‘Stream of Consciousness’ and the birth of the Modern(ist) novel

By Dilshan Boange
At a time when a significant number of writers here in Sri Lanka are looking towards newer modes of writing to deviate from the classical conventionalisms of the Victorian era of novel writing, a better understanding of the Modern or Modernist novel would provide a fresh perspective on the developments of the craft of the novel that took place in Europe towards the end of the 19th century. Contemporary Sri Lankan literature in both Sinhala and English show a marked leniency to tilt towards a more postmodern approach when it comes to fiction writing, but a mere labelling alone of being modernist or postmodernist is not sufficient in my view since such categorisation is really the doings of academia and not so much the artists themselves. Certainly an artist versed in the theoretical bases of his avenue of artistry can construct his work to contain the elements that qualify a work into a certain category related to a movement and its stylistics, however it must be noted that it is the presence of academic knowledge at his disposal that allows him to work with such knowledge to be partnered with his aesthetic senses. Therefore the task of labelling or genre division lies principally with the academic bastions.

Hamsun’s Hunger
The writer as an artist may be made to explain and answer the queries brought out by readers and critics alike who may find new experimental modes of expression disagreeing with their perceptions of what literature ought to be or at least what counts as appealing. In this light I would like to focus your attention on the subject of the modern or modernist novel which does not find its birth in merry old England but the Scandinavian corner. It was the Norwegian writer Knut Hamsun (who later went on to win the Nobel literature prize) who first laid the foundation for a new mode of novel writing with his work Hunger (which in its original Norwegian title is –Sult). A student of English literature studying for the A/L accustomed to reading Jane Austen and Charles Dickens would certainly be baffled by a book like Hamsun’s Hunger and question if it even comes within the framework of ‘novel’. And this was precisely the kind of reaction that Hamsun’s book had got when first published. Hunger is told in a first person narrative voice by a protagonist whose name is never revealed. The reader is simply made to know who he is by means of his actions, his emotions and perceptions and perspectives on phenomena that form his world. The protagonist is a writer who struggles to survive in the city of Christiania grappling with dire penury that leaves him in severe insolvency and hunger. The reader is thereby given the hint that ‘identity’ in terms of the usual list found in conventional stories is not what builds the image of the protagonist.

Delusions and absurdities
The states of delusion that the protagonist is driven to, through despondency over his lack of success and writer’s block when compounded with lack of food, speaks very deeply of how Hamsun explored the human psyche and the extents of human behaviour under challenging conditions. And what must be noted is that the focal ground for the narrative being human psychology, one may even suggest it was Hunger than could qualify possibly as the first ‘psychological novel’. The sheer absurdities the reader is taken through by the words of the narrator who is driven to depths of despair and depression show how the age of industrialism that intensified urbanisation impacted the human mind adversely in numerous ways. There were many socio-economic factors that were driving people to behave antisocially and Hunger depicts such instances where the protagonist behaves improperly in public and elicits the censure of people.

Sucking pebbles and coing words with meanings yet to be
At times he is driven to suck on pebbles and twigs picked up from the street to delude himself that he is eating something in the hope of quelling, at least momentarily, the searing pangs of starvation affecting him. He spends a night in a jail cell and in the blinding darkness wakes up and coins to word ‘Kuboaa’ for which he says he does not have a meaning but will think of an appropriate one but urges the reader to realise that the most crucial part of having discovered a word or more correctly the ‘sound form’ for a word, has been achieved. The degenerating status of the protagonist is symbolic of the dilemmas that affected a certain segment who found urbanisation and its effect to be oppressive but were unable to find an answer to their plight either.

A window into the human mind
Hunger becomes in effect a window into the protagonist’s mind with all its rambles and fluxes which has nothing of the well sorted, chaptered, linear narrative flow of Pride and Prejudice. This stylistic which appears seemingly broken down in conventions of coherence in fiction writing was the basis for ‘Stream of consciousness’. The rationale behind its acceptance being that a textual depiction of a person’s consciousness would certainly not have the neatly sorted out linear trajectory which one finds in the conventional novel format. After all just think how many random thoughts fluctuate at varying paces within a few minutes of our own minds and how linear are our thinking processes? This was the perspective or argument that laid the basis for Hunger to be appreciated for what it was at that juncture in history as the next stage in literature’s evolution in depicting human reality with all its socio–psychological complexities. \

