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On Literature

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On Literature
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Item Code: IHK072
Author: Jaidev
Publisher: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla
Edition: 1990
ISBN: 8170233143
Pages: 106
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.8 inch X 6.3 inch
weight of the book: 378 gms
From the Jacket

This volume of ‘occasional papers’ is a compilation of essays on several significant literary issues and themes. Originally given either as lectures or as seminar papers at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla, the essays reflect a theoretical and interdisciplinary bias as well as a multiplicity of critical positions. Bijoy H. Boruah examines the nature of fictional emotion. Pabitra Kumar Roy discusses Sri Aurobindo’s views on poetry and truth. Suzette Henke both defines and problematizes American postmodernist fiction. Malashri Lal makes an assessment of American feminist theory. Feminism, especially inn the context of Indian realities, figures in the essays by Jaidev and Pankaj K. Singh. Our Hindi and Urdu short story writers’ adaptation of modernism is discussed by Sukrita Paul Kumar. Post-modernism and post-structuralism figure in several essays and are examined for their socio-ideological content. The novel of colonial consciousness is the theme of Om P. Juneja’s essay, and the confessional poets are evaluated by A.K. Jha. While there is no pre-defined, integrating concept behind it, the volume has an impressive range of subjects and approaches.

JAIDEV was educated at the universities of Meerut and East Anglia. He teaches English at Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla, and is currently a Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study.


The Indian Institute of Advanced Study publishes the results of research projects carried out by its fellows, the proceedings of seminars organized by the Institute from time to time and lectures delivered by its Visiting Professors. The fellows of the Institute and visiting scholars present papers to the weekly seminars of the Institute which are considered for publication from time to time. Whenever a number of papers have a bearing on the same theme they are published in the form of a book under the scheme of Occasional Papers. On Literature is such a volume.

As Dr. Jaidev points out in his editorial Introduction, which a few papers are devoted to analyzing texts in considerable depth, the majority have a strong theoretic bias. One problematizes modernism in Indian short fiction. Another seeks to define the novel of colonial consciousness in the Third World. In three other papers, feminism, especially feminist literary theory, gets defined, assessed and critiqued. There are also papers dealing with such ‘eternal’ issues as the nature of fictional belief and the relationship between poetry and truth. I have every hope that this volume will be great interest to all scholars and students of literature.


The present volume includes nine of the papers on literature delivered during the past few years in the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Of these, three were originally presented by visiting scholars; the rest were of the work-in-progress kind from the Fellows in residence. These have been revised for publication in the volume by the authors themselves, except in the case of A.K. Jha’s paper which was substantially shortened and edited by the editor.

As is clear from the name of the series, these’ occasional papers’ do not claim a pre-defined, integrating concept behind them. Both in their range of subjects and in their various approaches, they are characterized by multiplicity rather then unity. To some this is bound to appear as the chief weakness of the volume, though to some others there might be some merit in its non-programmed plurality.

Still, a number of papers here share an overall common thrust. This is related to the orientation of the institute. While a few papers are devoted to analyzing texts in considerable depth, the majority have a strong theoretic bias. One problematizes Modernism in Indian short fiction. Another seeks to define the novel of colonial consciousness in the Third World. in three other papers, feminism, especially feminist literary theory, gets defined, assessed and critiqued. There are also papers dealing with such ‘eternal’ issues as the nature of fictional belief and the relationship between poetry and truth. That today there is no consensus on practically any theoretic issue is exemplified in sharply polemical positions taken in several papers here.

