Sajith, rhetoric and oratory
Posted on December 9th, 2019

ARIYAWANSA RANAWEERA Courtesy Island

December 9, 2019, 8:30 pm

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Oratory is based upon the noble art of rhetoric, introduced by ancient Greeks. In fact, Aristotle (384-322 B.C) wrote an entire thesis on rhetoric. In the first century A.D., rhetoric was divided in to three categories – high, middle, and low. High rhetoric should convey deep, strong, feelings using sublime language. Low rhetoric should use simple words without unnecessary frills, the middle rhetoric should not use high sounding words, but words pleasant to the ear, and should flow smoothly. None of these categories were considered of a higher order of value than the other. The idea is that the speaker should choose one of the three modes to suit the occasion and the audience.

But Longinus (first century A.D.) considered as the foremost theoretician on rhetoric, wrote his masterpiece, called ‘Peri Huspous’ on rhetoric, explaining its finer details.

He said the aim of rhetoric is to achieve sublimity, which reflects a noble mind. The speaker’s delivery in this instance should be effective. Above all, a speaker should possess, noble concepts, and strong emotions. A noble diction should be adopted, and he also said that these characteristics are in-born qualities of a true speaker. Furthermore, he should select proper, meaningful words and a proper attitude towards the audience.

How does Sajith Premadasa measure up to these qualities. At the hundred odd elections meetings he addressed; the entire content of his speeches can be reduced to two factors. His promises to deliver benefits to all and sundry, and his most evident characteristic; self-adulation.

Even on the first count, he cannot be excused by saying that all other candidates resorted to this ploy, because even on this matter he went to ridiculous extremes, beyond acceptance.

Some of his utterances are worthwhile remembering. He said he will be on the streets, all the time, moving with common people and attending to their grievances. He will visit every village, in the country, during his tenure, to understand the conditions of the people at firsthand and assist them where necessary. (By the way Sri Lanka has 19000 villages). Another one of his promises was to say that he intends to meet every disabled soldier and ameliorate his hapless conditions. One of his famous promises was to keep awake, during the major part of the day, depriving himself sleep; in order to be available for the people to contact him.

The Oxford English dictionary defines oratory as “The skill of making powerful and effective speeches’’. One of the keywords here is being ‘effective’. Were these promises ‘effective’ by any measure. On the contrary, they were unrealistic and beyond rational acceptance. Quite opposed to Longinus’s definition, where effectiveness was a major attribute.

It was his self-adulation, that was mostly evident during his campaign. One can remember very clearly, the things he said about himself. That his dynamos were sound and working in their full gear. He had inherited, he said, powerful genes, which enables him to withstand any obstacles and overcome them with youthful energy. His sagacity is such that he himself drafted the party’s manifesto, without any outside assistance. That he is a happy combination of philosopher-cum-politician. (Plato’s philosopher kings come to mind) There were so many other utterances, all revolving round, Sajith the Man.

It is doubtful whether Sajith adopted, any of the modes described above, which would suit the occasion concerned and the particular audience. In fact, his speeches were active volcanoes’ from start to finish, interspersed, occasionally with howlers like Srimukha.

A noble mind, noble concepts, using proper meaningful words, noble diction, a proper attitude towards the audiences were main attributes of an ideal orator according to Longinus.

Sadly, Sajith Premadasa did not live up to any of these qualities; thereby harming his own campaign, because common people were able to see through what he uttered and coming to their own conclusions.

It is time for Sajith to reflect on the part he played during his campaign, and mend his erratic approach, as he is destined to play an important role in national politics.

ARIYAWANSA RANAWEERA

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