Is it Possible to have a Moral State? Arundhati Roy & John Cusack discuss THINGS THAT CAN AND CANNOT BE SAID ~ What'cha Reading?

Is it Possible to have a Moral State? Arundhati Roy & John Cusack discuss THINGS THAT CAN AND CANNOT BE SAID


“It’s like some crazed, bewildered, rich giant bumbling around in a poor area with his pockets stuffed with money and lots of weapons – just throwing stuff around.”  — Arundhati Roy, in conversation with John Cusack, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, 2016.


Ahh, so THAT’S why.

Since John Cusack’s last big theatrical release, HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, he’s appeared in a flurry of films, most of them insignificant for-pay jobs in genre pictures of little importance (DRIVE ANGRY, RECLAIM, THE NUMBERS STATION, CELL) – filmed at various international locales that were likely interesting enough places to visit for him to sign on (Australia, Puerto Rico, Spain, etc.). There have been a couple/few ambitious works where he brought his A-Game (the exceptional, underappreciated ADULT WORLD, the exceptional and recognized LOVE & MERCY, and the dreadful but ambitious MAPS TO THE STARS).

It turns out he’s been busy doing other stuff.

I was aware from his sometimes quarrelsome twitter feed that he’s been very politically active the last few years, notably as an outspoken leftist critic of Obama’s support of drone warfare, not the most comfortable position to be in (and, yes, he generally finds the right to be “worse,” particularly when it comes to Donald J. Trump).  I vaguely knew he was a member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, supports the efforts of government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, and has written a piece or two for the Huffington Post.

Let's finish this take so I can get to the diner!

Let’s finish this take so I can go talk with Arundhati!

It has now been revealed that he’s been spending time around the world talking with and learning from Indian philosopher, political activist and author Arundhati Roy.  As he discusses meeting her to talk over coffee in Puerto Rico, I make connections!  I excitedly think of him finishing a take handcuffing Ryan Phillipe to a radiator in the Puerto Rican-shot  Reclaim and then running to some little diner for scrambled eggs and a cup of joe to talk to Roy about perpetual war, patriotism and the nature of the state, empire and surveillance.

Cusack ultimately pulled off a bold coup: getting himself and Roy to meet with “Pentagon Papers” author Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden in the hotel Snowden’s been staying at in the Red Square, near the Kremlin.  His and Roy’s ruminations on this meeting, along with conversation directly taken from it and additional interviews between Roy and Cusack. make up the slim but compelling Things That Can and Cannot Be Said, a new paperback release from Haymarket Books.

“Radical islamicism and U.S. exceptionalism are in bed with each other…” – John Cusack

“It’s a revolving bed in a cheap motel.” –Arundhati Roy

The book is a free-form collection of informal memories gathered in essays by Cusack and Roy and excerpts from conversations recorded by Cusack; it mildly climaxes in a conversation that the two had with Ellsberg and Snowden that is NOT recreated here in any great detail.  That’s fine, as the conversational tone fortifies the digestibility of the message – Cusack and Roy hold positions that are not very popular in these United States, questioning the value of blind patriotism; the American government’s short memory and repeated mistakes (in case you need reminding the U.S. set up the Taliban, check out Rambo III); and of so much wealth being in the hands of so few, even when they “mean well” (i.e. Bill and Melinda Gates).

They attempt, with fair success, to clearly elucidate just how exactly the world got in its current mess, and define more clearly the position that “the coordinates of our souls,” to borrow a phrase from the eloquent Roy, have been stage-managed by the all-powerful nation states, and we must strive to recalibrate our priorities, resist power and cultivate the ability to “refuse to obey.”

A handsome paperback, perfectly sized to take on the subway or in the bathtub for some thoughtful reading, Things That Can and Cannot Be Said is an accessible, casual introduction to the current struggle for social justice in a neoliberal world, and convincingly gets one thinking that the most patriotic thing a person can do is betray the ideology of the ruling powers.

As for the effect the book could have?  Well, at one point, Cusack remembers an old Yugoslavian proverb: “Tell the Truth and then Run.” He and Roy are certainly a little too high-profile to “run,” so one must applaud their courage to try to get conversation going on the Things that Can and Cannot Be Said.

Things That Can and Cannot Be Said is out now from Haymarket Books (

About Author

James Kenney reviews film for What’cha Reading? and is an editor and film reviewer at QueensFreePress. He writes fiction for Hooked, an iPad application featured on TechCrunch, Fast Company, Business Insider and CNNMoney, won a New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship for his screenplay Secret Vienna, and has a pilot, The Whip, in development at Spike TV. He is an English Lecturer at Queensborough Community College as well as Bronx Community College, and lives in Queens New York with his wife and two children. You can follow James on twitter @jfkenney and check out more of his reviews on

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