ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

Why the exclusivity?

By C. Jayasekera

The recently concluded Literary Festival held in Galle with the extensive publicity which accompanied it before, during and after the event raises many pertinent issues regarding the general Sri Lankan literary scene, for many reasons. Was its exclusiveness, a sort of last-ditch stand by the pro-colonial lobby organizers to try to make their presence felt? Else why was it confined only to writing in English a particular genre? Also why should the ‘erudite’ opinion of Harper’s Bazaar magazine be an overriding consideration in organizing such festivals in Sri Lanka on an annual basis?

There was, and is a comprehensive and vibrant Sinhala and Tamil literary output of fiction, poetry and prose in Sri Lanka today. It is inconceivable that such literature should be completely excluded from a literary festival of this nature. Are there literary festivals featuring writing in French, Italian, Spanish and German or other languages held in England to the exclusion of English?
There are also innumerable translations of prestigious foreign literary works into Sinhala, Tamil and English by academics and other eminent Sri Lankans who have won literary awards and plaudits from the local intelligentsia but they weren’t probably, even invited to this festival.

Even if the aim of this annual literary festival was to confine it arbitrarily only to English writing, one wonders what criteria were used in the selection of writers to participate in this festival? a) Did they need literary pull of some kind or was it based on the context of their work, i.e. a Sri Lankan or Asian setting or was it necessary to have been actually born in this country but domiciled in another? b)The pre-occupation with gourmet food and fine wines, whether consumed or served in five-star hotels in the vicinity of Galle or even written about by eminent experts in the field, surely should not have been a priority at a literary festival… or maybe it was a device to entice the literati, among whom Gore Vidal (despite being separated from his Versace accoutrements) was the much lionized celebrity!

O tempore, o mores…in the kingdom of the blind…

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