The way Faiz turns the figure of Mansoor Hallaj into a symbol of dissent and voice of the wretched of earth has exceptional appeal to his readers. Faiz’ art delicately blends inner world with the outer world on the one hand, and sacred and profane on the other
Human mind transmits ideas, concepts and understanding about the world within us and the world we live through language. This does not mean that the language is uniform. Rather we witness variety of languages in the world. The variety of language shows diverse ways through which human beings express their ideas about the noumenal and phenomenal world. An experience born of interface between subject and its object is also presented in a language of art. Being a part of art, literature also depends on the language for the articulation of idea or exposition of an ideal. Hence, language can be declared as the main vehicle of literature.
In order to understand the essence of literature it is imperative to focus on language. Theorists on the origins of language assert that language of primitive people was adapted to their material needs. C. L. Barber in his book ‘The Story of Language’ presents various theories of language, such as bow-vow and ‘the pooh theory’. Proponents of the former assert that ‘primitive language was imitation of natural sounds, such as the cries of animals’ whereas ‘the pooh-pooh theory’ argues that ‘language arose from instinctive emotional cries, expressive for example of pain or joy.’
Subjective experience is not amenable to capture. It is the language that captures it. The subjective experience finds its way into language. Therefore, language can be termed as a light of the emotions. They remain in dark until they are put into words. The moment personal experience enters into language; we interpret it in the light of the very culture and things of the world. The Quran uses images from topography and culture of the then Arabia by referring to fig, camel, ram, cave and mount. The Quran depicts an image of heaven with running water and trees, which is a soothing juxtaposing of the life in scorching heat to that of the desert.
Even the idea of god in different societies stems from the very womb of the material world. Various societies believed in different gods. These gods were noticeably similar to the believers themselves. Philip Wheelwright gives example of two different societies where gods resembles the people. He says: ‘Ethiopians have gods with snub noses and black hairs. Thracians have god, with gray eyes and red hair.’ The Nuers and the Dinka people of the Upper Nile maintain a bovine society in their midst that parallels their own and is structured in the same fashion. Referring to different anthropological studies Rene Girard, in his book ‘Violence and the Sacred’, writes: ‘…the Nuer vocabulary is rich in words describing the ways of cattle and covering the economic and practical, as well as the poetic and ritualistic aspects of these beasts.’ There are other theories about the origin of language. However, the afore-mentioned two theories about the origin of language, scriptural examples, and anthropological and anthological studies prove that language is a result of both objective needs and subjective feelings respectively.
Art: time and space
Genesis of every genre of art occurs within the confines of time and space. Among the literary genres poetry is considered the oldest. That is why Christopher Caudwell declared poetry as one of the ‘earliest activities of the human mind’ and ‘the common vehicle for history, religion, magic and even law.’ Old masterpieces of poetry reveal their culture and objective world around them. Life in the ancient past was dominated by the forces of nature. In their struggle against nature, human beings faced overwhelming challenges posed by nature. There were moments of bliss and sorrow. When mankind tried to express these experiences in rhyme, poetry came into being.
Some of the ancient pieces of literature have provided prototype symbols which later took on symbolic forms to explicate various religious ideas and existential concerns. ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ is the oldest story from the third millennium BC. It uses a number of usual devices of poetic embellishment like similes, but also symbols of volcano, forest, storm, great deluge and search for elixirs of life. These provided fertile ideas and concepts for religions and master pieces of axial age and next three millenniums. The description of great deluge in the Holy Scriptures of Abrahamic religions is influenced by the event of inundation of the earth described in the Epic of Gilgamesh. This epic has exerted great influence on Persian, even Urdu, literature. In his epic quest Gilgamesh ‘finds a woman Saduri with her vineyards and wine-vats.’ N. K. Sandars in his introduction to English version of ‘The Epic of Gilgamesh’ claims, ‘…the figure of wine-bearer was still used by medieval Sufi poets for whom it was the symbol of reality revealed.’
