Michael Ondaatje's collection of poetry, Handwriting, uses writing as a metaphor for Sri Lanka's pre-alphabetic, multi-modal forms of writing, thought, and culture. A prose poem in the collection, "Death at Kataragama," presents a speaker contemplating death. Kataragama, both a god and city, both a metaphysical space and a physical place, defines a struggle between a self created in a space of identification with the physical/metaphysical conflict. In the poem, it is the contemplation of cultural hybridity that provides a spirituality or metaphysic, that drives the poem's speaker to write, and that prepares the speaker for death. The speaker in the poem finds that it is contemplation of multiplicity and cultural longing and belonging, not the attempt or inability to recover cultural belonging, that provides meaning to the death ritual.
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Liberty Kohn, Winona State University
Liberty Kohn was Assistant Director of Composition at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette from 2005-2009. Since, he is English Department graduate faculty at Winona State University, Winona, Minnesota, USA. His research interests include poetics, rhetorics of religion, rhetorics of emotion, genre theory, reader response, and composition theory. His research has appeared in The Journal of Language and Literacy Education, Compendium 2, Neohelicon, and other journals and collections. He is also an editorial advisor to The Journal of College Writing.
Kohn, Liberty. 2010. «Writing In-Between Life and Death: Contemplation As Death Ritual in Michael Ondaatje’s “Death at Kataragama”». Altre Modernità, n. 4 (ottobre):32-44. https://doi.org/10.13130/2035-7680/687.