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Sunday, 6 February 2011





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An analysis of Consciousness: the Writer’s Primary pen:

Fulfilling an intellectual lacuna in contemporary literary criticism


Bridging the intellectual lacuna between theory and practice, Dilshan Boange with his collection of essays ventures into the world of literature, stepping into the hitherto unexplored areas and confirming to the higher standard of scholarly tradition. The insightful observations have sprung from a highly cultivated mind immersed in the literary theory , at times, bordering on philosophical discourses.

Yet the essays in the collection are written in an unambiguous diction with a practical fervour. A remarkable trait of the author is his ability to apply profound literary theories in general and in the context of modernistic writings spearheaded by seminal authors such as Milan Kundera.

In fact, most of the essays are based on Milan Kundera’s works such as The Book of Laughter and Forgetting and Unbearable Lightness of Being. Dilshan Boange, who is a young academic and creative writer, applies his knowledge of literary theory in the sphere of creative writing as well.


I would maintain that formulate observations by means of words is not to cause artistic beauty to evaporate in vain intellectualities; rather, it makes for a widening and deepening of aesthetic taste. It is only a frivolous love that cannot survive intellectual definition; great love prospers with understanding.

– Leo Spitzer

Dilshan Boange

The above quotation with which the celebrated literary critic Graham Hough begins his Styles and Stylistics is holistically applicable to Dilshan Boange’s book ‘Consciousness; the Writer’s Primary Pen’ which was published by Godage International Publishers.

In this brief analysis, I would like primarily to focus on the following areas; state of contemporary literary criticism in Sri Lanka (both in Sinhalese and English media), significance of literary analysis against ill-informed literary reportage and how literary criticism and analysis would in the long run help the advancement of literature, raising it to the international level.

The book which is a collection of essays, explores diverse areas in literary criticism with references to literary theory and practical criticism. The book contains sixteen essays.

The book is timely particularly at a time when the Sri Lankan literary criticism is at a low ebb.

State of contemporary literary criticism

It is pertinent here, at least, briefly, to look at the current state of literary criticism in Sri Lanka before embarking on analysing the book. In a highly commercialised milieu, literature in general and humanities in particular take a lesser important position over science and other allied subjects such as IT.

What the successive generations forget is the fact that literacy, literature and language studies are an integral part and parcel of the development process. It is a home truth that subjects such as Language Studies and Literature suffered a lot owing to priority given to the Science Stream.

At present, literary criticism is virtually confined to reportages of the book or literary work particularly chosen by critics of their friends. Consciousness, the writer’s primary pen by Dilshan Boange, to a certain extent, fulfils the intellectual lacuna in the area of contemporary literary criticism in Sri Lanka.

Kundera’s authorial voice

In the article, Consciousness, the writer’s primary pen, the author looks at Milan Kundera’s work in terms of its narrative motifs. The crux of the argument seems to be that in Kundera’s author’s voice is present in Kundera’s narrative style as against many medieval English authors. As a prelude to the argument, the author traverses the evolution of modern English novel and its present state. He states “The conventions upheld in the Victorian ethos that marked the form and structure of the ‘novel’ were broken through the emergence of what is called modernist writing. The forerunner of the ‘modern novel’ is generally seen not in English writing but in the Norwegian novel Sult (which was translated to English as “Hunger”) by Knut Hamsun …It was through the narrative approach that Hamsun devised for Hunger that the narrative style /form known as ‘Stream of consciousness’ was birthed to the world of literature …The emphasis for the ‘plot’ in the ‘story’ does not come out as strongly as it would in the conventional novel”

Boange, among other things, pointed out that the author in modernist novel as those of Kundera’s, plays an active role in the ‘plot’ as against in the conventional novel where often a character becomes a mouthpiece of the author. In the case of Milan Kundera, he pointed out that ‘authorial voice’ is very much present.

“ .….Kundera’s ‘authorial presence’ in his work project a consciousness that does not stifle its expanses of thinking and exploration for means by which the writer’s idea (s) may be presented in a novel. Works of such nature would no doubt further new advances in devising narrative mode(s) for contemporary writing”

In concluding his thesis, the author points out that looking at Kundera’s style with some details that it can be suggested that ‘ it is the writer’s consciousness ‘ that crafts the novel and births the ‘text’.

In the article Impressions on Milan Kundera’s The book of Laughter and Forgetting, the author analyses the text and narrative of the novel from diverse perspectives, offering readers fresh views. Dilshan writes “Through the course of the novel Kundera presents a thesis of distinguishing history from the ‘past’. Through a character named Mirek, a victim of communist persecution in Prague, the writer presents a facet to the Aristotelian theory of ‘man by nature is a political animal’. The past of an individual is seen by the author as integral to the formation of identity with political motives. “

What Dilshan suggests is that an individual cannot escape from the political landscape against which he or she acts. In other words, the past of an individual is greatly impacted on his present and the constitution of identity. “The past, resides in memories of an individual who posses it as personal and perhaps, as undeclared experiences that led to the present. An interesting and insightful observation is a city’s ‘defacing and refacing’ as the political landscape which gives form and identity to it changes.