Validity of ‘stream of consciousness’
The narrative mode ‘stream of consciousness’ which was thereafter accepted into the folds of mainstream literature became thus the cornerstone for the Modernist novel. Why was there a need for such a deviation from the traditional format, one may ask The reason was that many vanguard writers felt towards the dawn of the 20th century that the traditional, mode of novel writing did not have a ‘form’ which symbolised the dilemmas and the issues that were being brought out as content in the emerging era of urbanism. The themes that one finds in modernist works of fiction sought to deviate from the set status quo that had to do with a specific line up and objective. It would very often have a moral foundation and produce a moral message and raise issues of ethicality in the course of the story such as in the Dickensian novel. The modernist novel was very intensely supportive of a subjective expression of the ‘individual’. One of the reasons for such a stance was that the common working class European living in the big cities at the turn of the 20th century felt isolated from the larger social picture and thus intensely ‘individualised’. Thereby in one sense the modernist novel was a result of man’s feeling of alienation from fellow man though inhabiting the same breathing space.


Through My Window

Ethnicity seen differently

K S Sivakumaran
The term Ethnicity encompasses many aspects of life as many of us know. Some of these aspects are civilization, society, mores, background, traditions, customs, and way of life. At times to talk about one’s ethnicity creates a delicate situation where emotion takes the better part and thus the goal of seeking the truth loses on the wayside.
This week, I want to present a viewpoint or finding of an independent researcher, Kalabooshanam Saakthie A Bala-Iah. He is a poet and a writer and translator. Recently a book by him was launched in Colombo. It’s called “Analysis of Ages of Lives on Earth and Dravidian Culture” He writes on many subjects in this book, but here I am excerpting only one chapter – “Analysis on Pre Historical Adoptions”
In this chapter the writer quotes an article published in the Daily News dated February 12, 1997. The article refers to the D T Devendra Memorial lecture delivered by Dr Shiran Deriynagala on Indigenous Lanka. It was organized by the Cultural Survival Section under the auspices of the National Committee for the International Years of the Indigenous people.

What was the statement of the Director General (Dr Shiran Deriniyagala) of the Archaeology Department?
“When Internationalism is spreading globally there is a reverse trend in operation which is endemic and Nationalist. This is a reality in Sri Lanka, the Sinhala language which is considered Indo-Aryan is an intellectual heritage of the Sinhalese. The Thamil language is a Dravidian intellectual heritage of the Thamils. Genetically the Sinhalas are a mixed race. The Sinhala culture has developed with the influence of other cultures as a result of the genetic mix-up experienced.”

The writer then adds that “the land mass of India and Sri Lanka had been one and the people during the pre-history were the indigenous people of India and Sri Lanka”. These two countries were earlier a part of a continent called “Kumarik Kandam” (Cape Camorin). It was dismembered when there was the sixth Sea-Storm, says the writer. The Sinhala language and the Sinhala race did not exist during 3000 years Before Christ. The idea that the writer suggests is that the Sinhalas are descendants of the Dravidians (Thamils, Telugus, Kannadigas and Malayalees). He also believes that during B C 249 the “Sinhala language was born from Tamil and got mixed with Sanskrit and Pali languages”
Although what the writer has written is subject to unearthing of concrete evidences in support of his contentions, one could appreciate his attempt to bring harmony among the people of Lanka in knowing their past and discovering that we are all one.

This is how he sums up:
“From the views and realizations of the ancient genetic relationships and our religious practices and customary social attachments, the Thamil race and the Sinhala race are of one origin and our island was a part of South India before 3000 B C and a group of Dravidian races when followed Buddhism that was introduced in B C 245 by Arahat Mahinda and learnt the Sinhala language founded by Ven. Buddha Dhutha in B C 249 became the Sinhala race.”
The writer feels that most Sinhalas are not aware of their origin and believe that they all came from North India since their religion Buddhism as preached by Lord Buddha came from North India. But the reality is that the ‘existing social and religious practices are examples to prove the origin of the Sinhala race is of Dravidian origin and a mixed race of the Dravidian races’
I am not sure whether scholars and researchers would accept in toto this proposition because according to the recorded history the original settlers came from either Bengal (Bangla) or Orissa (bordering the Dravidian Andhra Pradesh). Some say that the Bengalis were an admixture of Dravidians and Mongolians. Even the Dravidians were also a mixture of north and south people. Some of the kings in the South Indian kingdoms might not have been Thamilians, but either Telugus or Kannadigas or Maharashtrans.
Even the Lankan king known as Elara in Pali, though referred as Ellaalan in Thamil might have been a Telugu- speaking Dravidian. So no race is pure. We are all a mixed race belonging to one ethnic group known as Dravidians, meaning those who spoke Thamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayaalam, Tulu and Konkani.
Whatever our ethnic origin we should realize that we all belong to the human species and that inevitably we have got to live together as one. We may speak different languages because we have adapted the languages that are spoken in the areas we live but essentially we are the entire same ethnic group.
The so-called Thamils maybe Sinhalas and the so-called Sinhalas might be Thamils when it comes to identification as separate races. If we realize this fact then there will be less racial tensions.
If we search further most Lankans are of Kerala, Andhra, Kannada, Goan and Thamil origins. I leave it to scholars and anthropologists and DNA specialists to discern this suggestion.



