The Cultural and Philosophical Rainbow on Critical Horizon

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Rauf Parekh

Until I opened the packet sent from Prof Dr Jafer Ahmed’s office, I didn’t know a pleasant surprise was wrapped in it: ‘Tanqeedi ufuq’(critical horizon), the first collection of Prof Sahar Ansari’s critical essays, just published by Karachi University’s Pakistan Study Centre (PSC).

It is a book for which many have been waiting for quite long. In fact many, including this writer, had complained to Sahar Ansari many times that his not compiling his articles was simply painful.

The reason for this keenness is that Prof Sahar Ansari is among the literary figures of Karachi who have seen develop this city and turn it from a calm, small city into a megapolis, a commercial hub and literary nerve-centre. He is not only an eyewitness to all the literary and cultural movements of the city but has also participated in some of them. He was uniquely positioned to meet and befriend with the writers and intellectuals of the 1940s and 1950s and, as Dr. Jafer Ahmed, director of Pakistan Study centre, has mentioned in his intro to the book, encourage and guide the younger generations of writers as well. This has made Sahar Ansari the life of Karachi’s literary gatherings. In addition to that, Sahar Sahib has been a voracious reader all his life and his study has not been limited to Urdu literature but his areas of study include English and Persian literatures, linguistics, history, culture, literary theory and criticism, politics, economics, philosophy, religion and even science.

All this has made Sahar Sahib such an erudite person that when he comments on some literary work or theory, he gets to the crux of the matter and everybody has to listen. His erudition is quite evident from this book, too. Divided into two sections, the first one discusses literary theories, literary movements, philosophies, social values, movements and international and global intellectual trends. In the first article included in the book, he raises the question of literature’s importance in today’s world viz-a-viz journalism. In the second piece, he has come up with a very pertinent issue faced by today’s world: why read literature in the age of science? Here he draws a point from C. P. Snows famous theory of “two cultures”. According to Snow, there is a divide between sciences and humanities, especially in the arts and literature. He says the intellectual life of the western world is split into two polar groups. While scientists “have future in their bones”, intellectuals, says Snow, are “focused on the past, preoccupied with traditional culture”. Sahar Sahib, while stressing arts and literature’s softer and humanistic side, says that in the days gone by mysticism or spirituality was the zeitgeist which has now been replaced by politics and, therefore, any literary work that has an aspect of protest or a whiff of resistance is more valued than the creative works devoid of such elements.

Another article in this section asserts that denying the value of historical awareness is shaping up as an industry in the West. The privileged class, says Sahar Sahib, wants to wipe the sense of history off the minds of the common people as this will help downtrodden rise for their rights. He says that the West wants to present Neo-Historicism in such a way that literature’s connection with history is snapped. He sees Fukuyama’s theory of “the end of history”, Huntington’s theory of “clash of civilisations” and Alun Munslow’s deconstructionist and postmodernist theories of historiography in the same light. Sahar Sahib stresses the importance of historical consciousness in the realm of literature.

The articles in the second portion of the book deal with the works of some maestros and veterans such as Mir, Ghalib, Shibli, Iqbal, Faiz and Josh and some contemporaries such as Razia Fasih Ahmed, Mubeen Mirza and Yasmeen Hameed. While one may agree with most of his notions about Mir Taqi Mir’s linguistic consciousness and Ghalib’s poetic greatness, one has to pause and think over when he says that “Iqbal was secular”.

But what one must appreciate is that Sahar Ansari, despite having read the modern western literary and philosophic theories, is not overawed by the West and firmly believes that while getting light from the western sources of knowledge and wisdom is not a taboo, one must not forget one’s literary and moral values and the social milieu against which our literature was and is being created. For instance, he says “some of our poets and writers are associating themselves with Postmodernism, thinking that it is but the next step of Modernism. What they do not understand is that Postmodernism has a tendency to deny every philosophy and every theory. It stresses structuralism rather than empiricism and its goal is deconstructionism. The West has gone to such an extreme that it has deconstructed Bible, can we do the same with our scriptures? If we cannot go to that extent, then what is the justification for following that path?”

Dr Jafer Ahmed, director of Pakistan Study Centre, in his intro to the book has rightly paid Sahar Ansari tribute for his acumen and highlighted his literary and academic career.

Some of the issues discussed in the book invite deliberations and one hopes that cultural and literary circles would ponder over the issues. True to its name, the book has caused the colours of culture, history and philosophy to spread on literary horizon.

Citation
Rauf Parekh, “Literary Notes: The cultural and philosophical rainbow on critical horizon,” in Dawn, April 7, 2014. Accessed on March 2, 2015, at: http://www.dawn.com/news/1098212/literary-notes-the-cultural-and-philosophical-rainbow-on-critical-horizon

Disclaimer
The item above written by Rauf Parekh and published in Dawn on April 7, 2014, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on March 2, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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