17 January 2019

Birte Heidemann-Malreddy (Bremen):
Towards a Narrative of (Re)Conciliation? Post-War Sri Lankan Literature in English

18:00 c. t. - room IG 4.201

We are fast approaching the tenth anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s three decades long civil war between the army and the insurgents of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). And yet, since the war’s brutal ending in May 2009, the Sri Lankan governments – old and new – have not been engaged in any serious efforts to address the country’s longstanding political challenge of competing ethno-nationalisms, let alone to pursue the transitional justice policies promised to the UN Human Rights Council. The government’s very deferral of political actions in addressing its reconciliation agenda has opened up a niche for negotiation in the domains of art, literature and cultural politics. This holds particularly true for the burgeoning body of Sri Lankan literature in English – novels, poetry, autobiographies and narrative journalism – that has forged a counter-narrative to an increasingly institutionalised politics of truth, forgiveness and peace-building.

Given the island’s complex legacy of colonisation by three different empires, this talk contends that the very notion of reconciliation is inadequate, if not unattainable, in a Sri Lankan context. To reconcile suggests a return to a prior stage of conciliation which, for postcolonial societies, has never existed in the very first place (McGonegal 2009; Christie 2009). With this in mind, my talk sets out to explore the amorphous nature of the reconciliation discourse through three interrelated conceptual frames – suffering (Levinas), consolation (Simmel; Blumenberg; James) and disconsolation (Lazarus; Wright). The discussion draws attention to the ethical limits of reconciliation, something that has found a renewed expression in the emergent canon of post-war Sri Lankan literature. My reading of select texts – fiction and non-fiction – engages with how the various narrative strategies deployed are devised to confront us with daunting ethical questions about the country’s unresolved narrative of (re)conciliation.

Birte Heidemann-Malreddy is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Chair of Postcolonial Literary and Cultural Studies, University of Bremen, Germany. Her research interests are in postcolonial theory, literary and cultural expressions of post-conflict societies, particularly Northern Ireland and Sri Lanka, and post-9/11 fiction. She is the author of Post-Agreement Northern Irish Literature (Palgrave, 2016) and co-editor of From Popular Goethe to Global Pop (Rodopi, 2013), Reworking Postcolonialism (Palgrave, 2015) and two special editions of the Journal of Postcolonial Writing (vol. 47.5 and 48.3). She is currently working on a book-length study of post-war Sri Lankan Anglophone literature.