GABBLER RECOMMENDS: ‘What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?’ By Arundhati Roy

“Has any writer ever written a masterpiece in an alien language? In a language other than his mother tongue?” I hadn’t claimed to have written a masterpiece (nor to be a “he”), but nevertheless I understood his anger toward a me, a writer who lived in India, wrote in English, and who had attracted an absurd amount of attention. My answer to his question made him even angrier.

“Nabokov,” I said. And he stormed out of the hall.

The correct answer to that question today would of course be “algorithms.” Artificial Intelligence, we are told, can write masterpieces in any language and translate them into masterpieces in other languages. As the era that we know, and think we vaguely understand, comes to a close, perhaps we, even the most privileged among us, are just a group of redundant humans gathered here with an arcane interest in language generated by fellow redundants.

Only a few weeks after the mother tongue/masterpiece incident, I was on a live radio show in London. The other guest was an English historian who, in reply to a question from the interviewer, composed a paean to British imperialism. “Even you,” he said, turning to me imperiously, “the very fact that you write in English is a tribute to the British Empire.” Not being used to radio shows at the time, I stayed quiet for a while, as a well-behaved, recently civilized savage should. But then I sort of lost it, and said some extremely hurtful things. The historian was upset, and after the show told me that he had meant what he said as a compliment, because he loved my book. I asked him if he also felt that jazz, the blues, and all African-American writing and poetry were actually a tribute to slavery. And if all of Latin American literature was a tribute to Spanish and Portuguese colonialism.

Notwithstanding my anger, on both occasions my responses were defensive reactions, not adequate answers. Because those incidents touched on a range of incendiary questions—colonialism, nationalism, authenticity, elitism, nativism, caste, and cultural identity—all jarring pressure points on the nervous system of any writer worth her salt. However, to reify language in the way both men had renders language speechless. When that happens, as it usually does in debates like these, what has actually been written ceases to matter. That was what I found so hard to countenance. And yet I know—I knew—that language is that most private and yet most public of things. The challenges thrown at me were fair and square. And obviously, since I’m still talking about them, I’m still thinking about them.

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ARC Giveaways for Vol. 2 Coming Soon

Laurie Penny on the Monomyth:

“The original Star Wars was famously based on Joseph Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey,’ the ‘monomyth’ that was supposed to run through every important legend from the beginning of time. But it turned out that women had no place in that monomyth, which has formed the basis of lazy storytelling for two or three generations: Campbell reportedly told his students that ‘women don’t need to make the journey. In the whole mythological journey, the woman is there. All she has to do is realize that she’s the place that people are trying to get to.’

Which is narratologist for ‘get back to the kitchen’ and arrant bullshit besides. It’s no enough to be a destination, a prop in someone else’s story. Now women and other cultural outsiders are kicking back and demanding a multiplicity of myths. Stories in which there are new heroes making new journeys. This isn’t just good news for steely eyed social justice warriors like me. It also means that the easily bored among us might not have to sit through the same dull story structure as imagined by some dude in the 1970s until we die.”

From Bitch Doctrine: Essays for Dissenting Adults. 

On Dystopias and Utopias:

“Fredric Jameson observed, ‘It is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism’ — and the reason for that is not that capitalism is the inevitable destiny of humankind but that we have spent our lives being told that even thinking about any other future makes us ridiculous.

Just because dystopia is easy doesn’t mean it’s useless. There is value in pointing out oppression. A great way of shutting down dissent is to insist that it’s not enough to be against things without also deciding what it is that you are for. From the anti-war movement to Occupy Wall Street to the reimagined Corbynite Labour party, everyone on the left is used to hearing this — that we cannot point out whats wrong with politics without instantly suggesting an alternative.”

Laurie Penny, Bitch Doctrine. 

Laurie Penny, on footnotes:

“The public sphere now includes a great many people whose voices, if they were ever noted at all, were included in footnotes. Women, girls, queer people, people of colour, people living in the margins of our collective cultural script, are suddenly rewriting it. That changes what it means to be a writer, just as it changes what it means to be a human being living and thinking and acting in the world.”