Wank It while the Dick Lends Itself: On the Natural Run of Consumerism.

by Vihanga

With the GLF done, the discourse of “literature in Sri Lanka” (in the GLF sense) can return to another 11 months slumber. Indeed, the “victuals” at the festival can draw in some positives as they managed to turn around an international call for boycott to gain some greasy mileage — at least locally. Mr. Rajpal Abeynayake was a leading proponant of the festival this year, engaging in public debate. The paper he edits, the Lakbima News, even carried a photo on its front page during the festival week: a photograph of two “writers” (two females on yogi stance, going through some snack and juice), with the caption “Where is Mr. Boycott?”.

Parallel to the GLF, Sri Serendipity Publishers had the launch of Marlon Ariyasinghe’s Froteztology: a collection of “protest poetry”. This was at Serendipity Cafe, where I met Malinda Seneviratne. Nationalist and all that — quick to take up his pen against so-called vested international forces that try to demean Sri Lanka’s national integrity — Malinda’s response to GLF was illuminating. From what I could gather, he was against the call for a boycott of the GLF (against the call, mind you, by the Chomsky, Roy et al faction) on nationalist grounds. He follows this up by writing two columns the coming week. Both are heavy-worded and aimed against agents such as Journalists Without Borders and such which he deems as anti-nationalist and fraud activists.

Orhan Pamuk

The international call for a boycott of GLF comes in the means of a petition from several leading writers / thinkers / activists of the day. Among them, Damon Galgut, Noam Chomsky and Arundathi Roy are the most familiar to the day-to-day consumer. The rationale behind their call for a “boycott” is that

1) Sri Lanka has a questionable recent past history of speech suppression; an unsolved track record of harrassment, killing and assasination of journalists / alternative views; and

2) That a visit to a “festival” that celebrates literature / expression that is partially facilitated by the State’s fund is, indirectly, to approve of the oppression in question.

The anniversaries of journalist / catoornist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s “vapourization” (disappeared into thin air in Jan 2010) as well as the mid day assassination of the then Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunge (killed by an “unidentified gang” in a “high security zone” in broad day light; with the inquiries held up and files rotting) both fell within weeks of the GLF. Two award-winning writers, Kiran Desai and Orhan Pamuk both backed off from the “festival” following the call for the boycott. Most probably, their international credibility was bigger than the festival, so called.

Malinda Seneviratne has often been blind to “suppressions” in post 2009 Sri Lanka. In his column “Subtarranean Transcripts” he refers to the “boycott” in question being called by “an outfit with dubious agenda and a track record of selectivity, slothfulness and gullibility called Reporters Without Borders (RSF), along with some fellow travelers in the business of disinformation barbeque, Journalists (sic) for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS)”.

The magic eye of consumerism

Malinda is very comfortable in these distinctions he makes, for, in the same article he denounces the missing Ekneligoda as “a talented cartoonist whose other life included forays into pornographic writing and hobnobbing with staunch apologists for the LTTE and other enemies of the state of Sri Lanka”, who is said to have “orchestrated his own disappearance” (Italics mine). Malinda’s naturalization of the language of the state propaganda — as he discourses of “enemies of the state of SL” — is of note. He, too, assures us that Ekneligoda’s “disappearance” is “self-orchestrated”. In the post-2009 set up, Malinda, to me, became an uncompromising apologist for the Mahinda Rajapakshe government. He has fulfilled the vaccuum of being the government’s apologist for the “English newspaper reader”; though falling short, a kind of “English medium Mahinda Abeysundara”.

Malinda’s problem, however, is that his identitiy is not solely “nationalist”; he has several other layers to him, making his statement more complex. For instance, the nationalist in him who is so commitedly concerned of the national integrity etc etc is less vocal where the “denigration” of Lankan Literature from the GLF is concerned. Here is a “festival” running on “international consumerism” — an offshoot of the broader nexus to which Malinda relates Chomsky, RSF, JDS etc — catering to “foreign needs”, “classist audiences”, with mimick sahibs to complement and with SL literature proper (other than 5 chosen items) all locked out. But, his activism falls short in this department.

The bigger issue

The GLF, to say the least, benefitted from the international call for a boycott. At least locally, they managed to make this “boycott call” a mustering of their gut: a kind of binding principle to energize the programme. That’s how the GLF became — as Malinda quotes —  “framed by the notion of ‘Freedom of Expression’”. But, unlike Malinda’s claim, what really happened was that the GLF-organizer “self-framed” the “festival” within this free speech debate. It was done for purposes of energizing the programme. It was done with the same aura as one would look forward to a Marquis De Sade; or a controversial art piece.

You stir it and you eat it

“Sri Lanka” is inevitably outside the Galle Literary “festival” — in its political complexities and social relavance. But, then, the “GLF” has greater iconic value as a “projector” of that Sri Lanka which it, in the first place, is incapable of projecting. The organizers of the “festival” felt pissed with Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai for ditching them in the face of international pressure. So, they had to get back at Pamuk, Desai as well as all those “trouble makers” who were in line to jepordize the circus. The “Pro-GLF” party — with their myriad interests —, therefore, found solace in making “GLF” the “nation”; by making the “free speech at GLF” a reflection of the grounds for “free speech” in the allowance of the state.

