A Reading in Comparative Aesthetics: Arnold as Indian Sage?

Article excerpt

Comparative aesthetics is the critical attitude in reading that opens up perceptive spaces by dehegemonizing the dominant tool of reading the text and dehermetizing it with more critical lubrications imported from a variety of literature and theory. Riding on such a comparatist orientation, this paper revisits Arnold's poetics and tries to evolve a concept of the Poet; but in a comparatist attitude that reinvests several dimensions--significance of 'subject' for the poet, choice of action and emotion, poetic structure, touchstone thesis--the paper looks into the possibilities of extending his thoughts through a critical and well meaning paradigm-meshing. Homing on the paradigms of structure, subject, propriety, artistic wholeness etc. the ideas of several Sanskrit thinkers are brought into play and also some ideas of Rabindranath Tagore which might apparently look incongruous. In fact, it is the leveling out of such apparent incongruities that comparative aesthetics needs to accomplish. Can Arnold's ideas on poet and poetry be reperspectivized through such Sanskritic and Tagorean points of view? With what critical profundity does his thought and ideas respond to this comparative approach? The paper explores these possibilities and tries to refigure Arnoldian poetics on a hitherto unexamined grid.


The object of this paper is to compare Matthew Arnold's ideas of poetry, the poet, and creativity with those of Indian Sanskrit aesthetics and with Rabindranath Tagore's (1) theory of art. My view of comparative aesthetics hinges on formal, foundational principles and leads me to experiment with ideas drawn from other literatures. I seek to re-view the principles and precepts that contribute to the formation of specific works of art, and to examine Arnold's notion of poet, and his basic principles of philosophy and poetic structure within a broad comparatist reading. (2)


Arnold writes,

Everything depends on the reality of a poet's classic character. If he is a dubious classic, let us sift him; if he is a false classic, let us explode him. But if he is a real classic, if his work belongs to the class of the very best ..., then the great thing for us is to feel and enjoy his work as deeply as ever we can, and to appreciate the wide difference between it and all work which has not the same high character." (3) (Arnold 1964: 239)

What then lends such distinctive attributes to the formation of the poet? The poet's attention should be fixed upon excellent models: the "subject" must be human actions that appeal to elementary feelings, independent of time. The Greeks used "great action" to control and govern the structure of poetry. Sanskrit literary theory in general also introduces the paradigm of visaya (subject), which determines the character of the artistic creation and aesthetic enjoyment (reference can be drawn to Siddhantamuktavali belonging to the Nyaya school). For Arnold, there is the relation between visaya and proyojana (another important paradigm in Sanskrit literary criticism), which means purpose. Anandavardhana and Abhinavagupta instruct the poets to be very careful in constructing their plot, character, situation and language following the principle of propriety. There are five successive stages in the entire plan of poetic composition: selection of the main plot, addition of sub plots, carrying the action toward fruition, concentration upon the sentiments (rasa), and arrangement of characters, situation, ornament, etc. proper to the desired sentiment. Arnold evinces such principles of organization and culls "actions" that possess an inherent interest. This becomes the "binding effect" of the final poetic discourse. Visaya in the Sanskrit poetical tradition is commonly held to mean something that "regulates" or "directs"; the prefix vi accordingly implies "characteristics," and the root si is indicative of the sense of "binding." Embedding the visaya in human action that appeals to elementary feelings (sthayibhavas), the poet is expected to provide the binding effect. …