Sunday, June 14, 2009

මහාචාර්ය විමල් දිසානායක සන්ඩෙ ඔබ්සර්වර් පුවත්පත සමග කළ සාකච්ඡාව 2009-06-14: Need for establishment of standards

Need for establishment of standards


Prof. Wimal Dissanayake is one of the brilliant academics Sri Lanka has ever produced. He is the author of a vast number of books and academic papers on cultural studies, literary studies and cinema. Currently Prof. Dissanayake teaches at the Academy of Creative Media of the University of Hawaii and is also the Director of the Cultural Studies Program at the East-West Centre, Hawaii.

He is considered as the foremost authority on Asia Cinema and Asian Communication Theory. A bilingual par excellence, Prof. Dissanayake had the unique privilege of serving as a Professor of Sinhala and Professor of English at the same time. His recent publications include “Sinhala Novel and Public Sphere” and “Popular Culture in a Globalised India” published in the UK by Routledge publishers.
[abstract from the interview]


Q: There is a group of Sri Lankan professionals living in Sri Lanka and other parts of the world who have begun to write and publish their work including poetry using the World Wide Web and their audience and readership is not limited to Sri Lanka. For example, there is a group called `Boondi’ and this group’s work can be accessed at They also recently published an anthology titled Akshara Senaga, an anthology of poetry and prose. This clearly shows that Sri Lankan literature has reached a global scale. Are there any advantages, threats or benefits to Sri Lankan literature from these trends? Do we need to examine the work of these new groups and new writers and engage with them in a serious way?

A: Once again, this is a new development that we find not only with regard to Sinhala literature but with regard to English writing in general. That is the literary creativity that we find in the Internet.

So this creates an entirely new situation. Because so far, what we found were books that were produced by standards publishing houses. But, now for the first time, we have writers who are producing their work online and also people in different parts of the world have the ability to access to these works instantly.

So this creates a new situation and the landscape obviously has changed. It seems to me that is a positive thing. Some of the constrains are inhibited publication of literary work which earlier had disappeared in a globalised world. But, at the same time, we must also pay due attention to the question of standards. What is very badly needed today in the field of Sinhala literature is the establishment of standards. So if there is a profusion of writing on the Internet, then we should also have certain standards by which we could judge these works with a view to observing which are the better work and who are the more talented writers. Unless we have a kind of critical project which encourages serious engagement of these writers and establish serious standards, this new trend will not produce anything of significance importance. But on the other hand, if we are able to come up with a set of standards and criteria and engage them at a very serious level, I think this is going to be a very productive trend.

Q: We also note a tendency particularly among Sinhala mono-lingual writers to embrace literary criticism by Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida thinking that their frameworks are of vital importance to look at changing scope of Sri Lankan literature. What are your views on this trend?

A: It is very important to engage literary critics and theorists like Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida you mentioned because they have made a worldwide impact not only on literature but also on various other disciplines as well. So it is a positive development. It’s good that you take them seriously and you feel compel to engage with their works. However, the important point is this that writers like Foucault and Jacques Derrida whom I have met personally are extremely difficult writers. I think it is very important to read their original work rather than try to understand or pass judgments on their works on the basis of some secondary writing. So it is important that we read Michael Foucault and Jacques Derrida in their original form and then understand what were they up to, what were their ambitions and how do their formulations relate to what we are trying to do in Sri Lanka. It seems to me when I look at Sinhala literary scene every now and then, you hear the names like Barthes, Derrida and So on.

However, I don’t get the feeling that these critics have engaged with these writers very seriously. In other words, they have not read the original texts and try to dissect them, so that some of their more complicated ideas are transferred into the local scene.

Answer to your question is if we engage Foucault, Derrida and Barthes at a very serious level by reading the original work, then I think it’s a good thing. On the other hand, if it becomes a just exercise in name dropping, then it becomes futile activity because just name dropping gets us nowhere. This is an issue, I think, that merits very close attention indeed.

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