Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy at SOAS

Disappearing World Forum Q&A Session with Arundhati Roy, held at the Brunei Gallery, SOAS, 2013

One could write a never-ending book about all that is contained in and around this event so it will be difficult to write anything short here. I could say something romantic about ugliness and beauty, about the drama of our existence, of exploiter and the exploited, of greed and resistance to that greed. Or about the possibility that we humans are flawed in our very DNA and evolution and may never be capable of collective peace and goodwill to all. I could say history is never in the past. I could say ideology is profound, especially when it has almost unlimited power driving it into plastic labile minds. I could say capitalism is a fundamental threat to the survival of almost all living things – especially humans. I could say corporate neoliberal rule is designed to exacerbate the logic of capitalism which is ceaseless accumulation and the commodification of all things. Or I could focus on the institution and histories and ideologies and power relations that brought those specific questioners there at that particular time. Or I could focus on Arundhati and all she is representing and all the superlatives that would flow from there. All of the strength, intelligence, elegance, beauty, all of the eloquence, patience, and fortitude. Or I could point out her seeming prescience about our current state of affairs, which was actually a clear-eyed left analysis that has been on the right (correct) side of history for generations, along with common sense ideas like fairness, justice, right and wrong…and feelings, like passion and empathy. Well, the never-ending book won’t start now, so here ends this bit of thought and feeling, digitized, and published for those few who will come across it.

John Berger / Ways of Seeing , Episode 1 (1972)

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This series was based on Walter Benjamin’s ideas. It begins slowly, but picks up speed – though the pace will still seem slow to us. Ostensibly, the subject is art and how we see it. In fact, it is an investigation of ideas and ideology, class and indoctrination.
In addition to the arguments Berger is making the series is interesting because, like anything viewed from the future, it has become a kind of historical document; thereby, giving us even more “ways of seeing.” How fast or slow it appears shows us something about how we see now. It shows us other things too. Aside from fashion and the technology (and budget) of the BBC, one of the many things it documents is a particular expression of second-wave feminism in England by “educated” middle and upper-class women in 1972. It’s useful to think about how we have progressed and regressed since then. It might also be useful to remember this was paid for by the state, i.e., taxpayers. All of these are ways of seeing that make this series even more interesting and complex than when it originally aired.