“When Kundera portrays Prague as a victim of successive political agenda that ‘defaced’ the city and ‘refaced’ it on to a path of transformation that tacks towards unrecognisability, he appears to suggest that Prague is subordinate to the regime, and was erased of the linkage it carried with the collective soul of its populace. “ The author illustrates it is not only the character of the city which is defacing but also the identity of the population which caught up in the transition.

“Within inner sancta of individuals, in their emotions’ depth, memories may be preserved with sanctity. Kundera gently unfolding such sanctified memories. Memories that may be unsung, unspoken, unwritten and not so much as breathed beyond parameters of one’s being, lest it swept up by a tide of persecuting political conformity.”

The article entitled “A phenomenological glimpse at Hemingway’s ‘Old Man’ “offers important insights into Hemingway’s famous work The Old Man and the Sea. Before examining the merits and demerits of the author’s attempt analysing the text, it is pertinent, at least, briefly, to look at Phenomenology developed by German philosopher Edmund Husserl. Husserl’s crux of the philosophy is to perceive phenomena as acts of consciousness. The author pint out that phenomenological interpretation is possible by ‘objectification of phenomena within the consciousnesses.

Dilshan Boange

In a nutshell, Phenomenology studies the structures of consciousness from a first person perspective. The internality is the central structure of an experience which is being directed towards something as it is an experience of or about some object. In the story The Old Man and the Sea , the author states “ Santiago may be viewed as presenting a series of phenomena just as much as his body may be looked upon as an object which could be given a phenomenological reading. For instance, the author shows that the Santiago’s body becomes a phenomenon ‘to understand the world surrounding it’.

“He did not truly feel good because the pain from the cord across his back had almost passed pain and gone into a dullness that he mistrusted. But, I have had worse things than that. My hand is only cut a little and the cramp is gone from the other”

Lyrical richness of The English Patient

One of the most interesting essays in the book is ‘The lyrical richness of The English Patient’. This may be a hitherto unperceived trait in Ondaatje’s The English Patient. Although the critics have praised The English Patient for its poetic text, the author stresses that ‘ rarely that one would find among the bodies/ collections of existing academic works an in-depth analysis to identify and expound the elements which would form the ‘lyricism’ in The English Patient”.

Dilshan’s thesis is that Ondaatje evokes sensuality and elusiveness in the text through schematic imagery/ metaphor in the narration. “Devising simile or metaphor out of the image of human body in connection with features and traits of nature and geography and structuring them in a recurrent pattern of the novel is a significant characteristic which Ondaatje has crafted with much fineness.”. What is obvious from these insightful observations on the part of the author is his impressive knowledge of literary theory and their applications in general and in textual analysis in particular. It should be mentioned here that the author has fulfilled an important function of an academic. It is to engage in continuous research in a given field and to produce knowledge.

The essay entitled “The lyrical richness of The English Patient “warrants attention of both scholars and literary fans is that it sheds light on The English Patient from an entirely different perspective. In further exploring the theme, Dilshan ventures into an area of the novel which is the desert landscape. The desert landscape in Ondaatje’s The English Patient plays a pivotal role in the evolution of the plot. At a certain level, the desert landscape almost assumed a role of a character in the narration.

“The North African desert is very important to the novel as the setting in which a large part of the story takes place. The quality of elusiveness can be seen as evoked in the novel through the image and descriptions of the desert which becomes a thematic element in the story. “

Citing an extract of the text, Dilshan drive home the fact that Ondaatje has used simple present and present progressive tenses in the same text in order to infuse lyrical richness into the text. The author, citing George T. Wright, shows that Ondaatje is using ‘lyrical tense’ which the celebrated poets such as Keats and Yeats employed.

“The very opening line of the novel is written in simple present verb tense ‘She stands up in the garden where she has been working looks into the distance’. The novel is interwoven with both present and the past tense and this adds to the richness of the ‘texture’ of the novel which shows many significant textural features that evoke lyrical quality in the text”

Another factor which contributed to the lyrical richness of The English Patient, the author states, is the use of verse in prose narrative. For instance, the author says that Ondaatje has used lyrics of Jazz songs in the narration in addition to stanzas such as those from John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” in the text. In concluding the essay, the author states that the short essay on the lyrical richness of The English Patient is not a comprehensive essay on the vast subject area. But, it is a reading of the Ondaatje’s text from a different perspective.


In the essay on Kunderian Imagology, the author discusses how Imagology has been used to build true to life images. Dilshan cites Jayantha Chandrasiri’s “Guerilla Marketing” exemplifies the application of Imagology in contemporary democratic politics.

“The central politico role played by Jackson Anthony tells the protagonist, an adverting maverick played by Kamal Addararachchi, that he is not concerned with ‘public opinion’ since it can be ‘created’ by advertising agencies.

A point of argument comes very strongly in support of this, in Kundera’s discourse on Imagology where he says “Public opinion polls are the critical instrument of Imagology’s power, because it enables Imagology to live in absolute harmony with the people”

The book Consciousness; the writer’s primary pen is one of the important publications on contemporary literary theory and is a must read for both scholars and literature lovers.


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