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Situating US in History: An Analysis of Arundhati Roy's "Come September" Speech

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Julie Parham

on 3 December 2013

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Transcript of Situating US in History: An Analysis of Arundhati Roy's "Come September" Speech

Situating US in History:
A Rhetorical Analysis
of Arundhati Roy's
"Come September" Speech

September as an
Organizing Device
9/11/1973: General Pinochet, with CIA backing, overthrows the democratically-elected Salvador Allende.
9/11/1922: Mandate follows Balfour Declaration, declaring intention of creating an Israeli State
9/11/1990: Bush declares war on Iraq
Acknowledges suffering of Jews,
but decries dehumanizing racism towards Palestinians
anecdote--cutting off Victor Jara's hands--emphasizes the brutality of the regime and the intolerance of resistance or political opinion
South and Central America have been the "playground"..."for operations by CIA" . "Playground" metaphor implies how carelessly, how lightly, how foolishly the CIA thinks of the Other Americas; implies CIA operatives are children--immature, amoral, perhaps unaware of their actions and consequences (so Other Americas=toys?)
Roy points out that US funded Hussein. Roy's diction is pointed, emphasizing our complicity: Hussein "razed...villages"; "successfully completed his genocidal campaign"; US "provided him with high quality germ seed for anthrax."
Roy concludes with a parallelism: "While Saddam Hussein was carrying out his
worst atrocities,
the U.S. and the U.K. governments were his
close allies
Analogy: Palestinian state=Bantustans in South Africa. Roy's implication? Treatment of Palestinians by Israelis=Treatment of Blacks by Whites under Apartheid.
By asking a series of questions: "what sort of autonomy? What sort of State? What sort of rights will its citizens have?" Roy is challenging the jargon of democracy; she is suggesting that these promises in Palestinian-Israel accords are mere lip-service.
It's effective! Provides a sense of historicity and timelessness. It's a way of saying to US: "Welcome to the World."
"The Beast of Baghdad"
"You don't introduce new products in August."
So war is:
a product to sell
an item to package
something to wait for until consumer-citizens are in the mood to "buy"
a product that requires marketing, colorful advertisements.

Roy doesn't get into the implications, but she clearly finds it problematic.
: War is frivolous. Fashionable. The people in the war are objects at best, toys at worst.
Al Qaida vs Al Fayda
Roy uses the word play of "The Word vs "The Profit" to make a parallel between religious fanatacism and free market fanatacism
Persuasive Strategy: Roy establishes her points in numbers, but then speaks in metaphors and general lists.

Parallel lists have pathos but no specifics; she is assuming a like-minded audience. So her argument here starts strong with logos, ends weakly with general appeals to pathos.
Corporate Globalization=Civil Unrest=Protests and Cultural Nationalism=Religious Bigotry=Fascism=Terrorism
My response? Maybe. Prove it.
"ripping through people's lives"
"desperate downward spiral"
effects of globalization=whirlpool
"fertile breeding ground for terrible things"
life after globalization=home of molds, mildews, the unwanted
"Bombs rain"; "cruise missiles skid"; "contracts...signed"
"patents...registered"; "pipe lines...laid"; "natural resources...plundered"
"water...privatized"; "democracies...undermined."
Asking rhetorical questions about what the term "anti-American" means puts Roy in a position to define what IS American: great literature, great nature, great protests.
defining "anti-American" on her terms prepares Roy's audience for her own rhetoric that might be seen as "anti-American"

Also points out the danger and fallacy of the rhetoric of the Bush administration
Final thoughts:
Despite a scathing indictment of the US's rhetoric, political and military history, economic policies, and despite a scathing indictment of the State of the World...
Roy is... Hopeful. Maybe.

