I have been playing around with this idea in my head, of taking the Parliamentary Debate surrounding the Official Language Bill of 1956 and using it as a source text to create a poem, or a work of art, in some medium, from about the time I wrote ANTIPOEM, in early 2014. On June 19, 2015 I began. Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.23.58 PM This particular landmark of Sri Lanka’s history has been pointed to as one of the instigator’s of the eventual civil war that ensued for 30 years, a war that is now said to have ceased. In this time of peace, then, I wish to explore this conversation. Some of the readings that have influenced my approach towards this task, I am copying here:

“If a lion could speak, we would not be able to understand what he said Why do I say such a thing? To imagine a language is to imagine a form of life It’s what we do and who we are that gives meaning to our words I can’t understand a lion’s language because I don’t know what his world is like! How can I know the world a lion inhabits?”

– Ludwig Wittgenstein, dialogue from Wittgenstein (film)

“It would be absurd to suppose that human beings endowed with language cannot speak in the strict sense, as is the case for stones. Necessity would signify here: they do not speak because they are threatened with the worst in the case that they would speak, or when in general a direct or indirect attempt is made against their ability to speak. Let’s suppose that they keep quiet under threat. A contrary ability needs to be presupposed if the threat is to have an effect, since this threat bears upon the hypothesis of the opposite case, the one in which the survivors would speak. But how could a threat work when it is exerted upon something (here the eventuality that the survivors will speak) which does not currently exist? What is threatened? This is said to be the life, or happiness, etc … of the one who would speak. But the one who would speak (an unreal, conditional state) has no life. no happiness, etc., which can be threatened, since one is oneself unreal or conditional as long as one has not spoken. – if indeed it is that I am never but the addressor of a current phrase.” – Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend, Phrases in Dispute Translation by Georges Van Den Abbeele

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 6.52.55 PM
For my first attempt, I decided to employ a simple chance operation (methods of generating poetry independent of the author’s will) that treats the source text nine words at a time. Chance operation employed: For every nine words, the first, fifth, sixth and ninth are marked. These words are then lifted and placed on the blank page in the order of the first, ninth, fifth and sixth, followed by the next set. Results:

to official language as language to to enable be Prime the Hon. Minister Mr. Defence and Ponnambalam presented which has by for Minister is Second of to raise constitutional is submission the a Order 29 of in is The Hon. this Mr. to raise Ponnambalam sotto minister addresses voce most whether this appropriate myself that question addressed cannot that question think it appropriate moment than on is presented the for House I constitutional question is the regard this House to not that the be the as a constitution appropriate this is time it why I I Order say that

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 7.15.39 PM
Chance operation employed: For every nine words of the results of previous chance operation, the first, fifth, sixth and ninth are marked. These words are then lifted and placed on the blank page in the order of the first, ninth, fifth and sixth, followed by the next set. Results:

to be language to Prime presented Mr. Defence which to Minister is raise of the a in Ponnambalam sotto myself most whether that appropriate that question moment I presented the constitutional to the regard not appropriate the as this say why I

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 7.31.49 PM
Chance operation employed: For every nine words of the results of previous chance operation, the first, fifth, sixth and ninth are marked. These words are then lifted and placed on the blank page in the order of the first, ninth, fifth and sixth, followed by the next set. Result:

to which Prime presented to Ponnambalam of the sotto moment that appropriate I appropriate to the

Applying the method once more on the above line generates: to sotto to Ponnambalam. What I realized, after going through with this method on the first 255 words of the source text, is that I cannot control the emergence of words such as “of”, “the” and “and”, and, so, there would often be instances of “to to” and such. These stutters make for interesting performance affectations. What stood out to me, then, though, were the remainder of the words from the original 255 words of the source text. The first chance operation excluded them, and subsequent chance operations did not have any reason to interact with those words. And, so, I decided to take those excluded words and turn them into a poem, treating each line break of the original typesetting to decide the line breaks of the poem, and I used the final result of the chance operation as a title.

to sotto to Ponnambalam (A Paraphrase)

prescribe the Sinhala
the one of Ceylon
and transitory provision
made, presented by
S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike,
and Minister of
External Affairs.

2.49 P.M.

Before the Bill
just been the
Hon. Prime put down
Reading, I propose a
question propriety.
In my proposed Bill
violation of Article the
Constitution Council of 1946.

S.W.R.D. Bandara-
naike the appropriate
moment that question?

The Hon.
Prime a question,
to me, namely,
is the appropriate time to
raise Indeed, I
my mind to
and I of a more
to raise when
the Bill and placed
Table of this have
looked precedents
where the raised not
Standing Orders of but
in constitutional propriety
in Bill should present-
ed at all violation of
In my submission the
most and that is
am raising

was going to the Consti-

After this, I decided to create a spreadsheet and record words that were marked first, ninth, fifth and sixth in the chance operations. I,then, took a screenshot and posted it to Facebook as a “language game”, of sorts. Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 9.41.43 PM
I posted it with my own selection of four words from the table, creating a phrase “Prime myself in submission”, and recorded phrases from others on Facebook. Each phrase that appeared in the comments was Googled within quotes to seek other instances. While most returned no results, two returned millions of results, and one phrase returned only one result, a fascinating commentary on the absurd: http://hrcak.srce.hr/file/165076 The phrases that emerged in the comments were as follows:

Which transitory language question

moment of raised Defence

prescribe to a question

Moment of a submission

provision of a Bill

question myself in Defence

question of language question

mind myself this submission

Not my language question

that I presented question

prescribe transitory language Defence

This and that going

That constitution violation bill

One participant reflected on the process of creating a phrase:

u have got me in a tricky position
so many questions about myself
im looking at the words and i c alot of question i ask myself evryday
one of which i will coment

What phrase will you create?

One Response to “1956”

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