The world lost a doyen in education, a most renowned critic of Urdu literature and an embodiment of the sophisticated, composite Kashmiri culture of yore. He wrote a lot in Urdu but only some of his works have been translated to English. Here is the preface from his “Theory of Revelatory Criticism,” translated from Urdu by another literary giant, Shafi Shauq. Hamidi Sahib being one of the foremost literary critics of the past century, this work is a must-read for those who would like to gain from his works but are unable to read Urdu.
I had the great fortune of meeting Hamidi Sahib a few times, through his son Masood. Even to me, just a greenhorn trying to have an intellectual conversation with him, he was kind and earnest with his time and attention. He said a verse about Pandits and Muslims having fallen from the same tree. He showed me some of his Urdu works and at that point I felt ashamed for having dropped out of Urdu classes my grandfather would hold for me. He noticed that while I could speak good Urdu, I did not have the ability to read his illustrious works. The kind man that he was, he got me his recently translated work, “Theory of Revelatory Criticism,” and asked me to let him know what I thought. Great men leave firm and lasting impressions, and so, in my mind Hamidi Sahib will forever be an influence.
“Hamiidi Kashmiri (1932, Srinagar, Kashmir), recipient of several awards and honours including the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Literary Award, Ghalib Award and Padamshri (2010 ) is the author of several books in various fields of creative literature, especially poetry, fiction, and literary criticism. His contribution to literary criticism, both theoretical and practical, is widely commended by various literary circles in the sub-continent.
Soon after obtaining his Master’s degree in English in 1954, Hamidi Kashmiri joined Sri Pratap College as lecturer. In 1959, he obtained a degree in Teaching of English from CIIL, Hyderabad and also did his M.A. in Urdu. In 1978, he was appointed as the Head of the Department of Urdu in the University of Kashmir. He also worked for some time as Assistant Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir Academy of Art, Culture and Languages. He worked in the University of Kashmir on various teaching and administrative positions like Vice Chancellor (1989-1993), Head of the Special Assistance Programme, and Chairman, Markaz-i Noor.”
THEORY OF REVELATORY CRITICISM
by Professor HAMIDI KASHMIRI
Translated from the Urdu by SHAFI SHAUQ
First published in Urdu in 1999. First English translation by Shafi Shauq in 2014.
Shafi Shauq (1950; M.A. Ph.D in English) taught at the University of Kashmir for thirty-three years. Recipient of several awards, including Sahitya Akademi Literary Award for poetry, Shauq is author of numerous books.
Today at the end of the twentieth century and at the threshold of the twenty-first century, sciences, humanities and literature, in their inexorable historical development, have reached a critical juncture where, on the one hand, the very feel of their tremendous expansion and evolution causes amazement, strength and confidence, and, on the other hand, in spite of all, both at the individual and collective level, the ever-growing negative forces of disintegration of values, worship of power, violence, absolutism, political tyranny, corruption and large-scale bloodshed generate sense of alienation, disillusionment and uncertainty---all this results in man’s acrid sense of futility and inefficacy in the realms of culture, spiritualism, and intellectual attainments. The great edifice of human civilization, nurtured through centuries’ old hard work and excruciatingly arduous process, is becoming isolated from the values of humanity and is proving inadequate to stop this ongoing drift towards bohemianism; the whole world is moving fast towards all pervading commercialism, consumerism, unscrupulous arrogance of power and irrational competition.
At this very crucial stage of history, it has become inevitable that we re-assess and reshape all our fundamental notions, methods, and meaning in all fields of knowledge, culture, sociology, and nature of literature, otherwise human glory, and sacredness, and authenticity of the systems of values shall end irretrievably and “life shall become a gratuitous word on the tablet of the world”. Keeping this bitter fact in view, the trend of reconsideration and contemplation in every discipline of knowledge is intensifying and making us feel its need. This phenomenon was observed in earlier phases of history too because reassessment has been an integral part of every era of human development, but now, when the world is facing unique and unparalleled crises, re-evaluation of all aspects of knowledge has become an immediate necessity. Understanding of values needs rational, objective and analytic method rather than emotional, thematic and romantic approaches. In the present scientific age no manner of emotional and thematic statement can justify their existence and continuity; only a theoretical, disciplined, and analytic study can yield us the consciousness of their significance. It is this necessity that imparts extraordinary significance to theorization in the fields of literature and other phenomena of culture.
Like other spheres of knowledge, theorization is acquiring great importance in the areas of literature as well. In the ongoing period of dominance of media, exhibitionism, consumerism and mechanical considerations, many new questions, hitherto unknown, about the existence of literature and its significance are raising their heads. Formulation of theories about form and meaning of poetry is not a new phenomenon for it has been a continuous process since ancient times, and attempt has always been made to seek its justification in the changing social patterns. Aristotle produced a systematic theory of poetry with reference to the Greek literature and then a long series of movements ensued in Western literature like, classicism, romanticism, neo-classicism, realism, impressionism, surrealism, Marxism, modernism, structuralism, post-structuralism, post-modernism and many more. Various theoreticians continued trying to formulate principles of literary expression according to their individual perspectives and concepts; by doing so, they tried to interpret the mystique of literature with reference to the changing social, historical and metaphysical ideas. This process of formulating theories of literature happened even in the east, but they lacked in detailed logical analysis.