These examples provides cogent reasons to believe that mankind has developed culture, religion and literature in a given space and ambience. Owing to mutation in objective world, the process of perishing also occurs from the outside world of objects to the inner world of subjectivity. Things in the objective world are not conscious of the change. Even if we assume that things in the world have consciousness, they still lack medium like language to express. It is not ‘we’ through which language expresses itself. On the contrary, it is we who express ourselves through language. A poet relies on language for expressing his feelings and thoughts and derives imagery from immediate surroundings. Since the ancient man was close to nature or objective world, s/he embellished his/her poetry with symbols, images and similes derived from nature. Shahzad Ahmed, an eminent Pakistani writer and poet, believes that the language of ancient age was not that abstract. Whenever poets of that time represented their ideas, their thoughts used to be in tangible form. He terms this process a journey from an outside to an inside world. Taking cue from Shahzad, one may say that the poet tries to reveal the inner world of subjectivity, whereas a scientist unravels the mysteries of objective universe.
Rhythm is one of the basic pillars of poetry as it is an essential part of the process of creating poem. In the formation of rhythm, selection of word, content, arrangement, similes, metaphors and diction play an important role. Other than existence of rhythm in the technical arrangements or structure, rhythm also exists in the subjective universe of a poet and the objective world. If we take stock of the universe, it transpires that the whole universe is tied to a cosmic rhythm. Plato goes to the extent of calling harmony as beauty. He calls a society ideal when its different organs function in harmony with each other. Disharmony is antithesis of rhythm. A culture plunges into anarchy when its different organs or sections try to dominate each other. Iqbal equates life with harmony because it unifies elements, and death disintegrates the same. He said:
Zindagi kiya anasir ka zahoor tarteeb
Mot kiya inhi ajaa ka paraishan hono.
Considering its role in poetry, harmony is considered indispensible for beauty. Whenever art, society or culture lose harmony, they tarnish their beauty. Today Pakistan is faced with anarchy in every sphere of life because of disharmony between different organs of the state and sections of society. The unfathomable abyss of decline gobbles everything that comes in its way. When decline starts to set in a society, it permeates into every sphere of life. In such a situation it is illogical to expect an institution to function well in isolation. Likewise, literature in Pakistan today is fail to reflect the society.
With the end of the Cold War, the ideological moorings of intelligentsia were severed and art became an easy prey to various forces. The cumulative result of these development appeared in the shape of disharmony between literature and society.
In technical terms the symbols, similes, metaphors, transfer epithets, and other devices or in simple word the ‘words’ that contribute to artistic construction have lost touch with the real world or things in the world and settled in a discursive domain forming a simulacrum by becoming intra-referential. The gap between things and words will ultimately make the art irrelevant. A literary tradition bequeaths an ensemble of words that represent collective experience and historical memory of a particular people. With the passage of time its intelligentsia, artists and literati infuse new meaning and expand the horizon of meaning to make them more relevant to changed times.
Instead of expanding the metaphor and meaning of words to accommodate the ever broadening horizon of living world, the readers are served with trite, dead and empty axioms, signs, words, symbols, metaphors and similes. Developments in various spheres of life have rendered many literary canons, words, ideas and tradition obsolete. Today we are standing on rubble of the old world and its certainties. With the destruction of the old world, in the words of Walter Benjamin, ‘meaning has fled from the earth and left behind only the ‘signs’ of things unreadable – a script we can no longer decipher with confident clarity.’
Intelligentsia got responsibility:
In a time of great disruption and crisis of meaning it is a duty of the intelligentsia and artists to represent sensibilities, anxieties, aspirations and dreams in their works. Any attempt of representation is doomed to failure, if it does not make syntax of genres and semantics of words congruent with newly emerging realities. It is important because meaning associated or derived from old words, symbols and metaphors die their natural death when the worldview of a society changes. Worn-out words, symbols, images and metaphors to represent sensibilities of modern man creates anachronism in syntax and semantics. In literature anachronism between objective and subjective world connotes a mind out of sync with time and society.
