12 April 2023

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal

[This series, 'The Morning Inspection,' published in the Daily News began on December 9, 2022. This is the 100th article. Anusha Palpita, Chairman, ANCL, offered the space and Jayantha Sri Nissanka, Editor of the Daily News accommodated. I am thankful to both. Links to all the other 99 articles are given below.] 

Not all artists die in poverty. Not all poets die in obscurity. And yet there are many who are now well known but did in fact struggle to make ends meet and were largely unknown in their lifetimes.

The number of writers, painters, sculptors and other artists who lived and died in poverty and whose work is as yet unknown even though they may be exceptional, remains unknown. Probably hundreds of thousands over the years.

Everyone dies and everyone dies many times before being officially pronounced dead. Artists too. What’s different is that they are dead the moment they produce their art, the moment it enters the public sphere.

Sure, the name is on the book, the signature on the painting and an entry in some register noting who produced what and perhaps when and for whom, but ownership is something else. Of course we are not talking about publisher’s rights or the submission of commissioned work. The thing about any work of art whether acquired or not is that it becomes the property of someone other than its creator.

Shared ownership, then, but then again, it is claimed that the author perished the moment the text, in whatever form, is completed. Not only does poetry belong to the reader, paternity or maternity is either denied or dismissed as irrelevant.

Sometimes, the personal lives and the political and ideological preferences of the artist are clinically and mercilessly examined, judgment passed and execution carried out. The artist dies and is thereafter murdered many times over. Even long after being pronounced dead.

It is a fascinating spectacle. Authors, as humanly frail as anyone else, produce something that delights one way or another. Those who are delighted and others who are so disgusted by the authors’ frailties that they do not even want to turn a single page, proceed to look for blemishes. These are discussed with vigour and delight.

Readers are insulated from such scrutiny. They ride moral high horses carrying instruments that enable investigation. They also have at their disposal knives, machine guns, grenades and even drones. Not all readers embark on such adventures, but then it doesn’t take an army to bring down an unarmed and more often than not impoverished artist.
Long before the ink has dried
long before word is read and duly owned
long before critic dissects
long before the next thing displaces
long before history is unearthed
long before they delve and discover
long before the darkness is noted
long before they spur and declare
'the author is dead,
and may the author never rest in peace,'
there are many deaths and resurrection
perhaps also a thought or two
of possible immortality
but conviction in the interim
of happy surrender
of everything that counts,
the words, the words, the words
for the price of eternal and varied insult --
author died because author lived
and despite blemish,

So that’s it. Remuneration (if such there is) is typically abysmal. Writers are creators of wealth for publishing houses, some of which keep things opaque to cheat authors of royalties. What they offer upon the inevitable pain of death, is passed around and bequeathed by one generation to the next. They engender ‘babies,’ as some may call them, and these end up being owned by many, each owner convinced that the children are theirs and theirs alone.  

What most readers, critics and other assassins consistently fail to understand is that authors die so many times in breathing life to things neglected, opaque and even intangible that death or the threat of assassination simply does not have dissuading power. Indeed they create even as a thousand arrows fly towards their hearts and another thousand have perforated that poor, sullied and yet so resilient piece of flesh.

They don’t get to rest in peace, in life or in death, but they offer a silent prayer to those who would appreciate what they create: ‘go ahead, own it and delight in what you do with what you now possess.’ No thanks expected. No flowers requested for there just aren’t enough around to decorate the innumerable funerals of the truly great creative hearts of this world. 

['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is a new series. Links to previous articles in this new series are given below]

Other articles in this series:

When you turn 80...

It is good to be conscious of nudities 

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday

There's a one in a million and a one in ten

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature

Pathways missed

Architectures of the demolished

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts

Who the heck do you think I am?

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha'

The Mangala Sabhava

So how are things in Sri Lanka?

The most beautiful father

Palmam qui meruit ferat

The sweetest three-letter poem

Buddhangala Kamatahan

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked

Pure-Rathna, a class act

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles

Matters of honor and dignity

Yet another Mother's Day

A cockroach named 'Don't'

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara

Sweeping the clutter away

Some play music, others listen

Completing unfinished texts

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn

I am at Jaga Food, where are you?

On separating the missing from the disappeared

Moments without tenses

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have)

The world is made of waves


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya'

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced

Some stories are written on the covers themselves

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time 

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists?

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords

The books of disquiet

A song of terraced paddy fields

Of ants, bridges and possibilities

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva 

World's End

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse

Street corner stories

Who did not listen, who's not listening still?

The book of layering

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain

The world is made for re-colouring

The gift and yoke of bastardy

The 'English Smile'

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5

Visual cartographers and cartography

Ithaca from a long ago and right now

Lessons written in invisible ink

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness'

A tea-maker story seldom told

On academic activism

The interchangeability of light and darkness

Back to TRADITIONAL rice

Sisterhood: moments, just moments

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows

Sirith, like pirith, persist

Fragrances that will not be bottled 

Colours and textures of living heritage

Countries of the past, present and future

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains

The ways of the lotus

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville

Live and tell the tale as you will

Between struggle and cooperation

Of love and other intangibles

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions

The universe of smallness

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills

Serendipitous amber rules the world

Continents of the heart