Many paths through Diaspora literature | Daily News


Many paths through Diaspora literature

In Sri Lanka, Diaspora is a widely used term albeit in a different context. Most Sri Lankans identify Diaspora as entirely Tamil especially the ethnic group who sponsored the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a Tamil militant organisation based in northeastern Sri Lanka.

On the contrary, the diaspora has a wider meaning as a standalone term. The word surfaces initially in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament of the Holy Bible. The reference is made to the dispersion of Jews among the Gentiles or the Jews as thus scattered. Diaspora, therefore, can refer to the dispersion as well as the totality of the dispersed. The word stems from dispersion.

The verbal substantive, diaspora, commonly translated as “scattered,” occurs thrice in the New Testament (John 7:35; James 1:1; 1 Peter 1:1).

In John 7:35, the Jews in Palestine call two major aspects into question:

Where does this man intend to go that we cannot find him?

Will he go where our people live scattered among the Greeks and teach the Greeks?

These questions point us to the nature of the Jewish minority among other religions, particularly the Greek-speaking society.

Diaspora originally specified the dispersal of the Jews. However, in the current globalised context, the term has developed into a concept. The concept deals essentially with global movements and migrations such as Romanian, African, Asian, black, Sikh, Irish, Lebanese, Palestinian and Atlantic. The growth of diaspora as a concept has evolved into associated terms such as displacement, borders and crossings.

Martin Bauman defines the nature of diaspora as follows: “The idea of Diaspora has been celebrated as expressing notions of hybridity, heterogeneity, identity, fragmentation and (re)construction, double consciousness, fractures of memory, ambivalence, roots and routes, discrepant cosmopolitanism, multilocationality and so forth”.

Jason Frydman takes Bauman’s interpretation further:

“The large-scale displacements and migrations produced by and productive of the modern world economic system have deeply imprinted global literary production: the African, Chinese, and Indian diasporas fueled by colonial political economy, for example, have attained an expansive and overlapping textual presence throughout Europe and Asia, Africa and the Americas.”

Frydman links Diaspora with literature:

“If in many ways it appears, though, that diasporic writing manifests the border-crossing promise foundational to the world literature idea, it just as reliably forges a counter-discourse challenging the temporal and spatial trajectories operative in Eurocentric theorizations of world literature and its history.”

The Sri Lankan diaspora include Sri Lankan emigrants and expatriates from Sri Lanka and their descendants who reside in a foreign country.

Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora emerged as a separate discourse during the Sri Lankan civil war held between 1983 and 2009. Sri Lankan Sinhalese diaspora is usually overshadowed by the more numerous and better known Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora, hence little-discussed. The Sri Lankan Sinhalese diaspora includes middle-/upper middle-class migrants, whose migration, assimilation and resettlement encompass a very particular set of issues, especially with relation to their class and background. Middle-/upper middle-class Sinhalese migrants from Sri Lanka are more commonly economic migrants (as opposed to political migrants, refugees or asylum seekers among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora).

William Safran explains Diaspora in terms of its academic growth.

“Diaspora has become an increasingly trendy concept throughout the academic world. This is not surprising, given the incessant movement of peoples from one country, region, or continent to another for a variety of reasons: economic, political, social, and cultural. This phenomenon has called into question the relevance of the ideal-type of the “nation-state,” or, more exactly, of the congruence of nation and state, and has created a situation where the societies of most countries are becoming multiethnic, multicultural, multiracial, and pluralistic. Minority populations were once referred to as refugees, immigrants, expatriates, asylum seekers, or guest workers; these categorizations seemed to be sufficient, for how else could one explain the fact that most specialists on nationalism, ethnicity, and even migration did not deal with diaspora as a distinct category or mention it at all, at least until very recently. The reason for this omission was perhaps the fact that diasporas were not considered “communal contenders” politically mobilizing for separatism or for special institutional recognition within their host countries. In any case, today many, if not most, of these categories tend to be conflated and put under the single rubric of “diasporas.”

Diaspora or diaspora literature studies have now become a subject extensively studied with reference to the postcolonial geographical scholarship. Theories have been formulated with various features. They have an impact on the literature of every language in the world. This phenomenon has birthed the term Expatriate or Diasporic Literature.

Diasporic Literature is a very vast concept and an umbrella term that includes in it all those literary works written by the authors outside their native country, but these works are associated with native culture and background. In this wide context, all those writers can be regarded as diasporic writers, who write outside their country but remained related to their homeland through their works. Diasporic literature has its roots in the sense of loss and alienation, which emerged as a result of migration and expatriation.

Sri Lankan diaspora is scattered across the globe in countries such as Great Britain, Canada and Australia. Whether the Sri Lankan diasporic writers represent their culture, and to what effect, needs to be studied.

For an expatriate settled down in a foreign country, culture may seem a different picture. Salman Rushdie explains it in ‘Imaginary Homeland’.

“It may be argued that the past is a country from which we have all emigrated, that its loss is part of our common humanity. Which seems to me self-evidently true; but I suggest that the writer who is out-of-country and even out-of-language may experience this loss in an intensified form. It is made more concrete for him by the physical fact of discontinuity, of his present being in a different place from his past, of his being ‘elsewhere’. This may enable him to speak properly and concretely on a subject of a universal significance and appeal.”

As an author who is issued fatwah now domiciled in Great Britain as a Diaspora writer, Salman Rushdie’s opinion matters here. At the same time it raises the issue: can Diasporic writers claim a licence (similar to poetic licence) to enter an imaginary homeland deviating from the norms of the culture they were born with?

Homi K Bhaba takes Rushdie’s point a little further:

“Our existence today is marked by a tenebrous sense of survival, living on the borderlines of the present, for which there seems to be no proper name other than the current and controversial shiftiness of the prefix ‘post’: postmodernism, postcolonialism, postfeminism…”

Diasporic writers from their original country living in the host country cannot evade the cultural hybridity. To sustain the hybridity, they need to create an imaginary homeland in their fiction.

JH Mueller (1935) states that the sociologists of the United States did not pay much attention to literature and art. Like many sociologists, Mueller adds, they paid heavy attention to the instrumental elements of the society. Albrecht (1954) offers a reason. He expounds that this period was rife with a heavy volume of social issues. Dealing with them demanded urgency.

This is the era of modern media far beyond the television and cinema. The scope of entertainment for the masses has become spacious. That led to the obvious misnomer: the people tend to think that every question has a quick solution in clear contrast to the past. Judith Ceasar observes that literature confirms the real complexity of human experience.

That confirms the universal position acquired by literature. However, literature cannot exist – or reach masses – without media. Media cannot exist without literature. Both spheres have become interdependent. Literature essentially portrays the creative picture or the interpretation of what gets reported in the media.


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