Double reading Viragaya | Sunday Observer
Behind the Mask

Double reading Viragaya

3 October, 2021

Roland Barthe’s concept the ‘Death of the Author’ does not refer to a naïve idea of the author’s physical death. It is a symbolic death that takes place in the universe of the reading. This means that the reader makes a reading that goes beyond the author’s intention.

Martin Wickramasingha, the author of the novel Viragaya, has been physically dead for a long time. According to the above stance, the author of the novel Viragaya is less likely to have died symbolically before or after his physical death. An exaggerated expression about classical writers is that they live even after their death. This means that author’s dominance is not yet dead in the reader’s reading.

In fact, the author lives even after his death not by the reader’s adherence to the author’s intention which he devoured as he is given. The author lives forever in reader’s re – reading of the particular text or rather re - writing it.

In this article, I seek to deconstruct the dominant readings of the novel Viragaya. Here we need to clarify what is meant by dominant reading. In this juncture I will introduce an idea that Jaque Derrida has expressed about this kind of reading.

In fact, Derrida introduces, in his text ‘Limited Inc.’, as an afterword for his earlier text ‘Of Grammatology’, a kind of textual practice which is referred to as double reading. It is a reading that interweaves or rather binds intricately together at least two motifs (layers) of reading.

The first reading is a repeating of the text what Derrida calls ‘the dominant interpretation’ of a text in the guise of a commentary. In the second reading for Derrida, within that repetition, opens the text up to the blind spots or ellipses within the dominant interpretation.

Now the question is what Derrida means by the word ‘commentary’ in this context. Derrida clarifies it in his text ‘Limited Inc.’, in page 265, as follows.

“The moment of what I called, perhaps clumsily, ‘double commentary’ does not suppose the self – identity of ‘meaning’ but relative stability of the dominant interpretation (including the auto interpretation) of the text being commented upon.”

In that context, for Derrida, the moment of commentary refers to the reproducibility and stability of the dominant interpretation of a text: for example, the traditional logo centric reading (or misreading) of Viragaya. Now, if we do a commentary on Viragaya our examination must lead to find out the dominant interpretation of the novel.

A long time ago, when the film Viragaya was shown, Tissa Abesekera, the director of the film, presented an analysis of the novel based on the film. For him Aravinda, the protagonist of Viragaya, is a humble character created within Sinhala Buddhist culture. Although the words used by Tissa were not the same, he expressed such an idea.

For me, this reading does not proceed beyond the author’s intention and the author’s dominance is evident here. Although it has been a long time since Wickramasingaha died, still, he is symbolically alive in the universe of Tissa Abesekara’s reading.

According to Wickramasingha , Aravinda is a character who has been accustomed to a meagre life by the rural culture and environment. Many including Tissa Abesekara echoed the author’s view above, but were unable to make another reading about Viragaya. Even today, readings of this novel reveal the author’s dominance. This is what Derrida refers to as dominance interpretation of a text.

The author’s dominance in reading of Viragaya has been over determined by number of such readings. Wicramasingha himself has made an attempt to summaries those readings in his book Sinhala Nawakathaawa Saha Japan Kaama Kathaa Hewanella (Sinhalese novel and the shadow of Japanese erotic narratives) as follows. (Consider that this is my translation of Wickramasingha’s findings.)

1. Aravinda was accustomed to a meagre life, in which one decline to follow a luxury lifestyle since lack of desire, disciplined by Buddhist culture or rural culture.

2. He is not intolerant of women but loves them.

3. His lack of desire rejects the bodily lust.

4. In this mental conflict, Aravinda is not a sufferer but a pleasure seeker.

6. He experiences both pleasure and pain in his masochistic way of life.

All the above features of Aravinda’s character are the consequences of his Sinhala Buddhist cultural roots. Accordingly, Aravinda declines to elope with Sarojini and made to marry his second lover Bathee to Jinadasa due to above Sinhala Buddhist character traits.

However, why weren’t people like Sarojini, Bathee, Menaka and Jinadasa in this Sinhala Buddhist village as inactive as Aravinda? So far no one was able to give a perfect answer to that question. The critics who labeled Aravinda as a loser or an inactive character were not able to give an answer.

Perhaps, in furtherance of this reading, in the light of Derrida’s double reading, we would be able to find a solution to this issue.

To be continued.