Monday, March 30, 2009

Singing to Sri Lanka


At his last public poetry reading, Osip Mandelstam was challenged by an audience member to explain why he wrote so much about antique Greece and contemporary Western Europe. Mandelstam, who had already been weakened physically and mentally by years of harrassment by Stalin's culture police, and would soon disappear forever into the vortex of the gulags, defiantly replied that he had 'a homesickness for world culture'.

Kiwi-French musician and writer Bill Direen would surely blush at being mentioned in the same breath as Mandelstam, but he shares with the ill-fated Russian genius the conviction that internationalist politics are of no use if they are not grounded in an internationalist cultural outlook. Direen's journal Percutio is a bold and perhaps bloody-minded attempt to open a dialogue, or a series of dialogues, between cultural milieux that are too often separated by ignorance or outright prejudice. It is hard to think of another publication that would have the nerve to put poems about the nineteenth century Maori prophet Te Kooti into French, to reprint a long essay about ancient Sri Lankan graffitti by a French scholar, to reproduce the eerie images of Dunedin free noise musician and artist Nigel Bunn, and to still find room for an English-language summary of the latest action in the avant-garde theatres of Paris.

Direen is always interested in going where others fear to tread, so it is appropriate that the unfashionable conflict on the island of Ceylon will be part of the next issue of Percutio. In a recent e mail, Direen told me about an intriguing work he is preparing for print:

I have received a song lyric (and the sheet music is about to be scanned) for the next Percutio (2009) which might interest your readers. 'I long for peace in Sigiriya and Pidurangala' is a song by Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, who wrote an essay on translating the Sigiriya graffiti in Percutio 2008. These graffiti were actually poetic lines of appreciation by visitors to the painted images of women over the course of several centuries.

Dr Coulardeau has collected all descriptive elements of these famous Ladies of Sigiriya and recomposed them into his song in English (which has its own musical accompaniment in Sri Lanka) and in French. A project exists to bring together the most striking graffiti into a poetic show with musical and theatrical setting, but it seems to have encountered some resistance (Sri Lanka not being as fashionable as India right now).


As readers of your blog will be aware, Sri Lanka has been incapacitated by the ongoing struggle for secession by the Tamil Tigers. Dr Coulardeau believes that "the Ladies of Sigiriya should inspire us to believe that a political solution integrating a Hindu Tamil minority in Sri Lanka is possible. The condition is, naturally, that both sides detach themselves from their narrow nationalistic approaches. Such detachment, which is quite Buddhist in inspiration, can only occur when the weapons of war fall silent."

Whether or not the conflict in Ceylon lends itself to such an easy solution is, of course, very much open to question. Anybody who has read about the long history of oppression of the Tamil minority by Sri Lanka's Sinhala ruling class may doubt that Sinhala and Tamil nationalism should shoulder the same responsibility for the current crisis on the island. Bill Direen is to be congratulated, though, for trying to bring the history and cultures of an unjustly neglected part of the world to the attention of parochial Kiwis like myself. I look forward to reading Coulardeau's lyric in the next issue of Percutio.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Evolution is just a way for unbelievers to justify why they are here on earth. Its stupid, unlogical and down right foolish, because something, cant be created from nothing! Think about it! They talk of everything beginning with the big boom, OK, well something had to be created to cause a boom! Right?

9:25 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

hahaha "unlogical" "big boom". Oh the irony. Anyway, maps another great post.

9:59 am  
Anonymous Sheera said...

I dont call it "evolution" I call it Evilution. Evil-lution. The idea that people are related to fish is just a crazy evil idea. It is related to sodomy and children molestation. During my years of study the bible I have discovered that if you add all the Ds in the bible and then add the As, then you are actually looking at D+A=E because as you know, A is the number 1 in the alphabet and D is the number 4 and E is number 5, chronologically. Now this means that the number 5, which is E, for Evilution, appears 410579 times in the bible. Now if you multiply this number by 10, you get 4105790, which is the population of New Zealand on October 25 2007.
What this signifies is that not only is NZ a CHRSITian country, based on the bible, but that G_d is not pleased by the number of Evilution followers who have come here from foreign countries such as Afghanistan. This talk is blasphemy and I hope that maps and the Sri Lankan community as a whole will return to their Sri Lanka and leave NZ forever.

1:17 pm  
Blogger Edward said...

Hahaha (slaps knee) awesome.

2:51 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure if the Tamils need advice from some aged Frenchman.
Maybe the Europeans should listen to the voices of the Tamils instead?

4:26 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the other Anonymous. The sane one above not the mad religious one.

If you want to "open a dialogue" why couldn't it be with Tamil and Sinhalese people themselves, rather than with centuries-old communal graffiti that can't talk back?

It's all too easy for the West to point the finger at Third World nationalisms. Sri Lanka was under the thumb of European nations/nationalism for a hell of a long time.

5:00 pm  
Blogger P.Dhayaharan said...

I am looking forward to reading the poem/graffiti, however I do not think the answers for the current conflict in Sri Lanka is in this ancient poem. Tamils and Singhalese has always been two different races, and just because British found it easy to govern this island under one administration, it doesn’t mean that we are a one nation. British did govern many nations, under one single flag, that doesn’t mean that they all are one nation, it is the same principle. Tamils and Singhalese were in the same island, that’s all. Even though both people lived in close approximately, it should be noted, the language, religion, culture and history are different for both people. If we can look at a poem for inspiration to resolve this conflict and live under one flag, why can’t we look at the whole history and the current humanitarian violations by the Singhalese government against the Tamils to justify the breaking up of this short term (relative to the history of this islands’ people) un-happy marriage with a lot of violations against Tamils. Why do people find it hard to accept that two nations would be better off to live as two different countries than as a one country where minority rights are abused?

5:26 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Yes old G was a great numbers man.

11:55 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

The point of presenting the Tamil poetry is to value the culture and gives dignity to people - whoever they are - I have a book of Tamil (or actually ancient Dravidian love poetry...it is great to have.) But if we are talking India and or Sri Lanka it is huge place with an ancient and complex history - so there are many poems and much art (and thus technology) we here don't know about.

A lot we do of course - the Taj Mahal, the huge Sanskrit poem Muhabbaratta. And (one example of tech.) steel making was invented or developed in India - for example

Thus Bill Direen is showing respect and valuing not only Tamil culture but all cultures - or as many as he can.

A far as I know Bill does not have an overtly "political agenda' - of course almost everything in some way has (or may have) political import.

BTW the "anonymous" talking about Evil-lution" has to be being humorous...otherwise he is also mad...

12:07 am  
Blogger Giovanni said...

Keith Ng's piece on Sri Lanka over at Public Address. In case it escaped your attention.

9:55 pm  

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