True that one cannot create vocabulary of a language anew, but to connect art with society it is indispensible to invest new meaning into words, expand the horizon of metaphor and infuse new dimensions into symbols and change structure and syntax to make them representative of zeitgeist (spirit of time) and new realities. In addition, structural and semantic changes are also very important because new philosophical ideas and scientific developments have rendered traditional ideas and worldview obsolete. Galileo, Darwin and Freud disillusioned mankind of all the ideals about mankind. These developments robed mankind of old certainties and even conviction on reason of Enlightenment and paved the way for culture of disbelief.
The emergence of iconoclastic ideas in science, philosophy and different disciplines coincided with the period of colonialism during which our part of the world got exposure to these ideas. Reverberation of these ideas and ideals also left indelible marks on our psychological geography and quotidian realities, for these have disrupted old social arrangement of knowledge, power structure, social stratification and cultural fabric. Bereft of comforts of old certainties, we found ourselves standing on the threshold of modernity like a clean slate. In the history of nations such movements play of crucial role in determining the contours of its future destiny as it provide a new opportunity to life anew by getting rid of bag and baggage of the past. Every creative act, including art and social change, is rebellion against settled habits of perceiving and comprehending order of things. Arthur Koestler has expressed a profound truth when he declares, “every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”
A much-ignored facet about sub-continental interface with modernity is successes and failures to write new ideas and create alternative social arrangement at the time when second innocence was created by the disintegration of traditional system. Our response to challenges of modernity has been determined by our social context and ethos. One of the salient features of modernity in sub-continent is the failure of clergy or religious scholars to infuse new meaning into religious symbols, images and metaphors by connecting the religious discourse with the quotidian affairs of society and reconfiguring psychological geography. All this demanded a new hermeneutical scheme. Instead, we preferred to think within the dogmatic enclosure of interpretative schema that emerged in response to need of different time and space. It created cognitive dissonance within us as we tend to see modern order through the lenses of medieval ages.
However, amidst the dark night of pessimism there are flashes of enlightening endeavors by our writers. Faiz Ahmed Faiz is one of the luminous loadstars on the horizon of Urdu poetry who broke new grounds in Urdu poetry my merging gam-e-jana with gam-e-doran (wailing of the heart with woe of the world). Gam-e-jana and gam-e-doran are realms of subjective and objective worlds. By integrating worldly affairs with matters of the heart, he breathed new life into words and symbols that have been metamorphosed into clichés. Faiz was born and brought up in a religious milieu. Though he did not subscribe to ritualistic part of religion, he employed religious symbols to appeal to the collective memory of people for creating alternate world by preparing alternative vision of society. By making words polysemic, Faiz infused revolutionary meaning into religious language in which meaning had been ossified over the centuries because of atrophy of critical reason.
Meaning of metaphors changes and exceeds its primal meaning. Expansion in metaphor takes place when an artist reinterprets it to convey a particular message and meaning to the readers of his time. Through his art Faiz Ahmed Faiz expanded the horizon of meaning of religious teleology by linking it with the domain of profane. Contrary to Faiz, the very people who claim to be guardian of that knowledge spent their energies to keep people in the fetters of an anachronistic interpretative scheme. In this instance, through the catalyst of art, religious discourse expands to shed light on quotidian affairs in a secular way, whereas the managers of sacred reduced its richness to a monolithic version that excludes even its followers let alone accommodating ‘Others’.
In his popular poem ‘hum dankhain gay’ Faiz rejuvenates not only religious language, but also inspires readers by invoking symbols which are part and parcel of their collective memory. In this poetry he employed words, symbols, metaphors from ‘Surat-ul-Qaria- the striking hour’ and alludes to a dissenter, Mansoor-al-Hallaj, in Islamic history to rally masses against the exploitative system and tyrannical rule. This poem gives allusion to the Quranic description of a cataclysmic event in which the ‘mountains shall be like plucked wool-tufts’. Faiz’ art turns ‘An-al-haq– I am the truth’ into a rallying slogan for masses to revolt against false gods who claims to have monopoly on truth and own sentient beings.
