Orientalism and sour grapes
Last week, I wrote about the farrago of error that was Thomas Meaney's article on Sri Lanka in the London Review of Books.
Dayan Jayatilleka described Meaney's article thus: "The usual, wry well-written Orientalism, just like all the LRB pieces on SL through the years." This prompted me to look at Edward Said's seminal book, Orientalism.
Said published his book in 1978 and died in 2003, so he was not able to include in his bibliography a book published in 2016 by Alan Stafford. The book did not win the international acclaim of Said's work but it did win The Bookseller's annual Diagram prize for the year's oddest title. Too Naked for the Nazis is a biography of Wilson, Keppel and Betty. Second place went to Dr Jonathan Allan's Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus. Apparently, Hermann Göring was outraged by the sensuality of Betty Knox's dancing. She went on to become a war correspondent and was the first to report Göring's suicide.
I am old enough to have seen Wilson, Keppel and Betty perform live on more than one occasion. They represented Orientalism at its finest. The 'sand dance' that formed the highlight of their act was a parody of postures from Egyptian tomb paintings, combined with references to Arabic costume. The act was usually performed to the Egyptian Ballet (1875), by Alexandre Luigini. I recall them dancing to 'In a Persian Garden'.
Edward Said redefined Orientalism to describe a pervasive Western tradition of prejudiced outsider-interpretations of the Eastern world, which was shaped by the cultural attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is a form of cultural imperialism. Oriental culture is another that can be studied, depicted, and reproduced. This implies that Western society is developed, rational, flexible, and thereby superior, whilst Oriental societies are inferior for being undeveloped, irrational, and inflexible. Said develops Antonio Gramsci's of cultural hegemony, and Michel Foucault's theorization of discourse (the knowledge-and-power relation).
Said wrote, "The Orient is a stage on which the whole East is confined" in order to make the Eastern world "less fearsome to the West" so that Western nations and their empires could exploit underdeveloped countries, by the extraction of wealth and labour from one country to another country.
Sri Lanka has been cursed with many "prejudiced outsider-interpretations". Starting in 2009, I used to write a monthly column on Sri Lanka for Diplo, the blog of the prestigious monthly Le Monde diplomatique. The articles were appreciated by Wendy Kristianasen, the editor of the English-language edition, and for a while she pressed me to send more copy. Most comments on these pieces were along the lines of "professional" and "unbiased", and one reader in Canada compared me to a famous Canadian journalist. Not everyone was happy. One reader called me a government lackey and another called me a regurgitator of terrorist propaganda. I received an e-mail addressing me as "you crazed Irish monkey, you IRA fugitive. You should be in a zoo or an asylum".
Diplo turned nasty when Wendy asked for my opinion on a piece about Sri Lanka by a Frenchman called Cédric Gouverneur. "It will be rather a statement of the obvious for you, but it is a good way to get the wider world interested in the country and its complex politics." My response was that it was unhelpful to get the wider world interested if the wider world gets interested in a distorted picture. Her response was: "I think, for what it's worth, that the West knows very little about Sri Lanka, particularly outside of the UK. ... Most ordinary people simply know that there was a long, difficult conflict. That's all. Whereas what goes on in Iraq, Afghanistan, and particularly Israel, is widely reported on, in every detail, and closely followed. Every ordinary person has an opinion on those subjects, and may even feel him/herself to be an armchair expert."
Cédric Gouverneur wrote about Sri Lanka back in 2004: "Many observers would wager that the LTTE will evolve mid-term, influenced by the Tamil Diaspora (accustomed to Western democracy after 20 years of exile) and their own pragmatic leaders, who are increasingly political and less warlike." So much for that armchair expert! That ludicrous prophesy did not stop Le Monde diplomatique giving him another shot at analysing Sri Lanka in 2010.
As well as many highly debatable judgements gleaned after interviews with LTTE supporters the article was riddled with factual inaccuracies. There were many serious howlers in the historical timeline headed "Thirty years of civil war." I will not bore you with all of them. The thirty years begins with 1815 (surely something wrong with the arithmetic!). "The British finish colonising the island, previously divided into three kingdoms – two Sinhalese, one Tamil." The most egregious error is "December 2009.
