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Articulating Nebulous Questions

Shonaleeka Kaul

By Avadhesh Kumar Singh
D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 608, Rs. 1400.00


Revisiting Literature, Criticism and Aesthet- ics in India is an ambitious and valiant attempt at doing and being several different things. It brings together sixteen of the veteran author’s essays on themes like ‘Word and Beyond: Questions of Meaning and Interpretation’, ‘Theory of Creative Process in Narratives about the Ramayana and the Mahabharata’, ‘In their own Words and Worlds: Women Saint Poets and their Poetry’, ‘Theorizing/Narrating Resistance and Colonization in India,’ ‘Ornament or Blessing or Both: The Other in Colonial Paradigms with Reference to India’, and ‘Postmodernism in India’. The book aims at addressing, or at any rate raising, certain obvious but nebulous questions such as ‘What are Indian literary, critical and cultural realities? How has Indian culture survived? Why should there be single language/literature departments in a multilingual society like India? What was the impact of colonization on Indian consciousness? How should India reorient literary studies in consonance with its linguistic and literary realities?’ (p. v). While one is uncertain as to whether the book ends up being able to directly or satisfactorily offer all answers, there is something to be said for the way it directly articulates the questions themselves.   That said, though it is avowedly about seeing and showing Indian literary and aesthetic categories in their own right, away from a hegemonizing comparative gaze, the book’s treatment of these indigenous literary concepts is, by the author’s own admission, second-hand and ‘learnt from others’. Moreover, a good part of the book remains tied to a discussion of western theories and concepts, from Aristotle to Lukacs, and of Indian conformity to or departure from these, in effect returning to the stranglehold of comparatism. This also manifests at times in the confusing of tenets of the two distinct literary traditions. Thus the author at one place says: ‘What should be the commitment of criticism? In the case of literature, its worth lies in its commitment and ability to stand with and by all those who have been victims and spurned by the centre of power or configuration of circumstances’(p. 11). He thus upholds the very modern, western model of literary criticism, a heavily and self consciously politically engaged model, to stand for criticism in all literary traditions—a contention that is patently anachronistic and false for traditional Sanskrit criticism (alamkara-sastra). Conversely, at another place, obviously drawing on the very Sanskritic definition of literature (kavya) as ...

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