Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Mahimabhatta's Analysis of Poetic Flaws

Academic journal article The Journal of the American Oriental Society

Mahimabhatta's Analysis of Poetic Flaws

Article excerpt

The revolutionary Dhvanyaloka of the mid-ninth-century Kashmiri literary theorist Anandavardhana challenged many of the doctrines and presuppositions of both earlier Sanskrit literary theory (Alamkarasastra) and general linguistic philosophy. While Anandavardhana's radical views eventually gained more or less universal acceptance among Sanskrit literary theorists, they at first drew a good deal of hostile response from defenders of earlier modes of literary theory as well as non-literary language theory. The most aggressively determined, and also the last, major critic of Anandavardhana's views within the tradition of Alamkarasastra is the mid-eleventh-century Kashmiri Mahimabhatta. Mahimabhatta's only surviving work, his Vyaktiviveka ("An Analysis of Suggestion"), (1) is a concerted attack on one of the central components of Anandavardhana's theory.

Anandavardhana argues that the beauty of literary language depends crucially on its capacity to convey certain meaning-elements that are not explicitly stated--unstated vastus (narrative elements), alamkaras (figures of speech), and, most importantly, rasas (aestheticized emotions). One of the primary objectives of Anandavardhana's work is to show that the capacity of poetry to convey these unstated meanings cannot be explained in terms of the two modes of signification generally recognized by theorists of non-literary language (the literal [abhidha] and the figurative [laksana or gunavrtti]), and that it is therefore necessary to postulate a third, specifically poetic, mode of expression, which he calls "suggestion" (dhvani or vyanjana).

It is around the question of the existence or non-existence of suggestion as a distinct mode of signification that controversy most hotly rages in the two and a half centuries following the appearance of the Dhvanyaloka. Mahimabhatta, like many of Anandavardhana's critics, defends orthodox language theory against the challenge presented by Anandavardhana's semantics of poetic language. According to Mahimabhatta there is no need at all for literary theorists to postulate "suggestion" as a previously unrecognized and specially poetic mode of expression; the facts of poetic expression can be accounted for entirely in terms of already recognized semantic and cognitive processes. While fully accepting Anandavardhana's claims for the importance of unstated meaning, particularly rasa, in poetry, he argues that all the types of allegedly "suggested" meaning dealt with by Anandavardhana are, in fact, understood through a process of inference.

Mahimabhatta explicitly states in the opening verse of the Vyaktiviveka that the objective of his work is to demonstrate that Anandavardhana's dhvani is entirely reducible to inference. Yet, surprisingly, a huge portion of the work is devoted to a topic that bears no obvious relation to this stated objective--the detailed analysis of a particular set of "poetic flaws" (dosas). Mahimabhatta's Vyaktiviveka is divided into three chapters. The first offers a detailed critique of Anandavardhana's definition of dhvani, and of the notion of suggestion generally, demonstrating that dhvani can be explained only as a kind of inference. The third gives a detailed examination of Anandavardhana's own examples of dhvani, showing in each case the inferential process by which the allegedly "suggested" meaning is understood. The second chapter (which comprises more than half of the entire Vyaktiviveka) consists of an elaborate analysis of several varieties of poetic flaw. The matters discussed therein have, for the most part, no clear bearing on Mahimabhatta's critique of dhvani. It is almost as if a second, unrelated, work has been inserted into the middle of his attack on Anandavardhana. (2) Mahimabhatta himself acknowledges the digressive character of this section of his work; at the conclusion of the second chapter he says, apparently referring to the entire discussion of poetic flaws, "enough of this extensive treatment of matters unrelated to the topic at hand" ("alam aprastutavastuvistarena": Vyaktiviveka, 462). …

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