Monday, July 29, 2013

If It Isn't One Thing, It's Another

Amazing how things happen to keep me from writing.  Today it was driving a friend to Indianapolis for an appointment with his lawyer.  Well worth doing, and I enjoy driving, but it did throw a spanner into my plans for the day.  But while I was waiting for him in the lawyer's office, I read further in a book I'd begun reading yesterday, Arundhati Roy's Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (Haymarket Books, 2009).  Somehow I've failed to keep up with her books, which is inexcusable: she writes clearly, even beautifully, with lots of useful information, and the books aren't very long.  But this one slipped under my radar.  (On the other hand, her books often appear under different titles, which can be confusing.  This one, for example, has also been published with the subtitle and title reversed -- Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy.  Her fine book on the "Maoist" guerrillas has appeared as Walking with the Comrades and as Broken Republic.)

I imagine most people who've heard of Roy know her as the author of the novel The God of Small Things, which won the 1997 Booker Prize, and perhaps they wonder why Roy hasn't written any more lovely novels.  The short answer is that she's been writing lovely but infuriating non-fiction about political injustice in India, though she situates her native country in the international system, and much of what she writes is every bit as relevant to US politics as to India.  (Which is why Ian Buruma published a scurrilous attack on her after the September 11 attacks, accusing her of all manner of all anti-American thoughtcrime and forfeiting the respect I'd had for him up till then.)

For example, "Of course there is a difference between a politics that openly, proudly preaches hatred and a politics that slyly pits people against each other" (63). She's talking about India, but she could be talking about our own Republicans and Democrats.

Or this:
As neoliberalism drives its wedge between the rich and the poor, between India Shining and India, it becomes increasingly absurd for any mainstream political party to pretend to represent the interests of the poor, because the interests of one can only be represented at the cost of the other. My “interests” as a wealthy Indian (were I to pursue them) would hardly coincide with the interests of a poor farmer in Andhra Pradesh.

A political party that that represents the poor will be a poor party. A party with very meager funds. Today it isn’t possible to fight an election without funds. Putting a couple of well-known social activists into Parliament is interesting, but not really politically meaningful. It’s not a process worth channeling all our energies into. Individual charisma, personality politics, cannot effect radical change [64].
She has some recommendations as to the way out of this dilemma, but I recommend those interested in reading them to find and read the book.  I checked it out of the library, but will probably buy my own copy eventually.