Two points are conspicuous in this poem. First, it challenges the traditional use of religious language and proves that the language of revelation can be an effective tool for social change if we free it from the clutches of clergy and appropriate it to open up secular dimension. Second, it makes masses owners of this language. They can give new meaning to the language according to changed socio-political and economic realities. It is obvious that clergy failed to provide new interpretation. Therefore, it is duty of masses and postcolonial intellectuals to take part in the formation of new social semiotics. Faiz uses the most powerful medium of poetry to convey his iconoclastic message.
Hum Dekhain Gay
We shall see
By Faiz Ahmed Faiz
Hum Dekhain Gay We shall see
LazimHaike hum BhiDekhain Gay certainly we, too, will see/ We shall see
Woh Din keJiskaWadahHai that day that has been promised us
Jo Loh-e-AzlpeLikhahai which is written with God’s ink
Hum Dekhain Gay we shall see.
Jab Zulm-o-SitamkeKoh-e-garaan When the mountains of cruelty and torture
RuiikiTarahUrd Jain Gay will fly like pieces of cotton
Hum MehkumoonkePaunTalay Under the feet of the governed
YehDhartiDhardDhardDhardkaygi this earth shiver, shake and beat
AurEhl-e-HukumkeSarUper and over the head of the ruler
Jab BijlikardKardKardkegi When lightening will thunder
Hum Dekhain Gay We shall see
Jab Arz-e-Khudakekabay se when from this God’s earth’s (Kaa’ba)
Sab but Uthwaaiy Jain gay all the idols will be removed
Hum Ehl-e-SafaMardood-e-Haram Then we, of clean hearts–condemned
Byzealots those keepers of faith
MasnadpeBithaaiyjain gay We, will be invited to that altar to sit and govern
Sab TaajUchalayjain gay when crowns will be thrown off
Sab TakhtGiraaiy Jain gay and over turned will be thrones
Bas NaamrahayGa Allah ka Then only God’s name will remain
Jo GhayabBhihaiHazirBhi Who is invisible and visible too
Jo nazirbhihaimanzarbhi Who is the seer andis seen
UthaygaAnalhaqkaNaara When the anthem of truth will be raised
Jo Main bhi Hun aurTumbhi ho who I am too, and so are you
AurRaajkaraygikhalq-e-Khuda and the people of God will rule
Jo main bhihunaur tum bhi ho who I am too, and so are you
Hum Dekhain Gay We shall see
LazimHaike hum BhiDekhain Gay certainly we, too, will see/ we shall see
Hum Dekhain Gay we shall see
Essentially the vocation of philosophy is smashing of idols. Following iconoclastic tradition and appropriating words from scripture and historical event of removal of idols from Kaaba, Faiz expands the meaning of ‘lauh-e-azl’ ‘arz-e-khuda’ ‘kaaba’ ‘ahl-e-safa’ ‘mardood-e-harm’ ‘manzar’ ‘nazir’ ‘gayab’ ‘masnad’ ‘Allah’ ‘hazir’ ‘nazir’ ‘khalq-e-khuda’ etc.
He is optimistic that the promise of salvation will be fulfilled on the day when the onerous mountains of tyranny and exploitation will be blown away like wool-tufts under the triumphant march of rebellious masses. The way Faiz turns the figure of Mansoor Hallaj into a symbol of dissent and voice of the wretched of earth has exceptional appeal to his readers. Faiz’ art delicately blends inner world with the outer world on the one hand, and sacred and profane on the other.
Like other things under the sun, language also undergoes change. The trouble with language is that it is ‘a shabby equipment’ and subject to wear and tear like objects in the objective world. T. S. Eliot explains the process of deterioration in language:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.
Even though our world has been drastically changed under the influence of technological innovations, great social disruptions and political upheavals, we still employ words which have long disappeared from everyday experience or changed their form and meaning. Renowned Pakistani poet Harris Khalique explicates the process of change in style and language in these words: “society evolves from itself different kinds of expressions to suit the time, and language must correspond to the society and the time we live in. Language has to be contemporary. Today’s thought has to be rendered in today’s language and expression. How can one use the expression ‘chilman’ today when chilman does not exist anymore? Modern words and changes that have been introduced in our languages should be appreciated and recognized by literary writers.”