In his critique of Eva Schaper’s distinction between first-order beliefs and second-order beliefs, the latter being proper to our experience of fiction, Bijoy H. Boruah goes quite some way endorsing her view. The issue itself is not new; nor is the distinction which in fact is present in, among others, I.A. Richards and Frank Kermode. What is interesting both in Schaper and in Boruah’s critique is that the relatively obscure area between the two orders of beliefs is charted logically, step by step, as it were. Boruah’s essay does not discuss the possibility of second-order beliefs allowing within their space the presence of first-order beliefs, as, say, in a novel like The French Lieutenant’s Woman. To many less logical persons, it would seem that the two orders, different as they are, are not quite as distinct. One has to appreciate the point behind the complaint made by those who talk of their manipulation by, say, the media news. In any case, Boruah leaves us with quite a few thought-lines along which one can speculate endlessly, for the paradigm holds even if one realizes that so many of our first-order beliefs, entailing what he calls ‘existential commitment’ only appear to be so. Intentionality is rightly considered by Schaper to be an important constituent in the belief situation, but there are other constituents, too, including the quality of diction which seeks to generate fictional emotion in the receiver. Still more important perhaps is that implication in the convention of fiction by which the reader or spectator wills to suspend his or her disbelief, this willing probably not turning the reader into a deranged person but into a different being, for the duration of the reading or watching a fiction.

Pabitra Kumar Roy’s paper describes Sri Aurobindo’s views on poetry and truth; these views are part of a new aesthetics and serve as ‘the hermeneutics of his own poetical achievements.’ Sri Aurobindo blurred the difference between poetry and truth by calling poetry ‘intuitive thinking,’ and this line of thought, says Roy, aligns him with such thinkers as Heidegger and Whitehead as well as with the minds behind our Vedas where poetry is used for disclosing Being or Logos, where poetry is mantra indeed. As such, poetry is closely related to truth; both effect a widening of human consciousness. Roy defines rasa as the means of grasping the essence of things. Poetry generates rasas and thus enables the reader to grasp their essence. Accordingly, poetry is seen as something inspired; it reveals the delight that ‘eternally exists.’ Roy also compares Sri Aurobindo’s views with those of Kant, especially those relating to disinterestedness and objective subjectivity. As opposed to man’s surface existence where ego rules, his essential existence craves the delight of Being, and the importance of poetry lies precisely in its enabling the reader to satisfy this deep longing within himself. Since poetry is man’s lien on the Absolute, it can be a force for change in the human situation, too. This is why imagination occupies such a central place in Sri Aurobindo’s aesthetics, although he differentiates between several levels of imagination. Finally Roy describes Sri Aurobindo’s four grades of the planes of experience. ‘Whatever many have been the grade of consciousness at work behind the creations of beauty, what is important is the fact that the delight has always been a figure of the delight of Being.

Adapting the insights of Bakhtin, Foucault, Gramsci, Fredric Jameson, Barbara Godard, Homi Bhabha and Abdul JanMohamed, Om P. Juneja seeks to evolve a theory of the novel of colonial consciousness. This novel has two phases: dominant and hegemonic. It is during the latter phase that it turns dialogic, resistant, nativized; it use local folklore and myths; and it employs camouflage and subversive mimicry. This genre is situated in the contemporary space of colonial consciousness which has a hierarchical system of variables and constants. Racism is a main constant and central to this consciousness. Among the variables, the most important are the historical past and its distortion which results in the loss and/or confusion of group and individual identities. The novel of colonial consciousness comes from a bifocal, split vision, and when the novelist is conscious of his predicament, he turns this vision to the best possible use, i.e. for creating fictions that explode the Western genre and its mode from within, as it were. The result is several distinct fictional processes and procedures which cannot be appreciated in neo-Aristotelian terms. The contestatory discourse of the genre ‘positions itself as the protagonist of a literature of resistance with the conventions, though marginally so, of the dominate discourse.’ Its discourse has different epistemes as well as a different sense of chronology and history and a different mode. Above all, it celebrates ethnicity and difference. Juneja illustrates his theory from novels written across half a century and in countries as far apart as the USA and India.