Rival candidates President Rajapaksa and the former chief of staff, Sarath Fonseka, dispute the election results." How could they dispute the results in December 2009 of an election which did not take place until January 2010?
Kristianasen was not pleased when I drew her attention to these flaws. She said "I must ask you to commit yourself to responsible journalism". This schoolmarmish rapping of knuckles was particularly galling because she was not paying me and was passing my articles on to others who were not paying me. One article appeared in the New York Times which did not pay me, ask my permission or even notify me that they were going to publish. Monsieur Gouverneur sent me an angry and abusive e-mail after Wendy forwarded to him my e-mail to her without my permission.
Way Down Yonder
Way back in 2010, Joshua M Schoop, after spending a full three months in Sri Lanka , decided to tell us - in an article in the magazine Groundview (published by CHA – Consortium of Humanitarian Agencies) – where we were going wrong. "The destitution and ineptitude in Mannar Town and the surrounding area is visible to anyone". "Natives are suffering immensely from the impacts of the war." Does anyone use the word 'natives' anymore? "In progressive nations, this is where a government would come in to assist." Josh conceded the government has built new roads which helped the local economy but the roads were "helpful for military operations". Was the Army not doing useful work de-mining and rebuilding? What have the Romans ever done for us?
Josh was studying for a Masters in International Development at Tulane. It was very Orientalist for someone from Louisiana to be superior about Sri Lanka. Following the American civil war, Louisiana, was under martial law. Before the civil war, Louisiana's wealth depended on slavery.
White Democrats blocked black voter-registration and institutionalised racial discrimination. 47% of Louisiana's population in 1900 was African-American – 652,013 black citizens. By 1910, there were only 730 black voters. White Democrats had established one-party rule which they maintained long into the 20th Century. Today, Louisiana has poverty, crime and health indicators, particularly for blacks, equivalent to third- world nations.The average life-span of an African-American in New Orleans is nearly as low as in North Korea. Louisiana's poverty rate is 19.2%; more than 26% of the State's children live in poverty. The gap between rich and poor continues to widen. Use of food stamps jumped 13 % in 2008 to nearly 9.8 million US households, led by Louisiana. Louisiana's murder rate has been the highest in the US for 21 consecutive years. Louisiana's incarceration rate has been the highest of any state for the last 20 years; it retains the death penalty.
Cédric Gouverneur thought I was annoyed because he was in the print edition of Le Monde diplomatique and I wasn't. Damn right! The chaps at LRB probably think that I am suffering from sour grapes because I have submitted articles to them that they have thought were not up to their impeccable standards. Too true! They have rejected my articles but are quite happy to publish articles that are crawling with errors. I forgive them. I will continue reading and enjoying and being stimulated by LRB. I just hope that the next time they deign to look at Sri Lanka they will ask me – or Jonathan Spencer.
Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President says Bus lanes are good but more needs to be done
Mahinda Rajapaksa :I did my best for the CountrySays Constitution allows him to become Prime Minister
- Modern slavery most prevalent in Africa followed by Asia and Pacific 2785
- Sexual dissatisfaction main cause of divorce in Iran 2835
- Oral cancer kills 3 daily 2,400 new patients each year 2849
- Lanka, Iran in prisoner swap Agreement to be signed soon 2774
- WAN perturbed over Disappearances Bill Government reneging on commitments 2786
- CaFFE decries PC Amendment Bill ‘Laughing mixture’ of hybrid electioneering 2782
- Social Innovation Lab 2770
- US training for Customs officials Strategic Trade Enforcement 2771
- Excavation in Gommunnakanda 450 families affected 2771
- Kamal Hassan enters politics 2809
- Mangala gets his first Rs 5k note 2771
