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Sunday, 16 February 2014





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An invaluable resource book for literature and fine arts

Kalave Daarshanika Sankalpa
Author: Vijitha Welagedara
Publisher: Sooriya Publishing House

Reviewed by Prof. E.A. Gamini Fonseka

For the Sri Lankan reader of literature and fine arts, Saahithya saha Saundarya Kalave Daarshanika Sankalpa – (philosophical Concepts in Literature and Aesthetics) by Vijitha Welagedara is an invaluable guide to the epistemological and ontological aspects of the arts that are realised in the world today in multifarious forms depending on the respective material – device continua (Victor Zchirmusky 1985) in which now they make progress as scholarly disciplines.

Be it verbal, visual, kinetic, musical, dramatic, plastic, industrial, textile, cosmetic or culinary art, the sustainability of it depends on new creations, experiments, advancements, interpretations, appreciations, directions and extensions that are carried out from a strong theoretical stance. Any success achieved in any of these arts owes to the exercises carried out within a well-developed theoretical framework.

The requirement of a book of this sort arises in an instance when such a theoretical framework is to be developed. Welagedara has perceived the challenges the Sinhala reader would be faced with in this concern while formulating his book. He has referred to the philosophical concepts developed in the western world, where aesthetic and literary appreciation was nourished by a galaxy of eminent philosophers who have made contributions to the western thought in different eras throughout the period from the ancient classical times to the neoclassical and modern times.

Philosophical perception

Welagedara’s book is composed of 21 discussions developed into 21 chapters divided between literature and aesthetics. It begins with an introductory address on the philosophical perception of truth-fiction dichotomy in creative literature, painting and sculpture as interpreted by French surrealist writer and ethnographer Julien Michel Leiris (1972), who makes a strong claim about the human mind’s eternal quest for meaning in everything, and by the German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, who analyses the sublime in terms of imaginative activity.

Welagedara tries to establish here that literature and art represent life rather than history. His next topic, ‘The classification of literature as fiction and nonfiction’, with reference to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Paul Feyerabend, deals with the ways in which facts are realised under subjectivity. This is followed by an exploration of the aesthetic value of art and language where, in developing an approach to aesthetic appreciation, he introduces the defined features of a number of disciplines such as linguistics, semiotics, semantics and pragmatics as postulated by a group of modern philosophers, including Y.Y. Bassin, Ernest Cassirer, Pierce Dewey, Carl Morris and Karl Marx. By analysing the creative works of Martin Wickremasinghe and Ediriweera Sarachchandra within their critical framework he relates its applicability in the appreciation of Sri Lankan literature.

Under the topic ‘Wittgenstein and analytical aesthetics’, he starts another discussion with a focus on semiotics and ends it, shedding light on Morris Weitz’s emphasis on the function of aesthetics as “the elucidation of the criteria for the correct use of concepts”. Then he moves into a domain more profound than the technical, through a discussion of “The Philosophy of Art and Benedetto Croce”.

His effort in this case concentrates on Croce’s expressionism developed from German philosopher Wilhelm Hegel’s phenomenological views about spirit. Welagedara exemplifies the application of the theoretical basis of Crocian expressionism through a comment on how ancient Sinhala classics such as Buthsarana and Puujawaliya could be appreciated under it. His discussion of “R.A. Collinwood’s Interpretation of Crocian principles” draws attention to the pro-Hegel Collinwood’s confirmation of the did active value of the Crocian theories. Welagedara, an educationist himself, demonstrates here the relevance of aesthetics to education through Collinwood’s idealism.


The direction of the book healthily changes in the chapter titled as “Neo-Realistic Philosophy propounded on Symbolism and Art” that focuses on Alfred North Whitehead’s theories of symbolism and realization. The discussion exemplifies the application of his theories in the graphic description of reality in both literature and the other art forms. Welagedara beautifully connects this to the aesthetic vision of the Therawadhi School of Buddhism and the arts of the Sinhalese. He furthers the wisdom of symbolism through a discussion of the “Symbolic Structure of Art”.

Incorporating Ernst Cassirer’s Neo-Kantian views about art, Welagedara discusses the symbolic form, the pure form, and the beauty of art as the major themes of artistic perception. A climax in the new trend the book takes shows up in the discussion of “The contemporary Sinhala literature and psychoanalysis” where Welagedara demonstrates Freudian psychological concepts in Sinhala literature produced under the influence of Western novelists such as D.H Lawrence.

