Comparative Literary Theory by Kapil Kapoor

Comparative Literary Theory

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Comparative Literary Theory
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Two Culture of the world Greek and Indian have nourished literature. While the contemporary Western thinking is rooted in Greek thought, especially of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and percolated down to the modern European languages with the advent of Christian thought, the multilingual Indian literary tradition has its base from the classical Tamil, Pali, Prakrt and Sanskrit.

Though culture specificity marks these two traditions off from each other, the universal human condition that finds expression in all literatures binds them together. This book delves deep into the growth of poetics, theory of literature, literary artifacts, aesthetics of literature as an art form, and dramaturgy and philosophy of literature.

Cultures have given forms as their typical expressions for India great epics, for Greece tragedies, and for England lyrics. Similarly, different age of a culture find expression in different forms Elizabethan age of England in lyrics, sixteenth-seventeenth centuries in drama, eighteenth century in prose, and nineteenth century in novel. India’s genius is in epics and its expression unfolds in sravya-preksa compositions being singable poetry as its preferred form.

This book must serve pretty useful for students and teachers of literature. Also, and invaluable collection for researchers in literature.

About The Author

Kapil Kapoor (1940- ), former Professor of English, Concurrent Professor and Rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, was the Editor-in-Chief of the Indian Heritage Research Foundation (USA)- sponsored 11-volume Encyclopaedia of Hinduism published in 2012 and is the Chief Editor of the Sahitya Akademi-sponsored Ecyclopaedia of Indian Poetics. He was Visiting Professor at the Irish Academy of Culture Heritages, University of Ulster, UK, Birla Foundation Fellow and a Fellow, Punjabi University.

He was a Member of the Governing Body, of India Institute of Advanced Study (IIAS), Shimla, and Governing Body of Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR). Currently he is a Member of the Sanchi University Mentor Group (SUMG) of the Sanchi University of Buddhist and Indic Studies to be established at Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh.

His books - Dimensions of Panini Grammar: India Grammatical System; Text and Interpretations: The Indian Tradition; and Indian Knowledge Systems (2 vols.) – were published in 2005. His Rati-Bhakti in India’s Narrative Traditions [Hindi] (written as a Birla Foundation Fellow, 2007-08) was published in 2011 and Mutual Regard: Irish Indian Anthology is under publication.


Only two cultures have thought about literature the classical Indian and Greek. The contemporary Western literary thinking is naturally sourced from the Greek thought, particularly of the three great minds Socrates, Plato and Aristotle that has proliferated into and finds expression in the literatures of modern European languages, inflected in the process by Latin as the expresser of Christian thought. The multilingual Indian tradition, sourced originally from the classical Tamil, Pali, Prakrit and Sanskrit, has evolved through known phases and proliferated into and finds expression in the literatures, both written and oral, of not only the modern Indian languages but also in the literatures of numerous small communities often patronizingly referred to as “tribal” literatures.

Cultural specificity marks these two traditions off from each other but the universal human condition that finds expression in all literatures binds them together. We hope to show it by describing and examining the subject in seven chapters:

1. Growth of Poetics as a Discipline 2. Theory of Literature 3. Categories of Literary Artefacts 4. Aesthetics of Literature as an Art Form 5. Philosophy of Literature 6. Characteristic Cultural Exprersions, Sublime and Srngara. 7. Theorizing Theory.

Before we go on to analyse these aspects one by one, it is useful to distinguish literary theory/poetics and literary criticism. What both theory and criticism have to do with literature is in fact post-literature, i.e. follow arid make sense of literary practices. In principle, it is possible to draw a line between the two literary theory and literary criticism. Literary theory is concerned with general questions about literature: What are the properties common to all literatures? What is the function of literature? What different forms does literature take? What is the nature of literary creativity? What are the elements of form and meaning in different kinds of literary compositions? What is the nature of literary meaning? What is the relationship between a literary composition and (a) its author, (b) its readers, and (c) its age and context?

Literary criticism, on the other hand, is concerned with the merit of this or that literary composition, properties of actual concrete examples of literature, the individuality of a work, its style in the broadest sense, the choice of matter as well as technique and language. Literary criticism may take up any or all of the criteria of literary theory (listed in the preceding paragraph) with reference to concrete works of art.

But the two kinds of inquiry are not really independent of each other. Theory of literature cannot be discussed without reference to facts and artefacts of literature and particular literary works can be examined only in the perspective of the theoretical parameters of literature. Even if the word “criticism” is confined to assessment of merit of a work or interpretation of its meaning, there can be no validity in the exercise unless its analysis can appeal to general intellectual principles. Thus theory and criticism necessarily overlap. And this may account for certain indeterminacy in the use of the two terms. Literary criticism can and often does include a reference to literary theory, in such collocations as “theoretical literary criticism” as against “applied literary criticism”. But the European way of keeping the two separate by referring to them as “poetics” and “literary criticism” is to be commended.

However, there is a difference of focus in the two traditions. While the Western tradition moved more and more in the direction of literary criticism, the Indian tradition of thought continued to focus on theoretical questions of literature and its elements. This may be due to the fact that the Indian tradition is far more homogeneous its source is one, the Indian philosophy. At the roots of the Western tradition, on the other hand, there are three springs Judaic, Greek and Christian a fact that led to what may be judged, depending on how one reads it, as a kind of either amalgamation or dispersal of thought. So the discipline of poetics moves from “Pagan” Greek to Christian to what in modern times can interestingly be understood as “Judaic” in its application-impulse, “doing” as against “thinking” as Matthew Arnold had anticipated in his Culture and Anarchy.


Preface v
1 Growth of Poetics as a Discipline 1
Rise and Formation of the Discipline 1
of Poetics in the West
Rise and Formation of the Discipline 20
of Poetics in India
Rasa 28
Alamkara 28
Riti 31
Dhvani 32
Vakrokti 38
Guna/dosa 39
Aucitya 40
2 Theory of Literature 45
Definition 45
Nature 51
Goal 57
Role in Society 62
As Mimetic Art 62
Theory of Images 67
Verbal Image Meaning in Literature 74
As a Knowledge Discourse 82
Creativity and Creative Process 103
3 Categories of Literary Artefacts 113
Forms/Genres of Literature, 113
(Kavyanatya Bheda)
Author/Kavi/Types of Poets 117
Reader/Auditor 127
Language of Literature 129
Literary Meaning and Sources, and 133
Types of Literary Meaning
Literary Conventions and Referentiality 139
Verisimilitude and Literary Meaning 141
Text vs. Composition 144
4 Aesthetics of Literature and Reception 145
Aesthetics and Values 145
Reception 153
5 Philosophy of Literature 162
6 Characteristic Cultural Expressions, 178
Sublime and Srngara
Characteristic Cultural Expressions and Ages: 178
Epic or Drama or Lyric or Prose
Sublime and Classic 178
7 Theorizing Theory 181
Bibliography 192
Index 204

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