Narasimhaiah, C. D.

Assigned: Narasimhaiah, C. D. “Towards the Formulation of a Common Poetic for Indian Literatures” (1330-35). Also read the editors’ introduction (1327-30).

“Towards the Formulation of a Common Poetic for Indian Literatures” (1984)

1. On 1330 (“The need for a common Poetic…”), how does C. D. Narasimhaiah describe the growing perception that a new poetic was needed for modern India after its independence from the British Empire in 1947? At the same time, how did Western intellectuals’ reflections upon Western civilization serve to remind some Indian intellectuals that in affirming modernity, they should by no means dismiss their own past literature or civilization?

2. On 1330-31 (“It is against this background that…”), Narasimhaiah describes a January 1984 seminar and then the gathering of a “working party” in June of the same year, both dedicated to establishing a new poetic for modern India. What criteria were established for arriving at this new poetic, and what goals was it expected to achieve once arrived at?

3. On 1331 (“Who is a Poet…”), Narasimhaiah says that the working party or group tried to answer a number of key questions about poets and the purpose of poetry. What answer, then, did the group provide for the question, “Who is a Poet?” What three kinds of “equipment” do poets need if they are to understand life and represent it sensitively and accurately? How does the answer given compare to, say, the expressive theory of poetics that Westerners find in the British Romantics (see, for example, Wordsworth’s comments on the poet’s qualities, Leitch 574-78; Coleridge, 596-97; or Shelley 613-17)?

4. On 1331-32 (“How does the poet create…”), how does Narasimhaiah in part contrast Indian poetics with two key notions of Aristotle; namely, art as imitation or mimesis, and plot as central to literature? What does Indian poetics emphasize instead? The author also writes that the ancient sage Bharata Muni focused on one of the aims of literature as “the evocation of Rasa” (1332)? On 1331, how does Narasimhaiah draw out the complexity of this term “Rasa” in connection with the poet’s creative activity? How does the poet “evoke” Rasa and render it in works of art?

5. On 1332 (“What is the purpose of Literature…”), Narasimhaiah reminds us that Western literary theory has long held with Horace that literature should be utile et dulce, useful and enjoyable (i.e., it should delight us and teach us at the same time). How does Indian tradition capture the twofold use of literature in the terms prayōjana and purushārtha? On what basis does Narasimhaiah praise the Victorian cultural critic and poet Matthew Arnold for his English definition of the latter term? (See Leitch 684-703 for Arnold’s “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time.”) What is the function of literature, according to the tradition that Narasimhaiah cites?

6. On 1332 (“What should be the Indian critic’s equipment…”), Narasimhaiah says that an Indian critic should be a Sahrdaya, or “responsive reader.” What, then, must responsive readers know by way of preparation, and what should they be able to do? To what extent does Narasimhaiah (or rather the working group whose views he is partly relating) expect Indian critics to blend Western-style criticism and theory with their own traditions? Does the kind of knowledge base seem similar to what a Western critic is expected to know? Explain.

7. On 1332 (“What does a critic look for…”), Narasimhaiah outlines the working group’s view of what critics should be looking for when they consider a work of literature. What are the key things to look for, and, on the whole, how would you describe the critical project as it is here set forth—according to Narasimhaiah, what is the critic’s ultimate responsibility to the text under consideration and, at least by implication, to readers as well?

8. On 1333 (“Critical problems…”), Narasimhaiah addresses the problems that may confront Indian critics whose training consists mainly in Western methods when they turn to the treatment of Indian literature. What key problems does he identify, and how might Indian critics adapt their Western concepts to their Indian-centered critical endeavors? For example, why, according to Narasimhaiah, might a careful adaptation of the Western notion of tragedy prove particularly valuable to Indian critics and readers?

9. On 1333-34 (“Another problem before the Indian critic…”), Narasimhaiah strongly contrasts the attitude of Indian artists with Western—and especially Romantic—attitudes about the great value of individual artists and their “imagination” or “expression” as manifested in literary texts and other works of art. What very different approach do Indian artists, according to the author, take with regard to their own status in relation to the art they create? In what sense, as Narasimhaiah describes matters, does the point of Indian aesthetic criticism have more to do with something like “close reading” in the Western formalist tradition than with Western expressive theory?

10. On 1334-35 (“The Rasa-Dhvani theory of Abhinavagupta…”), how does Narasimhaiah set forth the precepts, basic approach, and value of the Rasa-Dhvani theory of Abhinavagupta, a theory that has largely assimilated earlier Indian theories of art and criticism and that he considers the best framework for the new poetic that Indian critics are calling for (1335)? Even so, according to Narasimhaiah, how must this theory be updated to address the concerns of modern aesthetic theories? Briefly consider at least three of the six “insights” (1334) to which the author alludes. Finally, how does Narasimhaiah ward off what he clearly believes would be a serious mistake in the adoption and application of the modern poetic under consideration? What should that poetic not do, and (by implication) why?

11. General question: In “Towards the Formulation of a Common Poetic for Indian Literatures,” what does C. D. Narasimhaiah seem to find most valuable in the Western tradition of poetics and literary criticism, and why? In your view, what concepts and practices in the Indian tradition and projected modern mode of criticism do you find most interesting from a Western perspective, and why? On the whole, to what extent do you find the Indian critical/theoretical tradition, as very briefly outlined by Narasimhaiah, similar to the American (and more broadly, the Western or European) tradition? In what ways does it differ most strikingly?

Edition: Leitch, Vincent B. et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. 3rd ed. New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-393-60295-1.

Copyright © 2021 Alfred J. Drake