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Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Arundhati Roy on Life after Democracy

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…or, as Roy poses in her essay about the dangers of democracy, “What have we done to democracy?”:

What happens now that democracy and the free market have fused into a single predatory organism with a thin, constricted imagination that revolves almost entirely around the idea of maximizing profit?

It is a question she poses to already-democratized nations, highlighting the fusion between democratic ideals and the free market. Roy, the author of the Booker Prize-winning God of Small Things and the edifying treatise An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, explores how the founding ideals of democracy–literal terms like “freedom” and “progress”–have been co-opted by capitalism. No longer is freedom about exercising individual rights, but exercising the freedom to purchase. No longer does progress invoke civilization’s push toward a greater society; instead, we consider progress a purely technological thing. As Roy states:

Today, words like “progress” and “development” have become interchangeable with economic “reforms,” “deregulation,” and “privatization.” Freedom has come to mean choice. It has less to do with the human spirit than with different brands of deodorant.

In general, Roy asks these questions of all modern democracies. More specifically, she turns her eye toward her own country, India, and its difficult dichotomy of sudden wealth and overwhelming poverty. “Two decades of ‘Progress’ in India,” she writes, “has created a vast middle class punch-drunk on sudden wealth and the sudden respect that comes with it — and a much, much vaster, desperate underclass.” How does India’s woes mirror other nations’?

The author continues her exploration with brief excursions into Kashmir and the Siachen Glacier, an example of military waste and poor climate regulation. Looks like this essay is an excerpt from Roy’s newest work, Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers.

I find it interesting how Roy has turned her powerful, clarion voice from fiction (and fiction’s imaginary worlds) to nonfiction, which has greater shelf life and, in terms of readership, greater impact. Reading her earlier excursion into nonfiction, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire, I remember being taken aback by her unflinching gaze and her impassioned voice. Roy sees injustice in the world and is not afraid to face it.

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Filed under: government, literature, , , , ,

Best Camp Number of the Season

Okay, Glee takes the cake for the campiest, most hilarious show on television right now. This send-up of ordinary high school cliches (the final moment of the big football game of the entire high school season) is one reason the show is so good; other episodes have sent up the cheerleader’s car wash; the over-zealous show choir; and the teacher’s dreams of small stage-fame.

Last night’s clip perfectly skewered Beyonce’s “Single Ladies”. I love the fact that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously:

Glee‘s creator, Ryan Murphy, created another great television show, Nip/Tuck, about the absurdness of plastic surgery. I’m in love with this show, and not just because I’m a recovering theater musical nerd.

Filed under: entertainment, television, , , , , ,

What to Read Next: Greil Marcus edits America

NLHAReleased today is Harvard University Press’ ambitious, (fool-hardy?) new anthology, A New Literary History of America. Edited in part by rock critic/guru Greil Marcus, the new anthology aims for hipster over literature. I’ll be curious to read it in full.

According to the publicity piece in the The Times, “A New Literary History” seeks to include not only turning points in the past 500 years of American history, but also “war memorials, jazz, museums, comic strips, film, radio, musicals, skyscrapers, cybernetics and photographs.” Entries range from Chuck Berry (chosen and memorialized as the real soul of rock, rather than Elvis Presley) to porn star Linda Lovelace, the Declaration of Independence, Leaves of Grass, and, as a final note: Barack Obama. Cool thing about Obama’s entry: MacArthur genius Kara Walker created nine of her signature, subversive silhouettes of our new President. I saw Walker’s work for the first time at the Walker Art Center a few years ago, and was blown away with her braininess and willingness to go there.

I’ll admit I’m naturally drawn to these types of collections, if only for the chance encounter with some obscure artist or event that I’d never considered. Part of the danger of these anthologies is canonizing one person or group’s point of view. Who gets to deem the most important literary events in America’s past 500 years? On the other hand, isn’t it a good thing to have a place to start dialogue and debate?

Filed under: literature, pop culture, , , , ,

Maddow, Pelosi, Boehner, Jones weigh civic unrest

Rachel Maddow–of whom Mehcad Brooks recently opined that he’s in love with her mind (I’ll second that)–explores the threat of political violence raised by teabaggers toting guns at recent public protests. Maddow cites Speaker Pelosi’s uncharacteristically emotional call for a more reasoned, less inflammatory, approach to public discourse. After all, do we really need to brandish firearms and Obama-as-Hitler signs to make a point?

Prominent gay activist Cleve Jones also joins Maddow in praising Pelosi’s call for a more civil discourse. The segment shows both Pelosi’s words as well as those of Republican leader John Boehner, who contradicts Pelosi and calls for a political rebellion. Rebellion? Guns? Does this moment call for a deep breath, a commitment to discourse that is articulate, challenging, and most of all, civil?

Filed under: media, politics, , , , ,

Jim Carroll, Punk Poet, Dead at 60

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Probably best known for the film adaptation of his coming-of-age journal, The Basketball Diaries, Jim Carroll died last Friday of a heart attack in Manhattan.

Carroll was often compared to Rimbaud for his restless, youthful poetry and William S. Burroughs for his hearty drug use. The Basketball Diaries chronicles his prep school years on the Upper West Side, a blur of drugs, poetry, and b-ball. Leonardo DiCaprio played him in the film.

Here’s a bit from Carroll’s poem, “8 Fragments for Kurt Cobain“:

If only you hadn’t swallowed yourself into a coma in Roma…
You could have gone to Florence
And looked into the eyes of Bellinni or Rafael’s Portraits

Perhaps inside them
You could have found a threshold back to beauty’s arms
Where it all began…

No matter that you felt betrayed by her

That is always the cost
As Frank said,
Of a young artist’s remorseless passion

Which starts out as a kiss
And follows like a curse

Rest in peace.


Filed under: literature, , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
September 2009
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Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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