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Literary Engagements with the Politics of Peace

Tariq Jazeel

By Qadri Ismail
University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 2005, pp. 360, $25.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Responsibility. Being based in the UK but working within a field that might be delineated as Sri Lankan studies, I have thought a lot about that word recently. What responsibilities impress themselves upon the writer/researcher who works on/in Sri Lanka? Do these vary according to whether one is outside or inside its borders? As an ‘outsider’, how should one responsibly speak to the question of politics? Qadri Ismail’s absorbing and provocative book Abiding by Sri Lanka, tackles these and many more questions as it formulates its own attempt to speak to the question of peace and politics in Sri Lanka.   Ismail is a Sri Lankan born, North American trained English Professor now domiciled in the US. Abiding by Sri Lanka makes a series of postcolonial, critical theoretical and ‘leftist’ literary engagements with the politics of peace in the Sri Lankan context. Its introduction, four substantive chapters and conclusion consist of a series of brilliantly polemic, often rambunctious, theoretical arguments and readings that advance the thesis that imaginative literature holds the potential to speak productively to the question of sustainable and just peace in Sri Lanka (that is peace conceived as more than merely the cessation of hostilities, as either Sinhala or Tamil nationalism might advance it). The book asserts that (good) literature is able to creatively interrogate a pervasive Eurocentric, identitarian and anthropologizing logic that saturates the post-Enlightenment Social Science and Historical scholarship that has framed Sri Lanka’s civil war simply as ethnonationalist conflict between Sinhala majority and Tamil minority. Literature’s postcoloniality is its possibilism, its creative élan that holds the potential to deconstruct the binarized, identitarian logic that promulgates Sri Lanka’s civil war as incontrovertible clash of majority and minority nationalisms. If this formulation is progressive in the most exciting of ways, Abiding by Sri Lanka is also frustrating and stultifying in other ways, particularly in its dogmatic insistence that Social Science, Anthropology in particular, are doomed to fail the question of just peace in Sri Lanka because of their inescapable generalizations and objectifications.   Ismail begins by advancing what he calls ‘post-empiricist’ engagements with Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan texts. Post-empiricism rightly reminds us that anything written about Sri Lanka re-presents, in a constitutive sense, the subject of the text as object. In other words, when we write about Sri Lanka we are always already implicated in its dynamic, textual production. By the ...

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