‘Yes, I am a Tiger’

A profound teaser campaign

By Udayasiri Wickramaratne
There is a perception that advertising entails lying, exaggeration, deception and so on. In the very least there is a view that anything between a white lie and a downright falsehood is fair game in order to perk the curiosity of the general public. It is in this context that comment is warranted on a teaser campaign that got plastered all over the city recently, an exercise where not one word was out of place, where only the truth and nothing but the truth was stated. In a world where truth is scoffed at as a liability in the matter of securing attention and where the attempt is to capture eye through wrapping and frill instead of substance, this particular campaign was remarkably successful.

On the Friday when the first poster came out, I got a call around 10 am. It was from one of the foremost lyricists of my generation who also happened to be a copywriter in a top advertising agency. He wanted to know what it was all about and who was behind it. Apparently that was a question his boss wanted answered, he told me.
Ok. This is not about the film ‘Selvam’ but its advertising campaign. Having yet to see it, I am unable to assess its worth. I can say with confidence, however, that the poster campaign is among the best I’ve seen in recent times. Now I must confess that I was rather proud of the advertising campaign I had designed for my play ‘Suddek Oba Amathai’. This, however, erased all pride, such was its communicative power.
The first poster contained a claim that few would dare whisper, even in secret: ‘ow mama kotiyek!’ (‘Yes, I am a Tiger’, the reference obviously being to the terrorist outfit). It was not ‘I am a Tiger,’ but the more emphatic and in-your-face, ‘yes, I am a Tiger!’ The question immediately raised is ‘who could be so bold enough to make such a confession today?’ One might insert the caveat that there was a time when there were many who were proud to make that statement and indeed found such labels useful in making all kinds of deals, political and monetary. More important, however, is the fact that there wasn’t a shred of falsehood in the claim. That is what was, ironically, ‘unbelievable’ about it.

The next poster was ‘mama punaruththaapanayavuna’ (I am rehabilitated). Nothing shady there either. No falsehood. Embedded in the claim is a very subtle subtext, however. The copywriter has clearly been exceptionally skillful in word-twist. And yet, it is true!
The final poster was one where the cat, sorry ‘Tiger’, jumped out of the proverbial bag: ‘mama “Selvam” chitrapatiyenaluwek!” (I am an actor in the film ‘Selvam’).
The main actor is, as acknowledged, a former Tiger, an ex-combatant of the LTTE. His name is Gokulan. His talent was spotted while he was undergoing ‘rehabilitation’ in a facility for ex-combatants. He was cast for this role on account of looks as well as acting talent. So he is indeed ‘A Tiger’. He was in fact ‘rehabilitated’ and he is an actor in the film ‘Selvam’. All honest statements. The power of the campaign lies in the fact that it provoked so many questions, caused some confusion and except for those who make it a point to educate themselves about what’s happening and where in the film industry, no one could know that it was about a film called ‘Selvam’.

I believe that film and indeed all art forms can go a long way in forging national unity. In fact I strongly suspect that it is Bollywood and not the Indian constitution that has held that country together. SharRukh Khan is a national hero. So too is Aishwarya. They are worshipped across India and their fans cut across all divisions, regional, ethnic, religious, caste and so on. Cinema has a tremendous potential to bring people together, this is clear.

There was a ‘cinema’ that was watched and appreciated by Sinhalese and Tamils together. GaminiFonseka and Vijaya Kumaratunga were heroes to all, Sinhalese and Tamils both. When Vijaya went to Jaffna he was warmly welcomed. He was able to address the Tamil people and they were ready to listen to him. I believe that Vijaya’s take on the particular issue was erroneous, and yet the image he had built in his cinematic work made it possible for him to create common ground.

It is time for us to create films that can be enjoyed by all. ‘Selvam’ perhaps is a film that speaks to this need. That’s what the teaser campaign promises, at any rate. If there are Sinhala actors and actresses who can be heroes to Tamil audiences and Tamil actresses and actors who are adored by Sinhala audiences, it would be of great significance in the long process of reconciliation.
Let’s see what ‘Selvam’ is really about.