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Politics and Poetics of Authenticity

A Cultural Genealogy of Sinhala Nationalism

What is the role of cultural authenticity in the making of nations? Much scholarly and popular commentary on nationalism dismisses authenticity as a romantic fantasy or, worse, a deliberately constructed mythology used for political manipulation. The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity places authenticity at the heart of Sinhala nationalism in late-nineteenth and twentieth-century Sri Lanka. It argues that the passion for the "real" or the "authentic" has played a significant role in shaping nationalist thinking and argues for an empathetic yet critical engagement with the idea of authenticity.

Through a series of fine-grained and historically grounded analyses of the writings of individual figures central to the making of Sinhala nationalist ideology the book demonstrates authenticity’s rich and varied presence in Sri Lankan public life and its key role in understanding postcolonial nationalism in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in South Asia and the world. It also explores how notions of authenticity shape certain strands of postcolonial criticism and offers a way of questioning the nature of the nation as a unit of analysis but at the same time critically explore the deep imprint of nations and nationalisms on people’s lives.

177 pages | 6 x 9 1/4 | © 2018

Free digital open access editions are available to download from UCL Press.

History: Asian History

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"To a long list of works that engage with Sinhala nationalism, Dr. Harshana Rambukwella’s The Politics and Poetics of Authenticity: A Cultural Genealogy of Sinhala Nationalism is an important addition"

Daily FT

"The strength of [Politics and Poetics of Authenticity] lies squarely in the rereading of history through the lens of authenticity and the self-fashioning process of protagonists. Authenticity is not a disinterested discursive trope; it shapes people’s careers, and also helps shape history as an agential force"

The Island

Table of Contents

"1. Authentic problems
2. The protean life of authenticity: history, nation, Buddhism and identity
3. Anagarika Dharmapala: the nation and its place in the world
4. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike: the paradox of authenticity
5. Gunadasa Amarasekara: the life and death of authentic things
6. Conclusion: the postcolonial afterlife of authenticity "

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