The Shape of the Beast Come September

“Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century. Flags are bits of coloured clothe that governments use first to shrink-wrap people’s brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead”

Arundhati Roy, Come September

Arundhati Roy has consistently engaged with people and in issues to unhesitatingly question power. And she does not start from the position of acceptable western middle class standards. This has become more apparent as she seeks to question fundamental principles around subjects such as democracy, justice, the accumulation of capital, and non-violence.

Roy is at ease engaging political realms while simultaneously addressing complacency in her craft as well as in personal areas. And she does so with more acumen than established corporate media commentators. All of this was obvious from her Come September speech ten years ago and in her most recent publication she states explicitly, “my language, my style, is not something superficial, like a coat that I wear when I go out. My style is me – even when I’m at home. It’s the way I think. My style is my politics”.

To me she demonstrates most clearly that you can and should take a stand for something: assume a polemic but avoid being polemical in thought and action. And she gives those willing to listen a boost to do likewise, “I’m not here to tell stories that people want to hear. I’m not entering some popularity contest. I just say what I have to say, and the consequences are sometimes wonderful and sometimes not”.

The interviews of her latest book have all been published before, but this does not stop them reasserting something that is fresh in a world where mainstream politics stinks of decaying flags waved impotently by empire, in nostalgia as much as hope. Collectively the interviews shed light on what a critical persona can aspire to be while escaping the muck of corporate media in a necessarily penetrating yet poetic manner.

“To expose things is quite different from being able to effectively resist things. I am more interested now in whether there are new strategies of resistance. The debate between strategies of violence and non-violence.” Such points sound like self-criticism as much as accusation or provocation to impotent and incidental groups opposing empire. “I think that no one form of resistance is going to succeed. Like you cannot have a monoculture forest, you need a diversity of resistance… because non-violent resistance is a form of ‘theatre’, sometimes an effective form of theatre, but it needs an audience and a sympathetic audience”.

I am grateful for this collection of interviews but wait to see how many commentators remember her excellent writing presented 29th September 2002, Come September. Or indeed if Arundhati Roy will provide a ‘ten years on’… but unfortunately I know not enough has changed. A repeat listening exposes Empire and we do indeed require new ways to act.

It is all too true that none of us need anniversaries to remember the unforgettable, so I choose not to drench myself in the horrific but to celebrate the alternative.


Come September was presented on 29th September 2002.

The Shape of the Beast is available out now.

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