Rathindra Kuruwita of Lakbima News writes of Marlon Ariyasinghe’s Froteztology: “Ariyasinghe’s main stumbling block is his lack of political depth, at best his ideology is populist, the apolitical ideas that can be found in the Facebook statuses of many ‘liberal’ youth”.
In the past weeks following its release, Froteztology has been received severally by the Lankan poetry reader. So far, Marlon has had 2 readings — one at his Galle launch (followed by what Marlon claimed was his ‘protest’ where he read the stuff at the GLF’s Ashok Ferrey show) and at Froteztology‘s “Kandy launch”: where, last week, we had a homely gathering at the Queen‘s. I find Marlon’s voice as being “fresh” and his blunt attitude with which he delivers his stuff to be unique and self-defining. This I have highlighted elsewhere.
Todate, there have been 2-3 articles on Froteztology. However, these came across as pieces of writing promoting bonhomie between Marlon’s publisher and the bonhomie-seeking shallow readership. One such article was carried by the Lakbima News itself in one of their previous editions. I have commented on this piece at length in my previous entry. However, Rathindra’s is a critical reading and he has made a strong claim that Marlon’s “protestant writing” displays a lack of critical, political depth. To Rathindra, Marlon’s engagement with the politics of representation happens at a “populist level”.
Rathindra also aims his things at my ass, denouncing the “much ado” with which I had earlier referred to Marlon’s poetry. On the run up to his publication I had made several statements attesting to the potential of Marlon’s delivery. These statements were not made simply because Marlon was a “friend”. The platform on which Marlon dished out his writing and the point from which he engaged with the mainstream of “Sri Lankan Literature” — in his pre-Froteztology days — gave me much reason to see a progressiveness in Marlon’s project, which was lacking in our contemporary literary discourse. The faith was that in Marlon would emerge a truly progressive poet: in the words as well as the manifestation of his work.
A “protest” is not defined by the words of a piece, per se. One’s agenda is defined by the context alone and the negotiation which you propose to enter with that context. The Pre-Froteztology Marlon and his tensions, manifestations and agendas as a writer need not be the same with those of the post-Froteztology Marlon. Myself as well as some other fellow readers who know Marlon at close range — who have spent much time working with him in numerous fora –, to say the least, were baffled by his “mission Galle”; a venture that disarmed his protest project by removing its foundation with one effortless yank.
Reading Froteztology one would see that the “introduction” to the book is by me. This was written and submitted on a request made to be my Marlon on behalf of his publisher. In this foreword, too, I make strong claims regarding Marlon’s work — claims made in confidence. Yet, with the radical shift the writer / publisher takes in the post-publication state of affairs, the “protest” and the “political depth” lose shine and relevance. The protest becomes a noise without a politics.
On the other hand, this discovery of Marlon’s “lack of depth” — which in itself is a discovery on the aftermath of his Galle venture — can be a symptomatic reading of ourselves: the likes of Rathindra Kuruwita and me. In this sudden discovery of a “lesser Marlon” I see our own anxiety of being unable to come to terms with receiving Marlon outside what was perceived of him. Mind, Rathindra Kuruwita himself was a strong proponent of Marlon’s poetry. On the back cover of Froteztology — incorporating his credentials of being Deputy Editor, the Lakbima News — Kuruwita identifies in Marlon a whole new era in poetic expression. in the article to which I referred at the beginning of this essay Rathindra claims that I have had “wet dreams” of Marlon’s poetry. Irrespective of my convictions of Marlon’s poetry, Rathindra’s own damp patch, too, shines off the back cover of Froteztology; and its all glossy to the touch.
I think the problem with me and Rathindra is that Marlon’s enterprise (to date) out-rules the foil of Marlon that we had fashioned in our mind: the fantasy of a Marlon who writes against the “centre”, being an addresser of the Establishment from the Outside. Either through optimism, misreading or hype we had constructed for the gratification of our ego a Marlon who will protest. Now, we are at strife, trying to come to terms — trying to justify the mistaken ego.
Marlon, however, has to prick the bubble created by his publishers. It was sad to see Marlon incorporating “Poetry is the new sex in the city” slogan — an auspices of Sri Serendipity — to the poster announcing his Kandy re-launch. What this phrase even means — I have no idea whatsoever. At the most it manifests a catchy promo line; but, nothing more. Does Marlon’s justification of his GLF read — that he is protesting by taking his goods out into the open (in contrast to Vihanga Perera’s armchair criticism) — still stand? Has his GLF audience changed their opinions and minds regarding the burning issues Marlon read off at the twilight event at Galle, then?
My wet dream, Kuruwita, is not Froteztology. Our common apathy is the loss of that wet dream — the one of Froteztology and Marlon providing us a fantasy in protest.