In her essay on American avant-garde fiction, Suzette Henke offers a lucid account of postmodernism. She rightly goes back to Cervantes’ Don Quixote to assure us that postmodernism did not spring overnight from the head of Ihab Hassan or Fredric Jameson but was already there, in an embryonic form, in the Spanish novel as well as its eighteenth-century offspring like Tom Jones and Tristram Shandy. And, of course, it is quite incipient in the works of Modernists such as Joyce and Faulkner. Discussing the works of avant-garde writers such a Barth, Robert Coover, and Pynchon, Henke isolates the most prominent features of postmodernism: It self-conscious ontological themes and self-reflexivity, its rejection of closure and fondness for Mobius-strip forms, its use of loops and disruptions, its reliance on heteroglossia and dialogic mode, and its Chinese-box like structure. Its self-reflexivity makes it narcissistic. It is towards the end of her essay that Henke, in passing, refers to the problematic of postmodernism which is clearly ideological in nature: ‘But ultimately, we must step back into the problematic world which we all inhabit and try to improve the social, cultural, and economic conditions that make this society less than perfect for millions of twentieth century men and women.’ From this new perspective, ‘ludic, zany, self-referential’ postmodernist fiction might well appear as ‘an aesthetic indulgence of a decadent society.’

In his essay on feminism, Jaidev warns against that trendy feminism which belongs to the culture of pastiche. This kind can do no good to women’s cause in India. Problematizing feminist literary theory, he sees it in the context of a more-or-less co-opted Western feminism which is fast becoming a cultural consumer article. This commodified feminism sells at home but eventually becomes an item for cultural export as well. Ideologically castrated, this trendy feminism exults in specialized jargon and abstruse concepts and terms, all of which diminish its value for praxis. Jaidev, then, reads comparatively a few contemporary Hindi novels. Those which use a responsible realistic mode, place the characters in a solid social milieu and bring a mature understanding of various kinds of pressures on them, are valuable as feminist texts even though some like Basanti by Bhisham Sahni are by male writers. In this category he includes the works of Mannu Bhandari and Krishna Sobti. On the other hand, novels like Bhagawati Charan Verma’s Rekha use conceptualizations as substitutes for realism or social understanding, while the novels of Mridula Garg are trendy and pastiche in their desire to flaunt their foreign connexions. Such novels can only be a liability for women’s cause. Jaidev concludes by pleading for feminist readings of texts, no matter whether they are written by men or by women.

Malashri Lal is more enthusiastic about American feminist theory, and this is because she focuses on the more purposeful, more rewarding area of this theory, namely the non-academic concepts developed by practicing novelists. She beings by raising the question of canonization of literary texts in American history. This canonization reflects both sexual biases and cultural politics, and is at the expense of ‘the other renaissance’ in the 1850s which, in contrast to the works of the famous five-Emerson, Whitman, Thoreau, Melville, and Hawthorne-produced a text like Uncle Tom’s Cabin. The other renaissance looked at the country and its democratic ideal from the other, less edifying side. Next, Lal demonstrates how valuable a resistant, feminist reading is for the purpose of discovering gaps and erasures in a text, along with their ideological import. Such a reading must reject biologism and concentrate on the ideological issues in all texts, whether by male or female authors. Finally, Lal describes the double oppression under which black American women live: they are victims not only because of their sex but also because of their skin. Their predicament overlaps that of their white sisters, but has also some distinct contours. Hence the importance of female bonding in the novels of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison. Hence also the value of a concept like womanism which values black people’s African past and calls for ‘an adoption of female power constituted from the real economic functioning of the black women.’

In her attempt to place the Modernist temper in relation to tradition in post-Independence Hindi and Urdu short fiction, Sukrita Paul Kumar argues that Modernism was much more than merely a break from the familiar function of language or the conventions of form. It was a necessary response by the artist to the new world which had come into being as a result of the revolution in man’s perception itself. This artist had a heightened consciousness of the mutability of life as well as of the socio-historical disorientation all around him. He was a relativist and sceptic, suspicious of the old-fashioned realism, history, and absolutism. Indeed, if anything, his breaking away from the past was a blessing, for it made it possible for him to try innovations both in theme and technique. Also, Modernism enabled the writer to view himself as belonging to world literature rather than a national one. The historical situation in which the Indian writer wrote in the twentieth century made it easier for him to be receptive to alien cultures and ideas. Especially after 1947, the writer found it necessary to ‘utilize’ Modernism in order to tackle the rupture and crisis following the country’s partition and partition riots. Modernism came here as a necessity, though it underwent several modifications even as it also influenced our writer’s perceptions and modes of thought.

