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12th July 1998

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Kala Corner

"We are all fooled!"

"Is there any difference between literary criticism and the advertising of soap today," asks reputed authoress Sumitra Rahubaddhe.

"Today, Sinhala literary reviews have an advertising flavour in them. In the '60s when a novel was published, the editors had a practice of getting a respected critic to review it. But today, most editors expect the writer himself to find someone who would write a review for the newspaper.

The writer then gets someone to praise his work and that appears in print. The editor, the writer, the critic and the reader are all fooled. These reviews that appear today are no better than the attempts to advertise soap," she says.

Expressing her views during the keynote address she made at the recent D. R. Wijewardene Memorial Award ceremony, Ms. Rahubaddhe referred to book launches too.

"Even if a literary work of significance is launched without the patronage of the press, there is hardly any audience to witness it. But, on the other hand, if a book is launched with pomp and pageantry, with songs and dances thrown in, the hall will be filled choc-a-bloc.

"The irony is not that alone. The irony lies with the sermons that most university dons and dominant literary figures deliver at these functions. Often such sermons do praise the work and the writer sky high."

In a provocative address on the subject 'Sinhala literary reviews: a short note', she pointed out how most literary personalities in our country hold posts in literary and aesthetic institutions and panels established by the Government.

"Others who clamour to be in some panel or the other try to patronise the political authority. It is pathetic that none pays heed to the long term harm done to literary achievements for short term personal gains."

She added the neglect and lethargy on the part of the competent personalities have also contributed to the degeneration of Sinhala literature and its sphere of criticism.

Meanwhile, the open economy has left little leisure to ponder on literary criticism. Moreover, there is lack of confidence among critics to move ahead on the path Martin Wickremesinghe and Ediriweera Sarachchandra cleared for literary growth.

"Critics fear to say a publication of a reputed author is sub-standard. They are reluctant to say a work of an amateur is good.

There is no dearth of lecturers and professors who would praise a publication in public for personal gains and favours, whatever the standard of the publication. This instills a false mental attitude in the writer who is persuaded to think of his capabilities much further than he really should, thus depriving him of achieving improvements on later works. It also creates a mood among other writers and creators that literary criticism and reviews serve little purpose."

Ms. Rahubaddhe identifies Professor Sucharita Gamlath as one who is much different, one who is independent with his literary criticism. "Though he is well versed in world literature and has a deep rooted talent for appreciating literature, his style of presentation, his biting words, his emotional outbursts, go contrary to the patience and discipline demanded by a critic. What makes him an independent critic is his impartiality to the creative work, not heeding who the writer is."

What, in Ms. Rahubaddhe's terms, are the qualities that a critic should have?

The critic should have fraternity towards both the reader and the writer, and for that, he should be a sedate scholar. But that alone is not sufficient. He should be a gifted aesthetic. He should also be an intellectual genius.

She believes we have talented poets, short story writers and novelists who could create good literary works in Sinhala. What we need to be offered is impartial, independent and competent literary reviews and criticism. This calls for critics who are intellectuals, learned and full of experience, gifted and independent.

Impressive list

Since the D. R. Wijewardene Award for the best Sinhala novel in manuscript form was inaugurated 14 years ago, 13 new writers have been identified. (The award was not made in 1995 when the panel of judges thought there wasn't a single work reaching the expected standard).

Eileen Siriwardena's Balan Harimi Kadathurawa won the award in the first year (1984). Others to follow were Gal Boralu Nopegu Pa Yuga (Ajantha Rajapakse), Isuru Soya (Swarnalatha Kiriwaththuduwa), Ata Avurudda (Jayatilleka Kammellaweera), Avidu Andura (Sarath Wijesuriya), Diyata Handana Kedeththo (Piyadasa Ranpathwila), Chora Naga (K. G. Karunasena), Vana Sapumala (Chandraratne Bandara), Kandak Gini Evilenne (Langani Fernando Abeydeera), Debeduma (Sepali Mayadunne), Pavuru Bedi Rajyaya (Bhadraji Mahinda Jayatilleka), Aratu (Sita Kumarihamy) and Pambaya (J. C. P. S. Siriwardena).

Of these three have been turned into teledramas. They are Isuru Soya, Ata Avurudda and Avindu Andura.

Vana Sapumala has been translated into English under the title 'Hostage City' .

High standards

This year's chairperson of the Wijewardene Award panel of judges, Ms. Sumitra Rahubaddhe feels the award winning novels are of a high standard because of the complete freedom given to the panel in the selection of the best novel.

At the time the members of the panel go through the manuscripts they are unaware of who the writers are. In fact, the winner's identity is not known until he or she is introduced at the awards ceremony.

This enables the selection of creative work by talented persons and thereafter they are able to further their talent thanks to the prestige that the D. R. Wijewardene Award brings, says Ms. Rahubaddhe.

Other members of the panel were Jayasumana Dissanayake and G. S. B. Senanayake.

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