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Syndrome Syndrome

daya dissanayake

The monthly lecture of the Royal Asiatic Society by Prof. D. C. R. A Goonetillke was on the subject of 'English Literature, Language and Politics in Sri Lanka'. Discussing the Colonial, Post -Colonial and Post-Modernist writings. He touched on the Prospero-Caliban Syndrome, taking us back to Shakespeare and the Tempest.

Octave Mannoni, wrote the book, 'Prospero and Caliban - The Psychology of Colonization' (University of Michigan Press, 1990). Boaventura de Sousa Santos wrote in the Luso-Beazilian Review, (University of Visconsin Press, 2002-winter), 'Between Prospero and Caliban: Colonialism, Postcolonialism, and Inter-identity'.

Prof. Goonetilleke was speaking about Prospero and Caliban in the Sri Lankan context, about Sri Lankan literature in English. He is the most suitable academic in our country today to talk about our English literature. Dr. Susantha Goonetilleke introduced Prof. D.C.R.A. Goonetilleke as the Sri Lankan English scholar who has contributed the most number of publications on English Literature locally and internationally. Prof. Goonetilleke is a world authority on Conrad and Rushdie.

Prof. Goonetilleke was trying to relate these syndromes with the effects of the social and cultural changes of 1956, the southern uprisings in 1971 and 1989, and the northern conflict from 1983. However in our country, writing in English is still limited to a few authors enjoying urban life, and most of them are cutoff from the majority of our people in the country. It is also a feature observed in India and the other South Asian countries, where English is for the elite.

James Peacock and Tim Lusting have written, 'Disease and Disorders in Contemporary Fiction. The Syndrome Syndrome', which is to be published by Rutledge in April, 2013. The subjects covered have been announced as, '20th Century Literature, Postmodernism Literature and Trauma Studies'. It is about "the current preoccupation with neurological conditions and disorders in contemporary literature by British and American writers. The book places these fictional treatments within a broader cultural and historical context, exploring such topics as the two cultures debate, the neurological turn, postmodernism and the post-postmodernism, and responses to September 11th....the essays discuss contemporary writers' attempts to engage the relation between the individual and the social, looking at the relation between the 'syndrome syndrome' and existing work in the field of trauma studies.. "

A syndrome has been defined as a "group of symptoms that consistently occur together, or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms", and also as a "characteristic combination of opinions, emotions, or behaviour."

We should perhaps study this 'syndrome syndrome' taking into consideration all Sri Lankan writing, in Sinhala, Tamil and English. Some of the Sinhala writers are also trapped in the Prospero-Caliban syndrome still, because they are influenced by their colonial masters, while others are influenced by popular modern writers around the world, who are trapped in the same syndrome. So too some of the diaspora writers writing about their 'traditional homelands', but writing to please the western readers. Today we use the term diaspora to identify people who have migrated to other countries, but are trying to identify themselves with their country of origin. This is another syndrome we are faced with, as the local literati accuse the diaspora of coming in like tourists and still trying to dominate the local literary and academic scene, while the diaspora keeps talking about the island mentality of the locals, who perceive themselves superior and exceptional to the rest of the world.

South Asian diaspora pour out literary masterpieces about the rural poverty, corruption and nepotism in their countries of birth, while wallowing in the luxuries found in the countries they live in, shutting their eyes and ears to all the ills and vices before them. This is where the young diaspora suffer from the Young Desi Syndrome, talking about diasporic art. We already have Desi Literature and even conferences on Desi Literature. There is also a Desi culture, which is a cocktail of all South Asian cultures, drowning the identity of each individual culture.

The term 'Desi' is probably the unconscious yearning by the diaspora to retain their identity with the former motherland, because it could be from the Samskrit word Desi, which is in use among almost all South Asian countries.

If we go back in history, from the time the term was used by the Greeks, we all belong to diaspora. We are the descendants of the ancient Africans who scattered across the globe. Then there could not be any 'Island mentality' among any of us, but a global mentality, obscured by concepts like patriotism, motherland and mother tongue.

Perhaps it is the Stockholm Syndrome, the term originally used to describe the phenomenon in which kidnap victims express empathy and sympathy towards their captors. D. G. Dutton and S. L. Painter find that this also applies to emotional attachments between abusers and the abused, as could happen in a colonial culture and then continue under the post-colonial rulers.

The Prospero-Caliban syndrome mentioned by Prof. Goonetilleke, was evident even with the organizers of this lecture, for they still call themselves, "Royal" Asiatic Society. We are entangled in too many syndromes and too many theories. We are been told that we should shake off our 'Island mentality', that we should think globally. Then we are also told we should retain our national identity. We are told that we should read, write and live using our 'Mother tongue'. Next we are told to learn an 'International language' so we could live in harmony in the 'Global village', and at the same time develop our own identity of the international language.

All this confusion has affected our creative writing, and all art forms, from paintings, music to films and video productions. We are bogged down in a syndrome syndrome.

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