A less charitable view of Modernism in general and T.S. Eliot in particular is taken by Jaidev and Pankaj K. Singh in their twofold ideological deconstruction of ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ On the one hand, the deliberately ambiguous ‘you’ in ‘let us go then, you and I’ is deconstructed for its intolerable sexist bias against woman; on the other, the ‘you’ is interpreted as the common reader towards whom a number of strategies are employed, all aiming at diminishing and degrading this common reader. ‘Accordingly, the ‘meaning’ mofif in the poem is shown to be loaded against the possibility or even desirability o communication between the artist-singer and the audience. The audience is further demoralized by Eliot’s allusions, echoes and parodies. The effort as such is to fetishize elitism, misanthropy and misogyny. All this is supposedly for the sake of culture and tradition which are both contradistinguished from praxis, history, the human significance of the literary past. Culture becomes a frieze in some imagined past; human beings, women, and the so-called uninitiated readers are dismissed as rubbish. And all social and moral concerns are debunked as unaesthetic. Ideologically, the poem is staunchly conservative, status-quoist, and elitist. Jaidev and Pankaj Singh object to fetishizing such aesthetic cannons as formalism and self-reflexivity because their implications for a poor Third World nation are alarming and harmful.

In contrast to the irreverence towards Eliot in the above-mentioned paper, A.K. Jha brings towards him a worshipful attitude. He finds in the poet’s ideal of objectivity an Arnoldian touchstone for judging all poetry. Jha regards subjectivism in poetry as something acutely embarrassing as well as a disvalue. Poetry is not expression but objectification of one’s subjective states and feelings. Interestingly, he also justifies the Modernist emphasis on technique and form largely because, he thinks, these reduce the chances of ‘overdoing personal poetry.’ Thus, while the confessional poets are punished for their failures to discover objective correlatives, their formalism and objectivising strategies, wherever these are evident, become their redeeming graces. This is perhaps why an unabashedly subjective poem like ‘Daddy’ comes in for a summary dismissal. Lowell is a decadent romantic, though whenever ‘the subjective content of the poem bursts upon a variety of techniques,’ his poetry improves. Obviously, Jha would like techniques to burst upon the subjective content; techniques save. Roethke thus is a better poet because he can introduce around his personal quest mythical, Biblical suggestions. Detachment similarly helps Snodgrass, Sextion, Adrienne Rich, and Berryman. Jha concludes that while the poets in the group are too idiosyncratic to be ‘schooled’ together, their confessionalism constitutes their Achilles’ heel” ‘it is rather rare to find in the poetry of the so-called confessional poets examples of the personal getting mastered to an objective, aesthetic end.’

Professor Margaret Chatterjee conceived the idea of this volume during her tenure as Director of the Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Her successor, Professor J.S. Grewal, has helped me a great deal with his advice and thought-ful suggestions. Valuable help also came from Dr Sukrita Paul Kumar, Dr. T.N. Dhar, Mr Balwant Kumar, Mr. V.P. Sharma, Mr Janesh Kapoor, Mr. N.K. Maini, Mr A.K. Sharma, Mr S.A. Jabbar and Mr. L.K. Das.


Introduction ix
Fictional Emotion and Belief
Poetry and Truth in Sri Aurobindo
Towards a Theory of the Novel of Colonial Consciousness
Postmodernist Fiction: The Limits of Reflexivity
Feminism and the Contemporary Hindi Nevel
Some Trends in American Feminist Theory
Tradition and the Emergence of the Modernist Temper in Post-Independence Hindi and Urdu Short Fiction
Misogyny, Misanthropy, Modernism: T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’
The Confessional Poets
Contributors 107
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