Articles and Reviews

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review of "Sahitya Sambandha" by T.P. Ashoka

                T. P. Ashoka,  Sahitya Sambandha
      Akshara Prakashana, 2008        pp. 361; price: 210/-
         “A Serious Contribution to Kannada Literary Criticism”

       Prof. T. P. Ashoka, a major Kannada critic and theatre activist, published his first critical work in 1979; and, till today, he has to his credit 12 critical works, three translations, and eight works edited by him. Interestingly, during the last decade and a half, he  gave up writing,  involving himself  in Literary and Theatre / Film appreciation workshops,  running to more than a  hundred. The present work heralds his return to literature and literary criticism. 

      As a critic, Ashoka holds that Critical Faculty is innate to Man, and that literary /Art criticism is only a part of that faculty.  Hence, to him ‘criticism is not merely an academic exercise; it is a psychological and cultural necessity’ (p.290).  He maintains that bringing into sharp critical scrutiny every hegemonic discourse (be it in literature, religion or science), it is possible to make value-judgments, and thus act as a ‘healthy corrective’ to the society (p. 290).  This is, more or less, Leavis’s critical position; and, like Leavis, Ashoka also is wary of ‘new’ critical theories and ‘academic criticism.’   Hence, none of his essays even in the present collection appears to have been directly influenced by  ‘Post-Structuralist’ theories.  Again, not to be overtly ‘academic,’  he does away with ‘notes’ and ‘bibliography.’  This strategy can be viewed as ‘democratization of literary criticism’; and such a position has both in-built strengths and weaknesses. 

      The present collection contains, in all, 37 critical essays, divided into five sections according to genre.  Most of them discuss major modern Kannada writers and works, though there are also a few interesting articles on ‘Partition Stories,’ Premchand’s “Shatranj Ke Khiladi,” Achebe’s   Things Fall Apart, and a play by Brecht.  The title, ‘saahitya sambamdha’ ( ‘literary relationship’), is meaningful at two levels: the relationship between various literary works (‘inter-textuality’) and  between a literary work and its author / society.  The major essays of this collection include those on Kuvempu, Subbanna, Devanuru, etc.

     The short essays in the first section ably explicate the intertextuality of many Kannada poems like the ones  using ‘naanu’ (‘I’), those written on  ‘Ganga,’ and ‘Shiva,’ and such.  Ashoka takes up each poem, demonstrates the way it harks back to other earlier poems, and establishes the differences in tone and attitude of each poem.  Such essays, besides  teaching ‘close reading,’ establish that no work is written  in a vacuum.

     Kuvempu, as Ashoka rightly says, was an image of all the ambiguities and complexities the ‘Tradition –Modernity’ issue gave birth to in the 20th century.  Ashoka argues that though many critics have discussed this issue in relation to Kuvempu’s works, each critic has a different view of the term ‘modernity.’  (In fact, this essay can profitably be read along with the ‘Survey of Novel’ that opens this section.) 

     Arguably, the two finest essays of this collection are those on Devanuru and Subbanna, in which, Ashoka brings together the writer’s personality and his works so that they reflect each other.  For instance,  Ashoka argues,  qualities like passive resistance, economy of expression, and explosive irony characterize both Devanuru the man and his works.  In Subbanna, Ashoka points out, both personal and social identities merged; and ‘criticism’ in him began with ‘self-criticism’ which, later on,  got transformed into ‘culture-criticism.’ 

       Among general essays, the one called ‘vibhajaneya kathanagalu’   (‘Partition Narratives’) is  very interesting.  In this essay, Ashoka brings together stories on partition in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, and  Kannada (Vaidehi’s  “  Krauncha Pakshigalu”); and he agrees with Dr. Bhalla (who edited a collection of such stories translated into English) that, according to most writers, religious bigotry was the last reason for the conflict and bloodshed resulting from partition.

     Sahitya Sambandha is a major contribution to modern Kannada criticism.
Dr. C. N. Ramachandran

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