A Cultural Life: A conversation of social transformation | Sunday Observer

A Cultural Life: A conversation of social transformation

13 October, 2019
Prof. Harshana Rambukwella-Anura Kumara Dissanayake-Dr. Farah Hannifa
Prof. Harshana Rambukwella-Anura Kumara Dissanayake-Dr. Farah Hannifa

The book ‘A Cultural Life: The Conversation of Social Transformation’ was launched recently at Sooriya Village which created the space for the much needed discussion, ‘The Politic of Culture.’ The participants included Prof Harshana Rambukwella, Dr Fahra Hanifa, Prof Jagath Weerasignhe and the presidential candidate of National People’s Power, Anura Kumara Dissanayaka.  

The book, ‘A Cultural Life: The Conversation of Social Transformation’ is based on a series of discussions published in the ‘Lanka’ Newspaper on the emergence of a modern cultural man who is beyond nationalism. Prof Jagath Weerasinghe, Prof. Harshana Rambukwella, Dileepa Vitharana, Harini Amarasuriya, Vangeesa Sumanasekara, Sudantha Madawa and Kushalya Kumarasignhe were the main contributors to the discussion. Also, the foreword of the book was written by Prof Liyanage Amarakeerthi and the book has been edited by Priyadarshana Dayaratne, Chathura Dissanayake and Kithsiri Kodithuwakku.

The nature of the cultural transformation that has taken place was illustrated by all the speakers who participated at the discussion and the common trait of the speakers was the importance of promoting pluralistic cultural values of human existence which drive towards a pluralistic society.

In his speech Anura Kumara Dissanayake spoke about three current streams of response to contemporary cultural transformation and emphasized that only a new cultural man with a solid cultural personality would be able to bring about social change which can withstand the changes.

“This discussion on the book ‘A Cultural Life: The Conversation of Social Transformation’ is not outside politics.  Although the discussion on cultural life is an age old topic, from time to time it has reached a new level. Our economy is in deep crisis which cannot be considered as an ordinary crisis. Any economic crises would create chains of social crises. Although many of the crises we face today are apparently different, we believe they have a significant economic impact. The social body of today is a manifestation of the deep crisis in the economic arena. This is intertwined with the subject of culture in three different ways. One can argue that the social crisis that has arisen has led to the discussion that the great culture that existed in the country is moving towards a very destructive direction. Simultaneously, this discourse is glorifying that great culture, and has wrongly interpreted the fact that by going back to that glory is the only way out to solve this crisis. However, we believe, considering all these facts it is important to think carefully about the new changes that require to create a new cultural man with a solid cultured personality that can make the difference,” Anura Kumara said.  

Of all the animals in the world, man is the most cultural. It means, every other animal is born, breeds on the basis of biological factors, adopts protective strategies to survive, and dies either naturally or becomes a victim. But the human being is quite different. From the very beginning man has struggled with naturalism and with his own way of life. So instead of being submissive,  man always struggles with the naturalism. This is why the human being became a cultural animal among other creatures.

Prof Harshana Rambukwella, in his speech emphasized that although we often used the word ‘culture’ in Sri Lankan politics, outside the context it is doubtful whether there is a critical understanding about the real meaning of the word, in today’s society. Prof Rambukwella  argued that culture is often recognized in society as something that comes with birth. “But does culture mean something that is stored and has a static meaning? This has to be considered critically,” Prof Rambukwella said. He stressed that in Sri Lankan society there’s an organic inter-relationship between culture and politics and it’s more emphasised in the nationalist discourse which was consciously formed in the 1950s, concurrent with the world-wide political changes. “Many politicians willingly became agents of nationalism which is constantly maintained by almost every political authority. Therefore, this ‘our-own’, nationalist discourse became the hegemonic idea of politics, art and culture of the country. Right now, as a society we live in a huge cultural crisis. I’m not bringing it up on merely a moral basis. We as a society have very poor social consciousness and no taste of the arts. People don’t have such progressive art space any more. We strongly believe it’s important to create a progressive cultural space in society which accommodates pluralistic cultural values. That should be the way forward to a pluralistic society,” Prof Rambukwella said.

Dr. Farah Hannifa’s speech was based on the tragedy of April 21 this year and how it had impacted the Muslim community in the country and their culture. Dr Hannifa too expressed how the nationalist hegemonic ideology had a harmful effect on Sri Lankan art and culture and explained how gradually culture became steeped in narrow political motives.    

 Contrary to the hegemonic nationalist idea, the group of intellectuals and activists began to broaden the discussion on the inter-relationship between culture and politics in society. The book ‘A Cultural Life: The Conversation of Social Transformation’ is the first attempt at this task. The emergence of a political debate about the need to create a cultural man is a meaningful attempt. The series of articles in this book make cultural criticism a part of the political struggle for the first time in Sri Lanka. Therefore, the discourse resulting from the book would be an essential step in making the cultural man through a liberation struggle. It is important to understand that culturalism is not something acquired after a journey to a certain destination, rather it is a refining and growing process. In this context the book hints at a new pluralistic-cultural awakening that is about to emerge in the Sri Lankan society.