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 Post subject: SRI LANKAN ENGLISH LITERATURE AND THE SRI LANKAN PEOPLE
 Post Posted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:38 am 
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I recently read "SRI LANKAN ENGLISH LITERATURE AND THE SRI LANKAN PEOPLE 1917 - 2003", by Prof. D. C. R. A. Goonetilleke,and found it to be a comprehensive study with some valuable insights. A major disappointment, however, is that Goonetilleke has used what ought to have been a seminal work on the English Literature of Sri Lanka to give expression to some of his own religio-political leanings, and worse, personal animosities.

In the study of the literature of the 25 year old civil war in Sri Lanka, for instance,Goonetilleke obviously judges the works from the standpoint of how they do or do not concur with his own perspective, insistently made, that there is no ethnic problem in Sri Lanka, only a terrorist problem. Similarly, Yasmine Gooneratne's poem "Yasodhara" is criticized for challenging the traditional Buddhist representation of the renunciation of Prince Siddhartha, as though, that,in and of itself, would make it unsuccesful as a poem. Most disturbing of all, the writings of Ashley Halpe, come in for so mean-spirited an attack, that it is hard not to conclude that some personal animosity is being vented. Here is the sweeping indictment of Halpe's poetry.

"This ... seems to have killed whatever poetic impulses Halpe may have had, if he had any at all. His love versifying is ineffably mawkish and leaves nothing to the imagination. His versifying on other subjects is pervaded by smugness. His versifying meagre as it is, is accurately described... as "thin fitful ooze."

This, about a poet whose works were included in an antholgy that Goonetilleke himself edited, "Modern Sri Lankan Poetry an Anthology" (1987), and where he says he selected "the best of our poetry in English."

I agree that, as as poet, Ashley Halpe is not of the calibre of other Sri Lankan poets like Patrick Fernando, Yasmine Gooneratne or Lakhdasa
Wickremasinge. For the most part, his poems fail to transcend the limitingly personal subject matter that is often their focus. But he has written some lovely and moving poems which have been recognized and included in anthologies both in Sri Lanka and abroad--they belie Goonetilleke's contention that Halpe is capable only of versifying .

There is no human endeavour that can be entirely free of subjectivty and literary critcism is no exception. But there is a difference between
subjectivity and rank prejudice which unfortunately is what Goonetilleke has descended into, in some parts of his book. It might be worthwhile to remind ourselves of Matthew Arnold's definition of the critic's role as the "DISINTERESTED endeavour to learn and propogate the best that is known and thought in the world,"


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