Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Golden Circle

In one of your blgspots, you refer to a golden circle of writers. Could you explain what you mean by this as it is a perception many writers seem to feeling SL literary culture?

·         The term ‘golden’ have I used it is not the word I’d use. Maybe I was being ironical. But yes there is an urban circle of writers that gatekeeps the literature in English in Sri Lanka. Just look at the recurrent names in the English literary scene in it many forms and by-lines of the English newspapers, you wouldn’t have to look further to understand what I mean. Day in and day out the same old faces.

·         And people moan about nepotism in politics, in literature it is worse. 

·         You find literary-Darwinism in its worst form at play, here. Established writers come from a class that enjoy a disproportionate amount of socioeconomic capital and they want to keep it that way and pass it in on to the second generation as their legacy. 

·         A recurrent complaint many users of the English in the urban centres is the poor standards of English in the rest of the country and the need to keep up the standard. They feel without everybody speaking the Queen’s English the islanders would be virtually cut off from the international scene, literary and/or otherwise. They seem to have forgotten the large number of so-called native writers, film makers, and so on, who have been accoladed internationally for their accomplishments. 

·         This mindset, I feel, arises from a queer dichotomy in their psyche: they feel superior to those who cannot perform in English up to their august standards and at the same time they feel inferior when it comes to the international. They are trying to offset some of this feeling of inferiority by performing in their borrowed feathers for the non-native and strutting around in front of the native. 
Do you think a writer is better off ignoring and denying their personal grievances and giving voice to them, at the risk of being a perpetual whinger, and in making capital out of them? Or in transcending them, rather than reflecting them?

·         Writing is all about what moves one. If somebody begins writing with an agenda, then that is didactic. While didactic writing has its place how ‘arty’ it is, is debatable. Having said that, I don’t think that writers who don’t seem to display an overt didactism in their work is devoid of socioeconomic agenda. 

·         As social beings whatever happens in society affects us and we react in our various ways. I believe in the Platonic Principle that society is individual written in large, and vice versa. For me, writing is personal and therapeutic. I deal with almost everything that happens to me – the good, the bad, and the in between - in writing. My work is like Dumbledore’s pensive. They help me to create a distance between the event and myself so I could be more ‘rational’ in the way I deal with it, and even transcend it in the end. But I don’t publish everything I write. There is a retrospective selection process involved in selecting items for publication in my case. I want to leave behind a legacy of sharable experiences. It’s not about money or awards.  

What do you think the cult of literary celebrity has done for Sri Lanka?

·         If you are referring to those who write in English, I’d say virtually nothing. Our work is so stale – they are like regurgitated cud. Even the ones we think as revolutionary are stale borrowings. But, then there are those who work in Sinhala who have accomplished a lot both nationally and internationally.
·         Those few who write in English have made it internationally have done so by either exotification of the island or through majority bashing. So what they have ‘done’ for Sri Lanka better remain unknown by the islanders for the writers’ own benefit. 

·         On the other hand, if we have a more robust corps of translators who have their ears to the ground, then we could play a larger role in the international literary scene, I believe.  

What are your views on literary festivals and events that are starting to take place now?

·         They are largely places for the circle in the first question to meet and do a round of mutual backslapping. They are ‘in’ places for ‘in’ people in the SL English language literary scene. And maybe to launch the second generation with a one or two token finds thrown into make things more democratically inclusive. These finds often fall by the wayside when the festival leaves town. These festivals are also occasions where we white-worship third rate writers from the west. 
What in your view has led to the relatively small output of Sri Lankan literature in English? In comparison to other Asian Countries with a colonial history?

·         I think that there are three main reasons for this phenomenon. 

o   Whether it is English, Sinhala, or Tamil, literature today is no longer a purely esoteric aid for emotional/spiritual transcendence - that is if it ever has been that. In today’s capitalistic world order literature too has to bow down to market forces that govern all aspects of our lives. So, the number of literary creation that comes out in printed form is basically an issue of demand, supply, and profit. In most instances publishers print only those books they think would sell or bring them fame or an award. However, I believe a larger number of people actually do write in English that we see. 

o   Secondly, though the number of people who are conversant in English is increasing by the day, those who use English as their first language is still quite low, especially in the rural areas where a large part of the population still reside.

o   In addition, there is a robust output of high quality SL literature in Sinhala which to a large extent precludes the need for a thriving SL literature in English.

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