Daily Notes on Literature, Pop Culture & Media, and Academia

The Endless Scandal of Arundhati Roy

Posted by litdaily on December 22, 2010

Every few months, the global media reports on the controversial politics centering around Arundhati Roy. Since publishing God of Small Things, Roy has been a force to be reckoned with, not just in the literary field, but also in the parameters of the Indian national government and/or world politics.  In many ways, she is what Salman Rushdie couldn’t be – a celebrity that disturbs the boundaries of cultural production and capitalizes on her sudden literary fame for the masses.

Roy has often been attacked by the Indian government and media for advocating violence.  Recently, Hari Kunzru posted an article on his blog about Roy’s response to the way that the media colludes with parties actually responsible for violence.  In her letter to Kunzru, Roy discusses the relationship between mobs and media…>>

And a couple of days ago, Rupa Dehejia, a blogger on Wall Street Journal, hypothetically asks what it would mean for someone like Roy to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. She reports on the numerous objections that people had regarding her comparison of Roy to Chinese dissident, Liu Xiaobo…>>

Dehejia obviously seems reluctant to be outright supportive or critical of Roy but does make a strong claim for interrogating the role of violence with regards to an oppressive state in the realm politics, and not just philosophy and political theory.  She asks: why is Xiaobo a worthy recipient and not Roy, since Roy is ranked as one of the “world’s most inspiring women” (apparently, she is just behind Angelina Jolie, which seems like a joke and needs its own blog entry)?

My own question about Roy is very similar to Dehejia’s question. What is so threatening about Roy?  Why is the violence that she advocates different than the violence that someone like Frantz Fanon advocated in order to overthrow oppression?  I agree that Roy is much hailed in the First World as a political activist. In academic terms, she might be considered a revolutionary figure – a “Third World Marxist Feminist” providing a voice to the subaltern.  Regardless of how we term or categorize her, it doesn’t matter because she isn’t located in the First World where the internet has taken the role of protest movements and donating some coins in the grocery store counts as making a difference.

Maybe what’s so threatening about her (aside from being a woman) is that she is not afraid.  There is no fear in her voice when she combats the violence of the state, the media, or international government. She has never backed down from questioning norms and in this way, her voice does have power.


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