Poetry and its possibilities Part 2
By Prof. Wimal Dissanayake
Eric Illayapparachchi's 'Kaputa Saha Sitano' displays a deep engagement with the intricacies and challenges of language. Almost all the poems gathered in this volume bear testimony to this fact. His focus on simile, metaphor, conceit, pun, paradox is a way of confronting and turning to his advantage, the innate elusiveness of language. A poem, after all, is predominantly a linguistic act. The deep interest in language and its complex challenges goes in hand in hand with the poet's encounters with desire and his efforts to fashion a poetic subjectivity through his poems. All these facets of his agenda, it seems, suggest the importance of adopting a broadly Lacanian approach to Illayapparachchi's poetry. Indeed, this is what this column strives to do and the endeavor to press into service Lacan's thinking will be more strategic than systematic .Given the extreme limitedness of space it would also be highly selective.
Although a few poems such as Malavunge Wellawatte, Govi Upatha, Mugati Sohona observe a confessional strain, Illayapparachchi's poems are not strongly confessional in the traditional sense. They can be more usefully described as interactional. What I mean by this is that the poet observes various social phenomena and incidents and imaginatively interacts with them to produce a subjective vision through the mechanisms of textual production. It is a way of projecting the subjectivity of the poet. Poetry, in many ways, is a supreme act of self-invention. The relationship between the effort to project a poetic subjectivity, the complexities of language as an expressive medium and the nature of desire make it imperative that Lacan be invoked. After all, these are some of the very themes that stirred his exegetical thinking and attracted his sustained attention.
Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981 ) is generally regarded as the most consequential psychoanalyst since Freud. More than a half of psychoanalysts are said to be Lacanians. He has had a profound impact on psychoanalysis as well as on neighboring disciplines such as philosophy, aesthetics, literary studies and cinema studies. Lacan, who is frequently referred to as the French Freud, is nothing if not innovative.
At the same time his writing is extremely difficult, at times incomprehensible. He was, at one time, a great admirer of surrealism and this influence of surrealism is clearly visible in his thinking and writing style.
What Jacques Lacan sought to do is to re-interpret Freud in the light of structural linguistics. Therefore his intense focus on language and its commanding influence. Lacan, like Freud before him, was convinced that the unconscious influences our conscious behavior. However, while Freud saw the unconscious as unstructured, chaotic full of dark passions and suppressed desires, Lacan believed that the unconscious is structured like language and that it can be systematically explored. According to Lacan, this unconscious and language as a system are vitally connected. This has great implications for the understanding of Eric Illayapparachchi's poetry; he is constant struggling to overpower language. Poems such as Tharunsa Kaviyekuta, Ananga Kamarava, Devadasi, Yukio Mishimata are reflective of this ambition of his.
Jacques Lacan claimed that the human psyche consists of three orders. They are the Imaginary, Symbolic and Real. From the day we are born until we are six months old, we by and large function within the imaginary order. In this phase the infant is happily united with the mother. This is a preverbal stage. Somewhere between the age of six months and eighteen months, the child finds himself or herself in what Lacan calls the mirror stage. During this phase the child begins to realize that certain objects are separate from himself or herself and that everything is not unified. In the symbolic stage the child begins to learn language and his or her identity is formed by language; with language differentiations begin to make their appearance. The third stage which Lacan calls Real is in a way a misnomer; it is un-real. The Real is that which is beyond language and it cannot be represented. The real can be equated with the language system..
Eric Illayapparachchi's poems are obsessively concerned with language. In a sense it can be said that the deeper theme of is poetry is the power and intransigence of language. In poems such as Devavadia, Alakapuraya and Ravana Ella this is clearly evident. There are only a few other Sinhala poets who are so deeply embroiled in language as Illayapparachchi; his poems are enactments of the fickleness of language and hence Lacan's formulations can be productively employed to explicate then. As one critic pointed out, 'For Lacan, the entry into language rips us away from nature. There is no possibility of reconciliation with a real or true self. We are fated to be the victims of a desire for the other, which is also part of ourselves that can never be satisfied.'
Another critic has made the following observation, 'Lacan stresses the role of language and the role of desire......we are speaking subjects. However, in language, we can never completely express what we want. There is always a gap between what we say and what we mean. Language is linked with desire. Desire is a fundamental lack, a hole in being.' According to Lacan, desire can never be satisfied
The language that makes for this situation is irretrievably "Other". Lacan habitually deployed the capital letter O to focus on the Otherness of language as opposed to the Otherness of people. This Otherness of language is central to Illayapparachchi's efforts.
As I stated earlier, his deeper theme is the struggle with language as Otherness. The figurality of language that Illayapparachchi valorizes so highly, is a way of going beyond the limits of language to capture that reality which lives beyond language and this effort is vitally driven by desire. Lacan talks so much about desire as opposed to need and demand. It is important to bear in mind the fact that desire works in the very structure of language. In this regard, the following comment of Chris Weedon is illuminating. 'The other is the position of control of desire, power and meaning. Desire is a product of language and is subject to the constant deferral of satisfaction, equivalent to the constant deferral of meaning in language.to control one would be to control the other'. This comment opens up an interesting path of inquiry in which we could attain a more informed understanding of Illayapparachchi's efforts and ambitions as a poet and his approach to self, desire and language. In reading his poetry we are made aware of the role of desire in the construction of poetic subjectivity. The role of desire, the power of language and the fashioning of subjectivity are integrally connected as Jacques Lacan has ably demonstrated. Eric illayapparachchi's more successful poems bear this out.
As Lacan repeatedly pointed out, the origin of desire lies in the realm beyond the symbolic. That is to say, in the realm which is beyond language. It is the realm of the impossible and we invariably seek to achieve possibility out of it. The function of Illayapparachchi's densely metaphoric language has to be understood in these terms. Desire is driven by the Other. The Other has to be understood in terms of the Real which lies beyond language. At the same time language available to us is the only means by which we can hope to move towards it. Indeed, it is this paradox that enables us to unlock the meaning of Illayapparachchi's poetry. Literary critics, inspired by Lacan have sought to locate desire in the gaps between the energy of being and the challenges offered by the Other, namely, language.
Admittedly, explaining Jacques Lacan in simple terms is an impossibly arduous task. It is made even more challenging when one has to accomplish that in a limited space. This column points out the importance of Lacan's thinking in coming to grips with Illayapparachchi's work. It is not suggesting for a moment that he has gone out of his way to draw on Lacan's thinking, rather that Lacan might offer us one useful frame of intellligence that we might employ to interpret Illayapparachchi's poetry .There aren't many other Sinhala poets who have placed so great an emphasis on condensation and displacement (both Freudian terms) and dense metaphoricity. It is this fact that impelled us towards Lacan in interpreting Illayapparachchi's poetry.
Eric Illayapparachchi is a gifted poet who is dedicated to widening the modern Sinhala poetic discourse. His passion for poetry, breadth of reading, and familiarity with world literature are enabling factors in this effort. His poetry is at once compact and copious. His startling verbal juxtapositions challenge us to newer recognitions and carry us towards newer visions. His is a poetry of possibility that gives affirmative shape to critical thinking. Many of the poems collected in Kaputa Saha Sitano invite close and diverse reading.
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