Love the implication that power, like
mayonnaise, goes bad after a while.
"Power has a shelf-life."
Arundhati Roy
by Ms. Parham
Lannan Foundation
Awarded Roy the Lannan Award for Cultural Freedom in 2002
raised in Kerala, India: Chinese, Hindu, Islam, Christian melting pot where communism is one of many legit political parties
studied architecture in Delhi, wrote screenplays, and a novel
writes non-fiction, typically seeking social change. Has won Booker Prize for Literature (it's a big deal)
Occasion for delivering this speech in 2002 in Sante Fe, New Mexico
"Flags are bits of colored cloth that governments use first to shrink-wrap people's brains and then as ceremonial shrouds to bury the dead."
Flags=shrink-wrap for brains. Suffocating. Stifling. Preserving.
Makes analogy between US and India repeatedly: keeps her humble; increases her ethos
"It is dangerous to cede to the Indian government or the American government or anyone for that matter, the right to define what "India" or "America" are or ought to be." (Irony?)
claim: "to call someone 'anti-American' is not just racist, it's a failure of the imagination."
Racism=systemic failure; lack of imagination=personal failure

"If you don't love us, you hate us. If you're not Good, you're Evil."
Roy's pointing out the "either-or" fallacy, and how it limits the argument and the thinking of the people who make it
"two-legged beasts"
USA in 2002:
Bush administration announces plans to invade Iraq
claims Iraq is harboring WMD
Roy is among the first to publicly challenge the decision
Her concern about "rotten tomatoes" at the end of the speech is probably legit
On UN Inspectors:
"Would the U.S. government welcome weapons inspectors? Would the U.K.? Or Israel?"
Boom! Roy pulls out the Categorical Imperative.
Is it possible to bomb bigotry out of India?
"A massacre dangling
in each ear."
On USSR communism & US capitalism:
"Both are edifices constructed by the human intelligence, undone by human nature."
antithesis=emphasize intelligence (human effort) and nature (human inevitability)
1. For all practical purposes, it seems like US foreign policy is complicated, left to long-time politicians who make up the inner circle of the inner circle.
it out of the control of the individual citizen to affect the US's foreign policy? If it is, then...so what? Why should we care about any of this? What would Roy say about the role of an individual in government?

2. What are the implications of her "mall" metaphor? "Everything's discounted--oceans, rivers, oil, gene pools, fig wasps, flowers, childhoods, aluminum factories, phone companies, wisdom, wilderness, civil rights, eco-systems, air--all 4,600 million years of evolution. It's packed, sealed, tagged, valued, and available off the rack. (No returns.)"

3. Have you considered the implications of the oil situation in the USA? What it means to have an oil-economy? Thinking about the basis of our economy as oil, and the fact that oil is a non-renewable resource that will probably disappear during your life time, does her theory of corporate globalization make sense? What alternatives, if any, does the US have, other than “the hidden,” or not-so-hidden, fist?
"Colonized by narratives"
Stories claim us; we are compelled to tell them--she must tell this story
introduces idea of colonizing

"There can never be a single story"
sets up America's tunnel vision
offers implicit apology for her own perspective
anti-national vs anti-nationalism
courtesy of Churchill: the imperialist Churchill, not the heroic Churchill
Finally, quietly portraying the roots of terrorism through suicide bombers ("can we ignore the long road they have journeyed on before they have arrived at this destination?")
while pointing out US involvement
We're complicit and racist and condescending:
we ousted and executed Hussein "like a pet that has outlived his owners affection." Ouch!
"About half a million Iraqi children have died as a result of the sanctions...'It's a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.' (Madeline Albright)"

"Moral equivalence" versus "straightforward algebra" strips the argument of politics down to a body count.

Hard-hitting pathos: are we really willing to play politics with the bodies of children?
"But civil unrest does not only mean marches and demonstrations and protests against globalization. Unfortunately, it means a downward spiral into crime and chaos and all kinds of despair and disillusionment which as we know from history (and from what we see unspooling before our eyes), gradually becomes a fertile breeding ground for terrible things--cultural nationalism, religious bigotry, fascism, and of course, terrorism."
"World's total income has increased by an average of 2.5 percent a year...numbers of poor [have] increased by 100 million...top 1 percent of the world has same combined income as the bottom 57 percent and that disparity is growing."
Corporate Globalization:
Roy's purpose: to convince the audience that corporate globalization is violent, unnatural, and
EXTENDED METAPHOR: Hidden Fist. Free market=open hand; military force=hidden fist.

WARRANT of METAPHOR: free market is NOT a natural product of capitalism. It requires military force and action to exist.
General Evaluation:
Roy=a master of style and technique.
Techniques=used with precision and effect.
Primary appeal=pathos.
First 2/3=facts, history, direct quotes. Excellent!
Last 1/3=mostly pathos and style. Weakest argument (still memorable)
(Lucky for audience's empathetic disposition, or rotten tomatoes might have flown.)
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