Nevertheless, some of the theories, with the help of logic and comprehensiveness, transcended the limitations of history and time; most of them underwent the process of deconstruction with the change of the times and did not abide for more than a couple of decades; classicism, Marxism and structuralism are some of these timely movements. Contemporary situation is remarkably different from the situation of the past: the present-day world standing at the brink of total destruction has in itself become a big question about the total cultural heritage; we live in a period of deep crisis which has cast its shadow on the values of literature also. It is high time that we re-evaluate our notions about method and impact of literature and try to reassert its meaningfulness and enable it to have it a representative character in consonance with the imperatives of the time; it is a necessity that we seriously reconsider logical justification for its very existence.
For the last three decades, I have engaged myself in making in depth and extensive study of the contemporary theories of literature, but at the same time I have intensely felt that there is an unavoidable need of re-structuring and correcting our notions about the form and implications of literature so that we develop a holistic theory that is in keeping with the fast changing, multifarious and challenging cultural situation of the present times. Always bearing in mind this imperative, I have been making appropriate changes in the customary methods and approaches of literary criticism that deal with the critical evaluation of both old and new literature. In all my critical writings, I have tried to delineate a sharp line of demarcation between literature and non-literature. I, at the same time, tried to show that every literary act has to be in conformity with a particular creative process which is in conformity with the total personality of the writer. I have been emphasising the fact that every work of literature attains its distinct individual existence by going through a distinct linguistic process. Its existence lies in the creative experience that assumes shape through the structure of words and their multilayered relations and then expands, and starts its journey towards unknown directions. The experience acquires a distinguishable shape only when it is true of the conceptual character and incident and their interdependence in the particularised text and then acquires the interest and impact of a legend. It is obvious that it has no relation with any real person, thing and event in the objective world. The creative mind invents imaginary persons, objects and incidents and thus makes departures from the monochromatic world of observation so that the artist dominates the sublime of the symbolic reality that is inclusive of all colours; it’s all inclusiveness and continuous transformations energize every shade of the hues so that it kindles fresh surprise, and inquisitiveness, the result is gratification of the aesthetic urges of the readers. This is how a reader makes a journey through the experience in the text and actually journeys through the centre of his own consciousness. Freed from the repetition of the mundane world, custom and habit, the reader finds himself gradually illuminated by the essence, dynamics and mystery of life and the cosmos.
Owning the onus of helping the reader participate in the very process of revelation, a literary critic of this method recognizes the literary form of the text as of nuclear significance; he afterwards analyses every constituent word, unveils all those latent as well as surface relations which arise because of the particular arrangement of words and generate an unknown but dynamic situation that has its occurrence in the imagined world within the text, yet becomes the most significant point of attention for the critic. Thus the only way of understanding the organic wholeness of poetic experience is the method of revelatory analysis.
The universe and its constituting variegated and protean signs and phenomena have their existence under the dictates of an infinite creative energy, and urge for their practical expression. This energy originates from a formidable and sublime flow of space and time, and infuses motion to countless stars and planets of countless solar systems. This energy permeates all existents, plants, animals and human beings. Because man’s primeval mercurial nature gets expressed through his emotive and sensual faculties, it assumes ever-new forms of the throbs of his heart, circulation of blood, flow of tears, formations of dreams, adoration of beauty, iconoclasm, and, many a time, despair; at the mental level gives birth to sciences, knowledge and literature.
Encounter with the hidden primordial energy in one’s existence, and then making it familiar with order and form, and finally making it relevant at the social, cultural and aesthetic perception is the real function of a creative artist. At the subjective level it is a gradual process of self-recognition, which, even being quite similar to religion, mysticism and philosophy, has its individual significance. Recognition of being alone is the continuous function of a creative artist; this alone is the process of imparting recognizable form and authentic form to the forces of life and, without making us feel it’s very presence, it can motivate us to think about itself: a logical formulation and interpretation give form to a literary theory.
I am grateful to my dear friend Prof. Gopichand Narang, who frequently discussed various aspects of this subject and let me have the benefit of the discussion. I would also like to thank all those friends of mine who showed their positive response to my method of criticism. My special thanks are due to Dr. Vazir Agha, Mazhar Imam, Balraj Komal, Qazi Abid al Rahman Hashmi, Nazir Malik, and Showket Hayat who expressed their opinion on this theory of criticism. Wahab Ashrafi, Atiq Ullah, Shams-ur Rahman Farooqi, Manzir Ashiq Harganvi, Qudoos Javid, Shafi Shauq, Satyapal Anand have also made critical analyses of Revelatory Criticism; Nasir Abas Hunar has declared Revelatory Criticism the only work of theoretical criticism in Urdu: this book owes a great deal to the exchange of ideas. I should thank all of them.
I owe gratitude to Misra Mariam who continuously showed her inquisitive interest in my theory and encouraged me to have perseverance and unrelenting contemplation.
Shafi Shauq deserves my special thanks for sparing some of his time in making my book accessible to English knowing lovers of Urdu literature.
Hamidi Kashmiri Mas’ud Manzil, Koh-i Sabz
May 31, 2014
From Kashmirlife: A Tribute to Professor Hamidi Kashmiri