Marlon Ariyasinghe, following his launch, read at Ashok Ferrey’s show: a twilight event where some Sri Lankan writers were presented. I am told that when Marlon finished his delivery of “protest” poetry, the host had made a remark quoting Marlon’s poetry to dismiss the alleged impediments of free speech in Sri Lanka. For me, that is where Marlon’s protest poem fails; that is where — in that sense — where all literature fails. The capitalist-consumerist ethic absorbs the protestant energy of the piece and re-directs it and re-moulds it to suit its own self-interest. In Ashok Ferrey’s naive, closet-reading of Sri Lankan politics what happened there at his show, for those 3-5 minutes, is a denial of the shadow which hovered the festival at large. In reality, it was a shadow the GLF organizers made a fetish of; a “shadow” that relates to larger national implications of free speech that are mutually exclusive to what the “festival” per se represents.

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14 thoughts on “Wank It while the Dick Lends Itself: On the Natural Run of Consumerism.

  1. “The capitalist-consumerist ethic absorbs the protestant energy of the piece and re-directs it and re-moulds it to suit its own self-interest”

    This is what dhanuka told you Vihanga … you were not there ! so you cant really comment about it.
    Did Dhanuka tell you that Ashok was very disturbed during the reading. I saw him flinch when i said Namal.
    Did Dhanuka tell you the way he uttered the statement after the reading.
    Any four year old could tell that he said that to cover his distress. He was visibly perturbed and anyone with half a brain would not have taken him or his statement seriously.

    Thats where i won vihanga and your source and his ability to comprehend what went on failed.

    You and dhanuka can dish out all sorts of theories but the reality is not as simple as a simpleminded theory.

    Again with the Know-it-all ness VK. You weren’t even there and you are ready to jump into a conclusion and to write articles about it.

    I agree with you about the first half of the article.

    • “The capitalist-consumerist ethic absorbs the protestant energy of the piece and re-directs it and re-moulds it to suit its own self-interest” — this is not dhanuka. this is me speaking.

      Regarding your reading — without calling it “all knowingness”, call it “perception”. I am hardly bothered whether Ashok was disturbed or not; that hardly proves a point either way. But “protest poetry” and “GLF” forms a neat paradox. No poetry is protestant on its own; they get defined by the articulation alone, I guess. Your victory doesn’t lie is “shocking” Ashok Ferry or some white babes at GLF. They are in any case shocked / perturbed / excited etc etc with or without ur read.

      The test is to allow the “protest” to be a “protest”. Not an “item” at some wank show.

      • well to be fair to Dhanuka he came up with it first.

        “Perception” what are you an oracle or something. You have some spider sense.

        “I am hardly bothered whether Ashok was disturbed or not”

        yet you give such weight to his statement Vihanga and thats a kind of a paradox. Your whole theory (or Dhanuka’s) is based on this one statement that he made. And now you are saying you are not bothered about Ashok.

        And thats exactly where my victory lies. Thats what i wanted to do. To make a ripple.And i’ve done that. And it was worth it. Do you know how many came up to me after the launch and agreed with me. Thats why i went. It was by allowing my self to become an item that i was able to protest. Look Vihanga no one is going to notice you sitting infront of your computer in your room writting about the EVILS of the GLF. You are greatly outnumbered. out of 80 articles that support the GLF you have one, Those are not good odds (even leonidas would not risk it). Your Boycott was the laziest thing that you could do. Its such a lazy approach. I know GLF is bigger than me. But if writers got together the sabotage may become something to be reckoned with.

        Don’t you see Vihanga… you are also Frotezting. These articles are a form of protest against the GLF. Listen to the dead voice of LAKDAS… the role of a poet is not to sit around in his room waiting for things to happen. It is to initiate the revolution. CONFRONTATION, facing the enemy head on. And thats what i wanted to do. Thats what Lakdas did. and thats what you must do.
        The first step is awareness – making people aware of what is going on at the GLF.. you’ve done that for the past four years
        The next step is alternative fora- SLAM
        The final step is eradication of the GLF – though not possible! we never know, confrontation might help.

      • You’re just ranting buddy — just take a good look at what you’re saying. “Facing the enemy head on — that’s what Lakdas did”??? What the fuck! 😀 “I know the GLF is bigger than me”….”the final step is to eradicate the GLF”???

        No, listen, you don’t have to seriously do this — this major “follow up” to my essay. And don’t take things personally. If ur under the illusion that you’re doing this major revolution, hopefully u will wake up some point. I seriously fail to see the point ur trying to push; but, hey — thats ok: that’s ur space and im cool with it. But, you’re being quite defensive in the whole thing. You dont have to make these apologies on behalf of other dudes.

