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Reading: Location of Cultural Value: Historicizing Virāgaya as a Novel on Postcolonial Subjectivity

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Location of Cultural Value: Historicizing Virāgaya as a Novel on Postcolonial Subjectivity

Author:

Liyanage Amarakeerthi

University of Peradeniya, LK
About Liyanage
Department of Sinhala
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Abstract

Martin Wickramasinghe’s Virāgaya (1956), a novel considered a modern classic is often understood be a text that exclusively focuses on the inner psyche of the central character. Thus, it was criticized for the lack of socio-political meaning. Amarasekara, a renowned writer and critic, maintained that the novel represents a certain weakening of socio-political dialogue in the country after achieving independence from the British. Compared to Wickramasinghe’s famous trilogy, which is explicitly ‘social’ since it deals with an evolution of a certain capitalist class, Virāgaya is understood to be a work that deals more with the psychological than with the social. This paper argues that when read as a postcolonial novel, contextualizing it in its specific postcolonial condition, Viragya appears to be much more ‘social’ and ‘political’ than any other novel that appears to be so. Aravinda (the literal meaning of the name being ‘the lotus’), the central character of the novel, is a man who embodies detachment, which is an important Buddhist value. His detachment is shown by the way he maintains a certain aloofness vis-à-vis the accepted social norms, which is often interpreted as a legacy of his Buddhist upbringing. This paper argues, in contrast, that it is the colonial/postcolonial condition that allows him to maintain a detached life. For example, the stable income he receives as a clerk in the Ceylon Clerical Service creates the material condition for him to lead his detached life even though the idea of detachment has its origin in Buddhism. Thus, this close reading of the text aims to provide some insights into the way we understand colonial/postcolonial subjectivity.
How to Cite: Amarakeerthi, L., 2019. Location of Cultural Value: Historicizing Virāgaya as a Novel on Postcolonial Subjectivity. Sri Lanka Journal of the Humanities, 42(1-2), pp.54–85. DOI: http://doi.org/10.4038/sljh.v42i1-2.7255
Published on 28 Nov 2019.
Peer Reviewed

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