Our writers especially poets, still employ worn-out poetic words. For example excessive use of images from pastoral background and natural environ to convey urban sensibilities is paradoxical technique. With the increasing pace of urbanization, urban dwellers are losing whole gamut of references related to agro-pastoral, hunting and nomadic life. Today migration of human beings to big cities and small towns is occurring at phenomenal pace. Human beings are caught in the iron cage of modernity where one does not have time to tend to subjectivity or inner world at the expense of his engagements with quotidian affairs. One does not have time to reflect upon different hues of nature, let alone understanding nature of agro-pastoral life. The result of this development appears in the lack of knowledge and closeness to nature.
I hail from Gilgit town which used to be a town with crystal clear lakes and water channel rivulet, lush green fields, orchards, homes surrounded with fruit trees and river teaming with trout fish two decades ago. Now Gilgit is a city with concrete buildings with no trace of greenery, polluted water and river surface littered with city garbage. If a poet paints bucolic picture of Gilgit, I simply fail to relate with my lived experience now.
Experience of the inhabitants of urban space gives birth to new sensibilities and aesthetics. This shift, in the words of Walter Benjamin, ‘may be due to a change in the structure of experience (Erfahrung)’. Discussing Walter Benjamin’s study of Baudelaire, Andre Benjamin asserts that in his study Walter Benjamin tried ‘to establish and explain the reason why the conditions no longer pertain for a ‘positive reception of lyrical poetry’. Today a great hurdle in communication between the reader and art is the incompatible content and technique of the latter with objective conditions and realities. It is not to say that the artist should reproduce reality seen with naked eye, rather he needs to take reality into consideration and represent new sensibilities and ordinary experiences in extraordinary way through the transformative process of art.
T.S. Eliot realized the fact that sensibility change from generation to generation. He published his famous book of poetry ‘The Waste Land’ on the heels of the First World War. It was the time when European society and nature were transformed by scientific inventions and intellectual ideas. On the other hand, for the first time in history machine dominated human beings in war. These upheavals also influenced art at semantic and syntactic level. To make poetry and its technique relevant with changed realities of the world and represent sensibilities of modern age, he urged poets ‘that it appears likely that poetry in our civilization, as it exists at present, must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, doing violence to the syntax, in order to force, to dislocate, if necessary, language into his meaning.’
In ‘The Wasteland’ and other poetical works Eliot put these ideas into practice. His poetry was inspired by a renowned French poet Charles Baudelaire, who captured sense and sensibilities of modern Paris. Following the footsteps of Baudelaire, Eliot chooses images from the scenes no matter how prosaic they are. He laments loss of the sacred and moral codes and conveys decay in the industrial civilization through words and images taken from squalid scenes of London city. His poetry is replete with urban imagery like, ‘cigarette buds’ ‘smog’ ‘coffee spoon’ ‘fish shell’ ‘polluted water’ ‘a patient etherized on the table’ etc. Life in the city diminishes personal human relationship and foster impersonal contacts bereft of human feelings, and coerce human beings to robot actions devoid of meaning. His juxtaposition of current image of city with the allusions to historical events and past literary texts highlight the existential conditions of people in age of civilization of modern Iron Age. ‘The structure and organization’ of his art and mind haves been formed and sanctioned by nature and time respectively.
Eliot considers intellectual as the doctor of society. To execute his duty as the surgeon of iron civilization, he revolutionized technique and language of his poetry. He comprehended sensibilities and identified malaise and wounds of modern civilization, because his technique and language was compatible with external reality. The beautiful merger of subject with the object in Eliot’s art appeals to the readers, for it is close to their realities and sensibilities. Today we inhabit a world that is in continuous flux. Therefore, it is difficult to construe a consistent pattern from ever changing reality. However, art can still capture epiphanies of time and space as it helps us to understand the psychological landscape formed on subjective self by the world dominated by machines and alienating spirit of modernity. If an artist does not incorporate changes in physical landscape and self emerging from order of things in modern civilization of machine, modernity, metropolis and toiling masses, then his/her work becomes alien to the readers.
