Language & Literature: The Other in "Maname"

Essay, 2011

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Language and Literature: The Other in Maname

Nimmi Nalika Menike

Center for Linguistics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

Abstract: The intention of the paper is to discuss the ‘space of literature’ as the space of the other taking the ideas of Derrida, Levinas, Blanchot, and Deleuze into account. Accordingly, paper would consider literature as fictive institution which appears in and through writing through language. This would be analyzed through a Sinhala play ‘Maname’ written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra.

Since the everyday life and the world, where the mechanism of domination and subordination is inevitably in practice through which the other and the space of the other is pre-decided and pre-planned, is so much caught up within the given language and the meaning, there is no space for other to appear. It is only in the ‘space of literature’ one may experience the infinite appearance of the other through writing. But, here, it is important to ask the question “what is literature”? In conventional terms, literature has been understood either as a representation of practical world or, according to Sartre in his ‘What is literature? (1949)’, as a powerful instrument that can be used to ‘transform’ the world.

But, according to Derrida, literature is neither a representation of the world nor a powerful instrument that can be used to change the world, but ‘a strange institution’. For Derrida, literature is an ‘institution which allows one to say everything, in every way. The space of literature is not only that of an instituted fiction but also a fictive institution which in principle allows one to say everything’ (Derrida, 1992: 36). This institution of fiction or fictive institution gives not only the power to say everything, but also ‘to break free of the rules, to displace them, and thereby to institute, to invent and even to suspect the traditional difference between nature and institution, nature and conventional law, nature and history’ (Derrida, 1992: 37).

However, the ‘freedom to say everything’ discussed by Derrida should not be understood as something in terms of ‘power’ that can be used to go ‘against’ the world and to ‘transform’ the world. Instead, it has to be understood as the ‘freedom’ to appear, not as an identifiable ‘form’, but as a ‘force’ which can command me not through commanding or ordering but through ‘appealing’ where the face of the other becomes more ‘powerful’. And, it is to this appeal I am asked to respond where the very respond is seen as the responsibility to the other, and also the very responsibility that is to appear as the response.

On the other hand, as Derrida says, ‘The freedom to say everything is a very powerful political weapon, but one which might immediately let itself be neutralized as a fiction’ (Derrida 1992: 38). In that sense, in literature and also through literature, there is a passive resistance where ‘resistance and passivity’ appear together and simultaneously as the two side of the same coin. The very power that literature is having is actually ‘the “power” that language is capable of, the power that there is, as language or as writing. And it is also, (here ‘it’ is referred to literature and language), the point where we find the surprise of ‘there is’ and ‘there is not’ that comes when we do not try to find , and that which disappears when we want to touch it or point out it with the identification as ‘language’ or ‘literature’. Because, language or literature is not a point of understanding, but a way of responding to the other. But, as this other is the other of whom or of which one does not have any understanding, there is always an undecidability in relation to the other and the responsibility to the other. The idea of literature as the space of the other can be analyzed through a Sinhala play ‘Maname’ written by Ediriweera Sarachchandra.

‘Maname’, through writing, can be seen as the space of the other, as well as space for the other created in and through the other (in the sense of author’s becoming other), even the very space of the other is ‘ungraspable’, ‘unoccupiable’, and ‘undefinable’, since literature is a ‘fictive institution’. It is through literature through writing the other could experience the very freedom to appear not with an unchallengeable strength and power to go against the dominant power, push one out from the very position of holding power and then to occupy the same position with the very victorious voice where words and sentences sound very ‘coherent’ and ‘stable’, but to appear for the very reason that one is really ‘powerless’, therefore to make an appeal with a very ‘feeble’ voice. That ‘feebleness’ is thus so powerful in terms of powerlessness that one does not understand how to appeal, what to appeal, where to appeal and when to appeal because one is in ‘pain’ being ‘feeble’. But, since one is under so much suffering which is unbearable anymore will make an effort to articulate what one could not articulate for long time since one was not given the chance or space to express the way one feels, as one was made to go with the very given role of ‘listener’ who was supposed only to listen and obey without questioning, without interrupting the very spontaneous flow of the speaker. Thus, one who had to wait till the chance is given and who could not get it after waiting for so long tries to find a way to interrupt the spontaneous speech. This way of interrupting is nothing but writing. One writes so that one could raise his or her voice though it is loaded with ‘fear and trembling’, therefore sounds like ‘stuttering’ and ‘stammering’.

Accordingly, in Maname, we see how the princess makes an appeal to the prince not to kill the vedda (bandit). “My dear, at last you won the fight. Even he could get the help of his fellow men to defeat us, he didn’t do so. Instead, he fought alone. Therefore, it’s not worth killing him, let him go”. Here, the argument that the princess brings out is very powerful. She sees the way the vedda and the prince fight with each other. Both are equally powerful and talented. But, finally, the prince manages to defeat the vedda. Now, the vedda – the defeated- is in the clutch of the prince and he is asking the princess to give his sword to kill him. It is at this point she makes her appeal, not because of the power she got to appeal but because she remembers the very ‘promise’ that was made ‘before’ the fight starts. According to the promise, the prince and the vedda should fight with each other, but the fight has to be only between the two. That is why vedda asks his people to go away from the battle field. This promise made before the beginning of the fight was ‘forgotten’ by the prince, and asks the help of a third person to end the fight. It is this ‘forgotten promise’ that the princess is talking about in a very appealing manner. Her appeal is ‘not to’ kill the vedda, because it is unnecessary as he has already been defeated. Therefore, she requests the prince to ‘let him go!’; she tries to give space for the other making the very request ‘let him go!’ because she could see the very powerless face of the other – the vedda, where she could not forget her responsibility towards the other. As Levinas says, ‘The relationship with the other in his alterity consists in being appealed to, and contested, by the other. The movement comes from without; alterity is not posited by any act of my subjectivity, the imperative word that comes to bind me does not originate in a synthesis affected by my subjectivity according to its own priories. The approach of the other has to be conceived as an empirical and contingent event, […] On the other hand, as a relationship out of which responsibility arises, exercised in initiatives, and eventually in thematizations, cognitions and actions […] (Levinas, 1994: xvii)

Literature through writing through which the other appears infinitely has been seen by Blanchot as the discovery of ‘the interminable’. According to him, ‘the writer who enters this region does not leave himself behind in order to approach the universal. He does not move toward a surer world, a finite or better justified world where everything would be ordered according to the clarity of the impartial light of day. He does not discover the admirable language which speaks honourably for all’ (Blanchot, 1982: 28). He writes what he wants and feels letting things to be revealed by themselves without having any identity as such, because, as Kafka says one writes when one ‘bleeds’. In that sense, the language and the world which appear in front of us in ‘Maname’ is not a ‘surer world, a finite or better justified world where everyone is pleased’. It is the world and the language that Sarachchandra creates to discover himself as the other. He writes, like Blanchot says in his Space of literature (1982), to create the space for other to speak ‘of what cannot cease speaking’. Accordingly, it is through the princess in the play he speaks of what cannot cease speaking at the moment of the face of the ‘powerless’ (the bandit) becomes ‘powerfull’.


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Language & Literature: The Other in "Maname"
Jawaharlal Nehru University
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ISBN (Book)
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Literature, Linguistics, Language and Philosophy, Other, Ethics, Blanchot, Derrida, Levinas, Literary Theory, Maname, Ediriweera Sarachchandra, Sri Lankan Literature
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Nimmi Menike (Author), 2011, Language & Literature: The Other in "Maname", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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