        If you think ur “awareness campaign” works / worked, so be it, marly. I personally think ur speaking bonnkers, but thats just me!

        Well, the “fairness to Dhanuka part”: its noone’s theory, as such. No patent issued. Just a basic notion in leftist thinking.

  2. Rajpal and Malinda were quick to polish their guns and to jump in the defense of the GLF… which i didnt like.

    JDS’s reasons to boycott the GLF are the following,

    1) Sri Lanka has a questionable recent past history of speech suppression; an unsolved track record of harrassment, killing and assasination of journalists / alternative views; and

    2) That a visit to a “festival” that celebrates literature / expression that is partially facilitated by the State’s fund is, indirectly, to approve of the oppression in question.

    But when you really think about it… Boycotting GLF and asking mainstream writers to do that makes no sense. GLF,Prageeth and Lasantha are not connected. GLF has always been the type of an orgy where none of these things are talked about. ITs like suddenly all of a sudden some writers discovered that they had a conscience. This Boycott call only made the GLF more known around the world and the consumerist agenda more stronger.
    and that is sad

      • no my point is that the Boycott was a failure…GLF has nothing to do with Freedom Expression in SL. IT was never an avenue for FE. So boycotting GLF does not make sense.

        I support in the claims that the JDS make but not the actual boycott

        though i agree with most of the things you say..

        aren’t you reading Vihanga??

      • If this exchange survives as the sole exchange between u and me, i donno what kind of “history” will be framed of us… 😀 seriously!

        This is a very naive reading , marly — unless my writing in the original essay doesnt yield to comprehension.

  3. Thats the final step… to say that i m the one who is ranting … take a good look at yourself

    I take it personally because you have put my name in it…
    and the all knowing expert wasn’t even there… see thats my problem getting your information from second grade delusional sources and commenting on what i did.

  4. vihanga,

    i think you should read more, and more carefully too. You seem to be stuck in a Cartesian frame of logic which is so black and white it’s insulting to your intellect. Strange that you appear to use ‘nationalism’ as some kind of cuss word but espouse a patently ‘nationalistic’ kind of stand when it comes to showcasing or celebrating literatures. Strange too that you appear to take objection to my description of RSF and JDS. Perhaps you are ignorant about what these people are up to and have been up to, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere?

    Re Chomsky, Roy and others…I strongly recommend that you read the Kalama Sutra. Roy is next door and as such her crass binaries are appalling.

    Never said Ekneligoda ‘dissappeared’ himself. Just pointed out that he did so on a previous occasion.

    Your allegations about me being blind to suppression shows a lot of ignorance, dating back to the time of the Presidential Election last year. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t back your preferred choice? Or perhaps because I don’t think things are black and white?

    With respect to the ‘relevant’ politics vis-a-vis the GLF, I think it flows again from a Cartesian world view, consciously or otherwise. Rajpal’s response to your boycott call ought to have driven some home truths into your mind, but sadly this doesn’t seem to have happened. If the GLF has got better over the years, it’s thanks to Rajpal, more than anyone else.

    My reservations about the GLF have been aired in public on many occasions and they include the this-is-business argument as well as acknowledgment and criticism of the limited literary universe of the organizers. I am not done with my commenting on the GLF, by the way.

    Your response to Marlon: there is no ONE WAY to object/protest. People need to fight on multiple fronts. Marlon’s intervention was to my mind by far the most telling indictment on the GLF and I will use all means at my disposal to make this point known.

    Right now you are sounding like someone whining because he was not invited to a party. I am convinced you can do better Vihanga.

    Best,
    Malinda

  5. Well, Malinda, it is not a case of not being invited to a party. I have the choice, so I kinda choose the parties I attend and booze at.

    You can do better yourself than resorting to Decartes. I am not looking at things from a binary perspective. Just highlighting the complex that is Malinda.

    Well, not that you have been blind to suppression: you have chosen to be so. Since you e.mail me the stuff you write I have had the chance of going through at least 2/3 of it. I AM reading the stuff you write malinda. But, as more moderate as you are now, you have gone extra lengths to justify the regime and its suppressive arm. I have told you this before in person.

    I didn’t see any home truths in Rajpal’s response. My intervention was different to that of Rajpal.

    Of course, given the dubious stance you et al take on the GLF Marlon’s is a progressive assault. I don’t contest that, as that is a subjective point.

    Best to you too.
    Vihanga

  6. Vihanga,

    Didn’t see this until now.

    Glad to know it’s not about being peeved at the non-invite. Didn’t think I warranted highlighting, but if the biarying, so to speak, is pretty obvious, even if that was not your intention.

    Now tell me, Vihanga, where and when I have justified ‘suppressive arm of the regime’ and where I’ve gone ‘extra lengths’ as you claim.

    About home-truths, I am not surprised.

    And ‘dubious stance’….oh dear. Maybe it’s my poor English that’s getting in the way.

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