Critical perspectives in cultural journalism
The publication of a series of critical essays compiled under the
title Cultural Scene thus far by young journalist and cultural critic
Indeewara Thilakarathne marks an important development in contemporary
cultural journalism in Sri Lanka.
An important aspect of the book is that the critical essays in the
book deal with a wide range of topics ranging from mundane issues such
as literary awards, literary festivals gangsterism in arts and culture
to more philosophical areas such as linguistic nationalism and modern
literary theories such as postcolonial literature.
Author : Indeewara
Publisher : Samaranayake Publishers
Although the essays are in the order that they had been appeared in
Montage, Cultural Paradigm of Sunday Observer, the essays can be broadly
catogorised into several segments on account of the subject area they
deal with. However, the writer's primary focus seems to be on Sri Lankan
literary scene and on the standards, status and future of contemporary
Sri Lankan literary productions both in Sinhalese and English. The
author has particularly paid attention to evolving scenario in the
fields of contemporary Sri Lankan arts and literature. One of the
significant aspects of the book is the higher degree of objectivity that
the author maintains throughout his essays and the meticulous research
that the author has done in writing the essays.
Among the major issues that the essays deal with, standard of
language within the domain of literary production is prominent. Among
other things, the author has clearly pointed out that maintenance of
higher standards of language both in literary production and in
translations is sine qua non for the nation to carve a niche for its
literature in the international literary market.
In the essay entitled 'Linguistic nationalism as a facet of
decolonization and new writings', the author deals with the evolution of
literature in postcolonial Sri Lanka and writes about the growing corpus
of Sri Lankan diasporic literature both in English and Singhalese.
Quoting Singaporean poet laureate and academic Prof. Edwin Thumboo,
the author points out that the teaching of English language has become a
"Prof. Thumboo pointed out that this authority that British exercise
over English has created a linguistic imperialism. He cites a few
examples from Robert Philipson's Linguistic Imperialism (1992).
Undoubtedly, Robert Phillipson has made a major contribution to our
understanding of the social construction of English as a 'world
language' representing potent symbolic medium within the global cultural
economy expanding our knowledge on creating a culture of imperialism
through English language.
Professor Thumboo giving an exclusive interview to the Sunday
Observer stated t "for economic and diplomatic reasons English, the
language more than literature, offered opportunities to move into a
lucrative niche within the educational set up of almost all the former
colonies. These countries needed English for a host of reasons. It
created a new imperialism".
Robert Philipson has stated in Linguistic Imperialism "to put more
metaphorically, whereas once Britain ruled the waves, now it is English
which rules them. The British empire has given way to the Empire of
Prof. Thumboo stressed that reasons for control of the expansion of
English was the massive employment and income it generated. There are
many acronyms to promote the language. One such term is ELT (English
Language Teaching) which has boomed over the past 30 years, and seen a
proliferation of university departments, language schools, publications,
conferences, and all the paraphernalia of established professions.
ELT is also a billion-pound business, described in an Economic
Intelligence Unit study of English as "world commodity", in a report
written to promote strategies for capitalising further on this growth
He has further stressed that "while the enforcing political power
behind English ceased with decolonisation, blunt economic realities that
took full advantage of the need for English. The lost empire was
cushioned by assiduously cultivated and profitable English imperia;
subtle, insinuating and therefore more insidious, invested in purveyors
of English language, the specialists. There was also KELP which stands
for Key English Language Personnel. The colonial distance was now
linguistic distance, with room for maintaining a profitable disparity.
Acronyms mushroomed, among them TESOL and ESP: Teaching of English to
Speakers of Other Languages and English for Special Purposes."
In the same essay, the author observes the growing Sri Lankan
diasporic literature both in English and Sinhalese and the major themes
such as loss of belonging and 'change of skies' that dominate the
writings of Sri Lankan diasporic writers.
Standards of language
One of the important areas that some of the essays in Cultural Scene
thus far , deals with, is the standards of language. The author argues
whether one can reduce the very notion of decolonisation or
de-hegemonising language to reconstitution of basic structure of the
language to such a degree that it would be hardly difficult for speakers
of one dialect could understand, respond to, speakers another dialect.