In 1936 Walter Benjamin in his famous essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ explicated his views of art in the backdrop of mechanical age. He opposed the idea of art for art’s sake. Benjamin is of the opinion that because of mechanical production art has lost its aura of sacredness. Now art has got rid of circle of tradition and rituals and entered into politics and shed light on hitherto unexplored dimensions of life. It helps art to become close to people and paves the way for democracy. Since politics is a worldly affair, it is impossible for art to remain oblivious of social arrangements and political dispensation.
Adherence to received meaning of words and language is detrimental to arts and thinking. ‘The manner in which human sense perception is organised, the medium in which it is accomplished’, writes Benjamin, ‘is determined not only by nature but by historical circumstances as well.’ Art can be able to communicate its message and meaning, when its technique and mission become revolutionary. Herbert Marcuse thinks, ‘functional, abridged and unified language is the language of one-dimensional thought’. For Marcuse ‘syntax, grammar and vocabulary become moral and political acts’ in the age of unified and instrumental rationality. Only by breaking the unity of language we can actualize the revolutionary potential of language.
In modern culture of disbelief and postmodernist incredulity towards meta-narrative, semiological universe constructed by managers of sacred and exponents of meta-narratives appears meaningless for the reader. Literature can breathe new meaning into existence of human beings who are robed of certainties, devoid of essence, thrown into existence and condemned to carve meaning out of it. In the age of crisis of meaning in the twentieth century, existentialism became representative of the age because it explicated and depicted modern spiritual angst through philosophy and literature. It helped lost souls to fill the existential hole, created by the departure of God and dominance of instrumental rationality.
The theatre of absurd, novels of Albert Camus and philosophical treatise and novels of Jean Paul Sartre were product of the existential realities of their time. Through different genres and mediums existentialists in mid-20th century vivisected existential malaise and depicted existential condition of mankind in the age of weapons of mass annihilation and meaninglessness. These artists and thinkers endeavored to reconnect language with culture, reconciling culture with life and making it a living culture by capturing mood of the time in their ideas and characters. This is done by breaking, in the words of Ionesco, ‘our language so that it may become possible to put it together again and to re-establish contact with the absolute or I should prefer to call it, multiple reality’.
The trouble with our artists is that they adopt tried and tested techniques for revolutionary message. This is a reflection of broader socio-psychological state of our ambivalence, for we try to perceive order of things of modernity and post-industrial age the mindset of agriculture society. Art and more particularly literature can become harbinger of revolution only if it revolutionizes its technique to correspond to external realities. Some artist and intellectuals might reject experimentation and transformation on the basis that art in general and genre of poetry in particular has nothing to do with conditions and events in the world as it deals with subjective feelings. But it is problematic to attribute poetic creation solely on subjectivity and taking human aesthetic and nature as immutable categories. From the discussion about subject and objective world in previous pages it becomes clear that creation is not a one way process. It is a result of meeting of subjective and objective horizons. Commenting, though in a different context, on the role of things conditioning human existence and humans conditioning things Hannah Arendt, in her book ‘The Human Condition’, says, ‘…the things that owe their existence exclusively to men nevertheless constantly condition their human makers.’ She adds: ‘the objectivity of the world – its object or thing character – and the human condition supplement each other; because human existence is conditioned existence, it would be a heap of unrelated articles, a non-world, if they were not the conditioners of human existence.’
As said earlier, poetry is a journey from within to outer world. Thereby, every journey entails a destination. The object of subjective journey is reaching out to things and beings out there. Hence, it can be said that subject is always in need of an object and vice versa. In the absence of an object, the subject cannot create art in the vacuum of subjectivity. For the subject, an object is a locus where attention, consciousness and ideas converge. This process is evident in William Wordsworth’s poem ‘Daffodils’ where flowers of daffodils triggered powerful emotions in the poet who later fosters and recollected them in tranquility. In ‘Daffodils’ the subject travels towards things outside and the meeting of horizon generates certain feelings in subject who transforms these into an experience where dichotomy of subject and object dissolves in an organic whole. In a nutshell, the interface between subject and object gives birth to an exquisite poem like ‘Daffodils’. From this reading we can infer that beauty unfolds itself with the merger of subject and object.
