Daesh (ISIS) has been spawned. It has spread across the world, indiscriminately murdering ordinary people who had absolutely nothing to do with America’s wars. Over these last few years, given the wars it has waged, and the international treaties it has arbitrarily reneged on, the US Government perfectly fits its own definition of a rogue state. And now, resorting to the same old scare tactics, the same tired falsehoods and the same old fake news about nuclear weapons, it is gearing up to bomb Iran. That will be the biggest mistake it has ever made…

The books in question were not my novels (at that point I had written only one –The God of Small Things). These were books of nonfiction – although in a sense they were stories, too, different kinds of stories, but stories nevertheless. Stories about the massive corporate attack on forests, rivers, crops, seeds, on land, on farmers, labour laws, on policy making itself. And yes, on the post 9/11 US and NATO attacks on country after country. Most were stories about people who have fought against these attacks – specific stories, about specific rivers, specific mountains, specific corporations, specific peoples’ movements, all of them being specifically crushed in specific ways. These were the real climate warriors, local people with a global message, who had understood the crisis before it was recognised as one. And yet, they were consistently portrayed as villains – the anti-national impediments to progress and development. The former Prime Minister of India, a free-market evangelist, called the guerrillas, mostly indigenous people, adivasis, fighting corporate mining projects in the forests of central India the “Single Largest Internal Security Challenge”. A war called “Operation Green Hunt” was declared on them. The forests were flooded with soldiers whose enemies were the poorest people in the world. It’s been no different elsewhere – in Africa, Australia, Latin America.And now, irony of ironies, a consensus is building that climate change is the world’s single largest security challenge. Increasingly the vocabulary around it is being militarized. And no doubt very soon its victims will become the ‘enemies’ in the new war without end. Calls for a climate ‘emergency’, although well meaning, could hasten the process that has already begun.

And now, irony of ironies, a consensus is building that climate change is the world’s single largest security challenge. Increasingly the vocabulary around it is being militarized. And no doubt very soon its victims will become the ‘enemies’ in the new war without end. Calls for a climate ‘emergency’, although well meaning, could hasten the process that has already begun. The pressure is already on to move the debate from the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to the United Nations Security Council, in other words, to exclude most of the world and place decision making straight back into the den of the same old suspects. Once again, the Global North, the creators of the problem, will see to it that they profit from the solution that they propose. A solution whose genius will, no doubt, lie deep in the heart of the ‘Market’ and involve more selling and buying, more consuming, and more profiteering by fewer and fewer people. In other words, more capitalism.

When the essays were first published (first in mass-circulation magazines, then on the Internet, and finally as books), they were viewed with baleful suspicion, at least in some quarters, often by those who didn’t necessarily even disagree with the politics. The writing sat at an angle to what is conventionally thought of as literature. Balefulness was an understandable reaction, particularly among the taxonomy-inclined—because they couldn’t decide exactly what this was—pamphlet or polemic, academic or journalistic writing, travelogue, or just plain literary adventurism? To some, it simply did not count as writing: “Oh, why have you stopped writing? We’re waiting for your next book.” Others imagined that I was just a pen for hire. All manner of offers came my way: “Darling I loved that piece you wrote on the dams, could you do one for me on child abuse?” (This actually happened.) I was sternly lectured, (mostly by upper-caste men) about how to write, the subjects I should write about, and the tone I should take.

But in other places, let’s call them places off the highway, the essays were quickly translated into other Indian languages, printed as pamphlets, distributed for free in forests and river valleys, in villages that were under attack, on university campuses where students were fed up of being lied to. Because these readers, out there on the frontlines, already being singed by the spreading fire, had an entirely different idea of what literature is or should be.”

 

[Arundhati Roy is one of the world’s great observers. In her writing is a raging activism that takes on unpopular, underwritten causes and is unafraid to challenge the ruling elite. Her first novel was published in 1997. The God of Small Things tells the devastating story of twins Rahel and Estha and in doing so, examines India’s caste system, its history and social mores. It explores the ways in which the ‘Untouchable’ caste is derogated and ostracised from society, and the consequences of breaching the caste’s longstanding codes. The narrative deftly illustrates how the personal is indeed political, and her writing style is searing in its beauty, delivering weighty truths about neglected societies.”][Source]

 

Read the full text of the PEN America Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture delivered by Arundhati Roy on May 12 here.

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