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Post-Colonial/Pre-Modern


Nikhil Govind

INNOVATIONS AND TURNING POINTS: TOWARD A HISTORY OF KAVYA LITERATURE
Edited by Yigal Bronner , David Shulman and Gary Tubb
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 816, £54.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 7 July 2015

The historical is not defined by the past; both the historical and the past are defined as themes of which one can speak. The historical is forever absent from its very presence. This means that it disappears behind its manifestations; its appari­tion is always superficial and equivocal; its ori­gin, its principle, always elsewhere.  Levinas (Totality and Infinity)   Innovations and Turning Points: Toward a History of Kavya Literature (Oxford, 2014), edited by Yigal Bronner, David Shulman and Gary Tubb is a large collection (twenty-five articles) on the themes that the title self-explanatorily indicates. In a time where there is real danger in India of the standardization of syllabi across governmen­tal and deemed universities, it is the expan­sive, clear-eyed, and superior scholarship of works such as these that will hopefully make the most forceful case for the diversity and forward-looking nature of responsible, and respectful, intellectual autonomy.   One cannot hope to do justice to such a large, thoughtfully conceived book, beyond indicating its broad schema, and a discus­sion of a few selected articles. For the most part, the book is arranged chronologically— the first section is on Kalidasa and Early Clas­sicism; the second on the developing mahakavya genre (Bharavi, Magha, and fas­cinatingly, the Javanese Mahayana and Saivite adaptations of these); the next section on the emergence of prose (Bana, in many ways the hero of this collection); then the ‘sons of Bana’ (Abhinanda, Bhavabhuti, Raja­shekhara, Murari—it is a refreshing evalua­tion of playwrights often ignored in the sec­ondary literature; then the new-millenium poets (Bilhana, and again, the Tibetan ad­aptations)—this list of authors is also often overlooked; then the ‘regional’ (the ‘Telengana’ Ramayana, the Telugu Vishwanatha Satyanarayana, Brajbhasha and Riti, and again, the ever-interesting iterations of this tradition in East Java). After reading the entire book, one feels (alongside joy) the sense of an immense, civilizational education. We are brought to the very eve of the mod­ern world, but now the modern seems to exist in a slightly mutated representational state—this is a refreshing achievement. The theme of the book (chiefly innova­tion/turning points) is truly a new com­mencement. Despite an over two hundred year old history of Sanskrit studies, due to the heavy language and philological orienta­tion (one whose dominance unfortunately continues into the present), more developed literary, ethical or theoretical questions have rarely emerged. In ...


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