Anything entering into time subjects itself to the law of change. Art is not an exception. Instead of following received assumptions, worn-out words, depleted themes and anachronistic techniques and language, the artist needs to create a literature that is closer to life-world of the reader while subject and object are in harmony. Development of modern metropolis was a conclusion of journey that started with simplicity and results in complexity. Now this journey has entered into the age of globalization where boundaries between local, national and global are collapsing. In today’s world, modern communication is spawning myriad and novel images in which our daily lives are involved. Today human beings are faced with a blitz of countless images that are vying for domination of human thinking, lifestyle and visual space. With the increasing shrinkage of time and space under communication technology and globalization influence of these images will increase and cause change in the basic structure of our experiencing the world. While living in the metropolis of a ‘third world’, we simultaneously experience life of the idiomatic first world as well.
The footlessness and alienated self of a metropolis undergoes various trials and tribulations while negotiating complex web of relationship and significations. In his/her daily life an urban dweller has to adopt multiple personas in a single day to executive different tasks. This takes a psychological toll of the denizen of modern cities. In a life encircled by urbanization, alienation, globalization, communication effusiveness, complex relationship and full of images, the reality has become more complex. Today life has become so complex that we cannot express our experience in the pure language of countryside or romantic language - a la Wordsworth, because our experience of complexity exceeds the available vocabulary.
David Harvey writes, ‘if there is one dominant impression I have of the urban processes that are re-shaping cities particularly in developing countries (Seoul or Sao Paulo, for example), it is simply that of an urban process in which the content transcends the form – social processes literally bursting at the seams of urban form – on a scale never before encountered.’ Concluding his observation he raises important question: ‘how to create poetry of our urban future in such a situation is the fundamental question.’
To create poetry and protagonist in modern age we need not people of greater stature like Oedipus, Odysseus or Hamlet. If the modern writer focuses on complexity of experience and captures intensity of struggle for life and meaning in the city in his/her art, s/he can create poetry of urbanity and protagonist who is closer to us than Oedipus. Today life is enmeshed in the jungle of images. The writer has to choose words, images, symbols and metaphors from this jungle of signification and image. It will prove conducive to bridge the gap between reader, critic and literature, and strike a balance between subject and object. It is obligation of the critic to identify inner contradictions of the work of art by highlighting achievements and identifying intellectual fallacies. The writer in its turn can learn from the critique and improve his content and make technique effective. It will help him to represent the world of reader and his sensibilities.
Karen Armstrong in her book ‘A Short History of Myth’ asks the artists to instruct humanity. She writes, ‘if professional religious leaders cannot instruct us in mythical lore, our artists and creative writers can perhaps step into this priestly role and bring fresh insight to our lost and damaged world.’ In other words the artists not the clergy will represent religion in the future. But to become a surgeon of modern soul the artist ought to take a leap of faith by changing his/her techniques and making them resonate the modern realities. The current battle waged by fundamentalists against art is symptomatic of threat posed to status of clergy by the artist within the domain of religion. It is a clash between aesthetic and dogmatic versions of religion. I would definitely prefer to listen to a qawali of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali or reading Masnavi of Moulana Rumi. Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan represented aesthetic dimension of religion by fusing the horizon of sacred and profane in the unity of his musical compositions. The world took Nusrat Fateh Ali as a representative of Islam in his life. It lends credence to Karen Armstrong’s argument.
Art opens its aesthetic dimensions only when we try to break the cocoon of our subjectivity let ourselves to experience alterity in its diversity. Unfortunately, the dominating version of religion is exclusivist that deems even Muslims as infidels, let alone accommodating others in its discourse. By accommodating ‘others’ in the discourse of religion we may establish a pluralist and harmonious society. Art can become self destruction like religion if it allows itself to wallow in subjectivity at the expense of world outside. A French phenomenologist rightly said: “there is no inner man, man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself.” The best art is the one which becomes meeting a point for the horizon of inner world and outer world.