The collective consciousness of the Indian spirit and the archetypes of the nation surface in the creative outpourings of famous poets and authors of different languages. When their works are shared across languages and cultures, it is not an act of homogenization. Rather, it is a knowledge of the inner dialectic that transforms this work into a unique socio-cultural artefact. This is why, besides classical poets, several writers of the recent past such as Tagore, Premchand, Manto, Sankara Kurup, KV Puttappa Kuvempu, Gopi Nath Mohanty, VS Khandekar, Amrita Pritam and Girish Karnad, to name but a few. -a, are immensely popular. . They reinvent national aspirations with a strong sense of diversity and present a broader formulation of the values that India stands for.
Although these authors have a devoted Pan-Indian readership, the engagements with these texts which use a transdisciplinary approach – what Edward Said called “critical philology” – by prominent Indian literary critics like Namwar Singh, Gopi Chand Narang , SR Farooqui, GN Devy, Ayyappa Panikar, Ashok Mitra and Ashok Vajpai, among others, remain unnoticed beyond their linguistic borders. This is puzzling and gives the impression that the criticism has yet to take hold. People believe, not entirely wrongly, that literary criticism in various Indian languages is little more than the compilation of stories and translations, and the distribution of thematic reviews of texts. On the contrary, literary criticism in Indian languages is sensitive to theoretical shifts. If the genre owes its existence to colonial modernity, it now stands out as a discourse of collective aesthetic sensitivity. This has been judiciously highlighted in Literary criticism in India: texts, trends and trajectories, a publication of the Sahitya Akademi. It is one of 283 books published by the National Academy of Letters in this pandemic year. Edited by renowned bilingual critic EV Ramakrishnan, it contains 17 reasonably argued articles with an insightful introduction. Why has criticism taken so long to emerge as an academic discipline in India?
The answer lies in our collective vision which equates Sanskrit poetics with Indian aesthetics. Sanskrit literature does not employ literary criticism as we use it today. Ramakrishnan refers to Kuttikrishna Mar, a renowned scholar of Sanskrit and Malayalam, who points out: “In Sanskrit literature, there was no literary criticism. We cannot cite a single critical work that chooses a text from the Puranas or the Ithihasas or the great works of Bhasa or Kalidas, to discuss it in detail to validate the author’s assessment of the chosen text. The article by the eminent Hindi critic Namwar Singh, The tradition of literary criticism in Hindi testifies to Mar’s idea and argues that literary criticism is not a shastra. “Criticism begins where the limits of shastra end,” he says. In his brilliant introduction entitled, Indian literary criticism today: a hybrid house, EV Ramkrishnan raises several incisive questions and clarifies the contours of Indian literary criticism. He claims that it is defined by the foundational accounts of deeply rooted anxieties about authenticity, parentage and affiliation and that this has rooted in the criticism a sense of skepticism towards dogma and conformism. The author is certainly right but instead of evoking the practice of criticism in Indian languages, he speaks of Indian literary criticism which seems to arise from the idea of a criticism with a singular organizing principle. Ramakrishnan believes that criticism has greatly contributed to recovering the multiple traditions of Indian cultures. Yet he seeks a uniquely Indian discourse rooted in Indian paradigms that remains elusive. The eminent theorist Aijaz Ahmed, author of In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures (1992) wants criticism to adopt a transdisciplinary approach. Elucidating the constituent elements of the proposed critical matrix, he argues: sur – should be integrated into this matrix.
The poet and critic K Satchidanandan is interested in the policy of re-reading the Indian context through the prism of multiple theoretical focuses. Text is a passive entity that is only activated when the individual begins to read it. Reading opens the way for rereading and counter-reading for the recovery of texts. The much maligned and least understood term, “deconstruction” is essentially a glimpse that shows how the text itself crumbles and lacks focus. Satchidanandan describes proofreading as a radical activity that manifests the position of the critic in terms of gender, class, caste, race, sexuality, and minority / majority status. T Vijay Kumar discusses the emergence and dominance of theory, which has become an autonomous academic discipline.
While this anthology questions the critical trajectories employed in Hindi, Malayalam, Kannada, Marathi, Punjabi, Sanskrit and Tamil, its omission of Urdu and Odia is disconcerting. That aside, the Sahitya Akademi deserves to be congratulated for releasing this anthology which introduces us to new perspectives on Indian literary criticism.
Shafey Kidwai is a bilingual critic and professor of mass communication at Aligarh Muslim University.