The issue is, briefly, discussed in the essay entitled 'International
Standard English or 'Singlish'?' .
The crux of the argument is that international standard should be
maintained, at least, in international languages such as English in the
area of literary productions so that they can be read and enjoyed by an
international readership and enjoy a rightful place in the international
Exclusively quoting from the book 'The Postcolonial Identity of Sri
Lankan English' by Prof. Manique Gunesekera, the author questions why
the proponents of the so-called sub-varieties of English do not use the
same sub-variety they propagate and stand for. " Prof. Manique
Gunesekera in "The Post Colonial Identity of Sri Lankan English",
defines Sri Lankan English as "The language used by Sri Lankans who
choose to use English for whatever purpose in Sri Lanka."
However, she states in no ambiguous terms that most of the speakers
of Sri Lankan English, even the speakers of standard version Sri Lankan
English, do not accept the very existence of Sri Lankan English.
Prof. Gunesekera points out that overarching influence of Sinhalese
and Tamils on Sri Lankan English is manifested by syntax and morphology
of Sri Lankan English. Although the question of existence or
non-existence of the variety of English termed as Sri Lankan English
should best be left to the academics. The rationale behind promotion of
such regionalised version of English is questionable.
The power of English language lies in its ability to communicate
across ethnic, racial and geographical frontiers and as a common and
perhaps a neutral language.
If English is to be promoted as an international language, a language
of global communication, it is the International Standard English that
should be promoted and not a regionalised variety of it.
The influence and promotion of Sri Lankan English is one of the
reasons that contemporary Sri Lankan literature in English does not
reach international literary market in a substantial manner.
In the context of postcolonial writers including Salman Rushdie and
Arundhati Roy, Prof. Gunesekera says, "...These writers may represent
plural identities, but they have chosen to write in English: in a
variety of English which can be described as international Standard
This variety is grounded in Sri Lankan culture, in the same way that
Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things" (1997) is steeped in Kerala
culture, but she, in the case of these Sri Lankan writers, uses
international Standard English. This is a variety of English, which is
acceptable and understood by an international readership of users of
Her book on Sri Lankan English was written in International Standard
English and not in 'Sri Lankan English'...".
State of translations
One of the important areas that the Cultural Scene thus far deals
with is translations. The author in an essay entitled 'Importance of
translations to literature', emphasises on the important role that
translations play in a given literary culture, particularly making
literature in native tongue accessible to a wider audience in
The global translation industry has grown rapidly leading to the
creation of literatures in translations. For instance, Russian, Chinese
and Latin American literatures have been widely read in their
The author, apart from describing the rich Sri Lankan translation
tradition in the past, has also expressed his options and critical
observations on the contemporary Sri Lankan translation industry.
Parlous state of translations
Over the years the once rich Sri Lankan tradition of translations
has, unfortunately, reduced into a proverbial pulp making industry.
Although there are exceptional translations, most of the translations
both from English into Sinhala and vice versa belonged to the above
They are marked for their inferior quality of language, causing
irreparable damages to the original author. For instance, in some of the
Sinhalese translations, original works often in English have been
indiscriminately reduced into one third offering only the part of
anatomy of the work to the Sinhala readers.
The important questions are that what is the right of the translator
to reduce the original work into one third of it? Has the translator
done justice to readers? Or is the translator a traitor to both the
original writer as well as to readers who are eagerly waiting for
quality translations? "
Cultural Scene thus far, offers a critical perspective on the
contemporary Sri Lankan arts and culture and the dramatic personae
dominating the scene. There are numbers of essays that the author has
dedicated to feature Sri Lankan as well as international literati.
Prominent among them are essays on Mahatma Gandhi, Eva Ranaweera, Martin
Wickremasinghe, Prof.Edwin Thumboo, Raja Rao, Aravin Adiga, Gunadasa
Amerasekara, Dayasena Gunasinghe and Sugathapala de Silva. All in all,
Cultural Scene thus far, provides readers with an informative read on
wide ranging subjects in general and on Sri Lankan arts, culture and
literature in particular.