Arundhati Roy, “An Ordinary Person´s Guide to Empire”, New Delhi: Penguin, 2005


This book is a collection of essays; in fact, most of them are public speeches she delivered between 2002 and 2005. Hence, I would suggest a paused reading spacing out each of these texts because there are some passages that are repeated.

Her radical take on contemporary global politics is probably one of the most celebrated on the camp of alter-globalization. Her style is outspoken and blunt; poetic yet informative; but above all her prose is humanly passionate. Revolution will only grow from the guts.

Writing in the aftermath of the 9/11, during the preparations of Iraq War and its initial invasion, her revaluation of pacifism as a mode of resistance is not a howl to the moon, but a firm critique to the enshrined heroes of peace that, once in power, found themselves tied to their comfortable chairs. It was the empire who crippled their fingers for them not to continue their music of revolution.

But what’s empire? Difficult question indeed.


Arundhati Roy (pic: The Guardian)

In Arundhati´s view, empire means principally the US government and repressive forces inside itself and overseas, but not alone. Empire is also the “corporate media” that smells the blood of conflict and brings the spotlight, the headlines, the experts, and the opinion that invents legitimacy for “pacification”, yet another one. Empire is the middle man reinvented in a neo-fascist nationalism pinned up by global networks of capitalist and wrapped in votes and vetoes. Democracy as a beauty pageant.

“Meanwhile down at the mall there´s a mid-season sale. Everything´s discounted –oceans, rivers, oil, gene pools, fig wasps, flowers, childhoods, aluminum factories, phone companies, wisdom, wilderness, civil rights, ecosystems, air- all 4.6 billion years of evolution. It´s packed, sealed, tagged, valued, and available off the rack (no returns). As for justice –I´m told it´s on offer too. You can get the best money can buy.” (Come September, Sept 2002, p.43)

No. Do not despair. The end of the empire is inherent to its very nature. The human being has never built anything that lasted forever, and empire is not an exception. But we should not wait for its decrepitude to witness the blocks of the wall to be torn apart by time. Here is when Roy comes with a guide to destroy the empire.

ordinary-person-s-guide-to-empire-400x400-imadhdzrqjmmykky“Our strategy should be not only to confront Empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we´re being brainwashed to believe… The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling –their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability… Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.” (An ordinary person´s to Empire, Feb 2003, p.86)

Be ferociously conscious of your imperial surroundings. Look into each dot in the lines of our world and deplete them from its imperial habitude, turn them into an instrument of liberation. Refuse to be included in the Big Book of Nations. Don´t blend in if you don’t want within ideas that are not your own; ideas that legitimize their gains in coins, in votes, in drops of humanity. Be aware of your voice, feel the vibration of your words in your own vocal cords and use them.

Empire´s conquests are being carried out in your name, and you have the right to refuse. You could refuse to fight. Refuse to move those missiles from the warehouse to the dock. Refuse to wave that flag. Refuse the victory parade.” (Instant-mix imperial democracy, May 2003, p.169)

This was the first book I read by Arunhati Roy, but it won’t be the last.


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