- To Maximize Hambantota’s True Potential Recognize China’s Importance – Hang 2781
- Grenades found at SLIC 2765
- NFIs In GSM Pass Rs 80B 2768
- ‘Deranged’ Trump will pay dearly for UN speech – Kim 2767
- Extending Marine Drive ‘New tech’ to save S. Thomas’ – Kiriella 3157
- Amendments to LG ordinances Debate on 26 Sept 2768
- Stance on interim report JO MPs to seek MR’s view 2765
- Schoolchildren in ‘Osari Pota’ issue NCPA furious, launches full probe 2782
- Interim Report on Constitutional Amendments attacked Play on critical words risk country’s sovereignty – SP Gov 2769
- Talks between Sirisena & Deuba SAARC takes centre stage 2763
- Handunnetti says: Failed Airbus deal cost the Govt USD 125 M Halt production on orders to cut losses 2767
- Rebuilding Sri Lanka President Sirisena seeks US help 2769
- Soft liquor laws to be relaxed Move essential for tourism 2779
- Treasury Bonds Probe Undated letter a complete fabrication – ASG 2819
- Between men and women A yawning gap 2120
- Salient features of a new Constitution 2148
- A Time of Gifts The Byron Conference in Greece 2151
- How will coins and notes make up 100 million? 2161
- People’s worst enemy 2163
- Cricketers challenge Pramodya’s allegations 2478
- NOC not responsible in selection process - Hemasiri 2504
- Wilwara brace in vain as Kandy lose 23-24 2474
- Sri Lanka face uphill task in group A 2476
- Prima Champions Cup U-15 Provincials Cricket Western Province Central and Uva win 2467
- De Mazenod marks only win 2466
- Amazing Anitha vaults to new SL record 2643
- Over 350 rowers vying for honours 2462
- Burgher Association Cricket Sixes 2461
- 24th Richmond - Aloysius Annual Rugby Encounter Keen tussle expected in Galle today 2464
- Within the arc of Chinese influence 3219
- Big Ivan – Russia’s Bang! 2356
- Sri Lanka is a stable country now 2838
- Heading Hybrid Renewable Energy Lights Up Eluvaithivu Island 3031
- ‘Capacity To Pay’, ‘Ability To Pay’ Govt’s New Rates Question Tax Principles 3668
- Mother was a steadfast support to my father Chathurika Sirisena 4081
- I will take legal action against ‘footnote’ accusations – Sujeewa Senasinghe 3342
- We are making plans to topple the Government 3824
- We will not support the 20th Amendment – Suresh Premachandran 3140
- Lanka Private Bus Owners’ Association President says Bus lanes are good but more needs to be done 2933
- Who Rules America? The Power Elite in the Time of Trump 2482
- How do you like your wine – with a cork or screw-cap? 2472
- Toys ‘R’ us bankruptcy How bad assumptions feed bad financial planning, creating failure 2472
- Financial companies need to reinvent 3029
- TEA REVENUE TOPS RS 150B 3028
- Inflation accelerates to 7.9% in August 3011
- Cyber threats: Global stock exchanges vigilant 3006
- Shares fall ending 5-day streak 3007
- Google signs $1.1B HTC smartphone deal 3015
- $ 77M Drained For Debt Servicing 3001
- Executing an Executive order 2769
- What are The Best Laxative Foods? 2589
- YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER 3609
- NASA's spacecraft makes death plunge into Saturn 2513
- Latest addition to the iphone family 2506
- best workout songs 1847
- BOUNCE BACK: AN OPEN MIC 1964
- Cosplayer fame 2211
- Astrological clue to the nature of your progeny 2445
- Vasu Defects that Affect Business Places 2432
- Venus the planet of love 2428
- Egypt before Pharaohs: When Gods ruled the Earth 2398
- Omens connected with muscle twitching 2387
- Body of the Text 3107
- Academic approaches to peace building and reconciliation 3116
- Insights into the life of remarkable missionary 3150
- Theatre Critics 3068
- Jaffna International Cinema Festival 2017 (JaffnaICF 2017) 3092
- Grammar through Literature and A Thousand Voiced Choir 3070
- Healing the wounded hearts 3066
- Labour power discourse in cinema 3348
- Animals in thirst 2755
- Enhancing life to the very end 2768
- Hearts break in silence 2757
- Awards for alumni at ‘the best school of all’ 2725
- Blue sky in warm champagne 2724
- A will of steel 2723
- Neural engines: the future of AI 2423
- CLOSING SOME WINDOWS 2416
- Celebrating 23 years 2419
- Dahl’s Twisted, Overlooked Stories for Adults 2397
- Powerful voices and musical talent 2399
- The business of fandom 2407