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Politics of Critical Discourse

Simran Chadha

By Minoli Salgado
Routledge, London, 2007, pp. 212, £60.00


When the (resident) Sri Lankan writer Nihal De Silva passed away, it was sad that few in India had heard of him let alone read the Gratiaen award winning book The Road from Elephant Pass. The few copies that did make their way outside the island nation were eagerly consumed, as supply was meagre. Writing from the University of Sussex, where she teaches courses on postcolonial and Indian fiction in English, Minoli Salgado’s recent book on Sri Lankan writing addresses this thriving cult of popular Sri Lankan fiction and criticism that shares a similar fate—published, distributed, discussed and critiqued among only the local residents. While this means that print capitalism is thriving it also signals a radical departure from Anderson’s formulations regarding the gelling of a national space, for Sri Lanka continues to be torn by construction(s) of nationalism—stories or no stories. It is almost like Haroun, in Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, railing at his father: ‘What is the use of stories that are not even true’. Almost, because that is where Salgado begins her critical inquiry into the emergent Sri Lankan canon—a canon subject to the multiple fragmentations even in the very process of ‘becoming’.   Besides the acclaimed body of expatriate writers—Shyam Selvadurai, Yasmin Gooneratne, Chandini Lokuge, Romesh Gunesekera and multiple identity markers—Michael Ondaatje, the evolving phenomenon of resident writers in English marks a political break from the silence created by S.WR.D Bandaranaike’s Sinhala only act of 1958. However, this latter body finds scant visibility owing to poor networks of publishing and distribution (let us keep ‘Third World’ out of the argument for the moment). That’s besides Karl Muller of course—made famous by Penguin India and simultaneously infamous by the near evangelical reaction to the promiscuity of his Burgher narratives.   Minoli Salgado’s book establishes a significant juncture in postcolonial studies—the politics of critical discourse. Unlike earlier criticism on Sri Lanka, such as Nilofer de Mel’s Women and the Nation’s Narrative or Neluka Silva’s The Gendered Nation, Minoli Salgado looks at how interpretative strategies leave wide open the space for prejudice. The two broad divisions that she maps her study on are the expat and resident writers and then proceeds to examine the grounds for such polarization. Beginning with the emergence of a dual national consciousness after independence—the ...

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