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Comparative Critical Theory

Masoodul Hasan

Edited by Naqi Husain Jafri
Jamia Millia Islamia and Creative Books, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 405, Rs. 700.00


With the rising popularity of Comparative Literature as a subject of formal study, comparative critical theory has assumed fresh importance as a complementary discipline, and received greater scholarly attention, including curricular provision. But, the discipline suffers from the paucity of adequate primary materials—the literary principles of target literatures essential for the appreciation and evaluation of their individual genius and interrelated aesthetic bearings. Naqi Husain Jafri has volunteered to abridge this deficiency with reference to five Asian languages—four classical and one modern. Tackling the five-fold problem was no easy task, but he has accomplished it with credit despite the scarcity of adequate English texts. He has collected three key-texts and a dozen essays, expanding and commenting on the critical concepts and principles of the respective languages. Like Edward Said, Jafri blames the neglect and obscurity of their native literary codes by the easterners themselves on the skewed perceptions of the colonial orientalists, and pleads for a correction of the imbalance. In a brief and informative introduction he sketches an overview of the classical Arabic, Sanskrit and Tamil poetics. But the classical Persian literary theory is completely overlooked, presumably on the tenuous assumption of its being an insignificant outgrowth of the Arabic theory.   The Arabic critical theory is represented through extracts from two highly regarded classical works. The extract from Gustave E. von Grunebaum’s scholarly translation of Al-Baqillani’s (d.1013 C.E.) I’jaz al-Qur’an deals with tropes and figures of speech with illustrations from classical Arabic poets. The translator’s copious notes and annotations, explaining the allusions and crucial points, are no less important than the main text. The other exemplar is taken from Vincente Cantarino’s translation of Al-Jurjani’s (d. 1081 C.E.) Kitab Asrar al-Balagha focusing inter alia on metaphor, and the importance of imagination, sincerity and ambiguity in poetry. Obviously, the editor’s choice of texts was circumscribed by considerations of their availability in English versions, otherwise Ibn Sallam (d. 847 C.E.)—author of Tabqat fuhul al-Shu’ara — a pioneer of critical theory and analysis of Arabic poetry, and his successor, Ibn Qutaybah (d. 889 C.E.) —Kitab al-Sh’r-wal-Shu’ara—who foreshadowed the idea of the psychological basis of poetic composition, could have been strong contenders for a place in the anthology.   Classical key-texts from Persian and Sanskrit are wanting. Even though English translations of Sanskrit treatises on poetry and drama are easily available ...

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