KU Campus Diary: ‘Revisiting Literary Classics in the Postmodern Secular World’, Seminar Held



Keeping its tradition of inviting experts and keeping students abreast with latest trends developing in literary world, English department of University of Kashmir held a two days ‘National Seminar’ last week on “Revisiting Literary classics in the postmodern Secular World”.

Noted literary figure of sub-continent, and former Dean Faculty of Arts, KU, Prof G R Malik presided over the function.

Introducing the subject, HoD English department, Prof Hameedah Nayeem said, “there are significant voices  claiming the death of literature because a stodgy post ‘Nietzchean’ world seems incapable  of thinking or imagining grandly as the postmodern age with its ‘incredulity towards all narratives’ is incapable  of sustaining grand visions and grand narratives.”

“The rise of a number of new perspectives in criticism- from cultural materialism to new historicism to deconstruction to neo-colonialism and a number of neo-Marxist appropriations of traditional critical approaches-  are all  wedded to a certain form of de-canonization discourse. Literature is increasingly reduced to ideology and history of its production and the transcendence that it traditionally invoked is out of fashion in literary circles. A consumer culture swallows proliferating literary criticism productions but literature, as understood in classical sense, is the first casualty in the process,” she said.

The department earlier this year organized a day-long seminar on Kashmir’s own poet, Agha Shahid Ali.

“It is no longer learning profound truths about life and salvation and creative delight that used to be experienced in classrooms and in literary gatherings. The Classics are suspected and their halo disrobed. At present literature is indeed fighting to survive in the desacralized context. With incredulity towards all narratives of emancipation and in its obsession with the ontologies of the singular and the cult of surfaces. A great number of classics have often been traditionally read in symbolic and esoteric terms as the odysseys of soul. But a world that suspects the soul and its need for salvation is indeed insensitive to the charm and depth of the culture of classics. The precedence of ideology over pedagogy has now invaded departments of literature and culture. Although classics are still in curriculum but what they once signified and the way they were once taught has significantly changed. The question is: should the culture of disavowal of classics be accepted with stoic resignation as  warranted by changed cultural predilections of the (post)modern world or should  it  be critiqued and suspected in turn as complicit with certain ideological forces?”

Prof Hameedah said that papers were  invited that sought to interrogate the current understanding fostered in the name of de-canonization, ideological  and other approaches to criticism that downplay original contexts, reception and significance of the culture  of classics that has dominated the world till recently. “The seminar also proposes to explore related issues like renaissance in folklore studies and the thematic and formal connections between folklore and classics. It would also examine marginalized brand of literary criticism that still builds on the classical understanding of   literary texts. It would seek to radicalize the claim of neo-colonial criticism to explore the esteem that the colonized world gave to its classics.  The seminar would give particular attention to certain attempts in the modern world at writing classics in the new setting that appropriated or, more frequently, parodied classics and eschewed their connection to the sacred or traditional cosmology and pneumatology,” she added.

Prof Sridhar Rajeswaran presented a comprehensive keynote address dwelling on ancient to modern classics and cinematographic representations of the old classics and explained how old classics could be adopted in the postmodern age.

In his address, Prof G R Malik said that postmodern sensibility and classics are intrinsically opposed to each other and hence  classics are disrobed by modern critics. “But timeless classics will always transcend time and be relevant to all those who look for them,” he said.


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