The discussion of “The novel culminated in the twentieth century” unfolds, defining the sociological path the Sinhala novelists such as Martin Wickremasinghe took under the influence of Sinhala Buddhist values despite their exposure to the psychological path that had been taken by novelists such as D.H. Lawrence whose characters are very much driven by deep psychological tendencies. Welagedara acknowledges here Wickremasinghe’s adoption of the functional basis of the Russian novel rather than that of the Western novel. He justifies the trend of the Sinhala novel in the discussion of “The philosophy of art and Giovanni Gentile” where he draws attention to Gentile’s emphasis on the empirical nature of the arts that sheds light on their morality and immortality.

Welagedara continues this discussion under the title “Art, language and natural beauty” and relates how the traditional Sinhala artists and poets drew parallels with Renaissance masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, who always maintained in their creations a deep sense of faithfulness to nature.


The trajectory of Welagedara’s book becomes clear in the series of discussions beginning with the topic “Art is a savior” where he draws attention to the purgatory element in Aristotle’s definition of the tragedy that helped to resolve the conflict between religion and art by refuting various theological allegations against art. The study of “Catharsis as an aim of literature” that follow it, comprehensively foregrounds the position of Gentile that “all poetry and art should culminate in emancipation.”

Under a very intelligent scrutiny of Gentile’s observations, Welagedara further attempts to establish under the topic “Consolation of Art” the spiritual consolation that art can provide as efficiently as religion, in terms of introducing the potential of art in the ancient classical Greek philosophy – the affected,t he extravagant, the burlesque, the bombastic, and the erotic.

Welagedara infuses the classical and modern theoretical positions about art adopted from the West with the Buddhist perspective vivid in the art and literature of Sri Lanka in the next discussion, “Historical Summary of Aesthetics”. He uses this as a stage to analyse how the Sinhala artist’s or writer’s perception of the Sammuthiparamaththa (convention-reality) dichotomy in the truth as explained in the Buddhist philosophy has helped to engender through his energies a feeling that ensures the consumer’s consolation, amelioration, enlightenment and emancipation.


The moralistic trend of art introduced in the previous discussions receives a more concrete definition in the discussions of “Artistic transformation and Susan Langer” where Welagedara projects Langer’s warning about the danger caused to a culture by the absence of it inherent life symbols. He supports the arguments raised in this concern with Clive Bell’s interpretation of beauty of a piece of art as its significant form, L.A. Reid’s explanation to beauty as expressiveness, and Roger Fry’s identification of the subtlety of beauty.

Then he moves on to a discussion of “expressionism music” where, with reference to W.M. Urban’s interpretation of music as an “extra-special abbreviated language” he demonstrates how language retains its musical character through onomatopoetic and symbolic potentials of words. The discussion of “The origin art” nurtured on Karl Bucher’s book Arbeit und Rhuthmus accommodates a portrait of the traditional Sinhala folk poetry and the seminal influence it received from the music of the life world as a regenerative source of entertainment.

From the traditional Sinhala occupational song, Welagedara moves onto his last discussion, “The Marxist-Leninist philosophy of art and aesthetics”. He appreciates there the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of the utilitarian value of art in satisfying the occupational, political, legal, moral, and aesthetic needs of life and the Marxist-Leninist ideal of deriving the influence of art in expanding the spiritualist horizons of the human.

Circuitous path

Welagedara thus takes his reader in a circuitous path various philosophical perceptions and conceptions of aesthetics and literature to enlighten him on the fundamentals of an articulate framework of classical aesthetics useful in both the appreciation as well as production of art and literature. However deep and complex are the philosophical concepts he has dealt with, his lucid Sinhala makes them very pleasant read. The hallmark of his success lies in his thorough perception of the works he refers to and the meticulous deskwork he has carried out in the formulation of his chapters. Although they deal with different concepts they all contribute to a single line of argument that emphasises the Marxist expectation for the expansion of spiritual horizons.

What Welagedara has missed in connection with postmodernist theories of aesthetics has been somewhat slightly signposted by Judge Saman Wickremarachchi, who has provided a thought-provoking preface, focusing on ideas from Jacque Derida and Gayathri C Spivak, and signalling that there is so much to come in, in terms of contemporary literary and aesthetic philosophy nurtured by Jacque Lacan and Slavoj Zizek. Maybe Welagedara will have a second volume to address the challenge posed by it. Based on its virtues as depicted above, I warmly recommend this book as a very useful resource for the Sinhala reader of literature and fine arts.

The writer is Professor in English, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Ruhuna.

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