Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What is literature?

According to Iqbal, the rise and fall of nations depend on literary ideals even more than politics, economics and other circumstances which, although important, are subservient to ideals embraced by a nation through literature. In some cases, even the human understanding of a divinely revealed religion may be moderated by the effects of such ideals.

From this point of view, Iqbal distinguishes between two kinds of literature. The first is entertaining, uplifting and portrays beauty (in my researches, I propose the term “consensus literature” for this school, because its writers seek to unite diverse segments of their societies). When nations are strong, they respect this type of literature and when they grow weak, they start looking down upon it (See One Heart for Peace for an excerpt from Iqbal’s own writing on this subject).

The second kind of literature is depressing and portrays ugliness. Its writers claim that common people are incapable of finding attraction in “the best of what has been thought and said”. Thus these writers create dichotomy between “high literature” and “popular literature,” splitting the soul of a society between the elite and the unschooled. When nations grow weak and societies cannot hold themselves together they embrace such theories, as was the case with various European nations after 1857 (see my monograph The Beast and the Lion). For a refreshing post on this subject, check the Blog of Faraz Haider.

How old is this contention between consensus-seeking and dichotomy-making? That’s what we shall see next: Mesopotamia, the birth of literature.

Photograph is taken from the blog One Heart for Peace



  2. To all the readers here at RR: I am as a still-ashamed American yet I am grateful way beyond any words - to be introduced to Rumi's, Iqbal's and Khurram Sahib's true world-shattering messages of Love, Goodwill, Peace, Oneness, Forgiveness and Self-Respect and so many other PRICELESS gifts.

    Because of his and your generosity I have more direction, guidance and ACTUAL assurance that these values will WIN in time over all the world and will SUCCEED within our own hearts right NOW hour-by-hour, day by difficult yet beautiful days.

    Every suggestion and enlightening passage and illumination I've received - whether pragmatic or a spiritual challenge - from our teacher and writer here has been invaluable and I hope over a little more time to apply each to my work and life.

    Reading Khurram Sahib's writings and other suggested literature is well worth the time it may take to allow the logic, relevance and new insights to fully take effect little-by-little.

    If you do the same - this will lead to fruit beyond your every expectation...I'm convinced.

    I humbly thank each of you who have swallowed the fact that I am an American to allow me to learn along with you.

  3. Fatima and Connie, thanks.

    Fatima, your comment contains a great idea which can be elaborated. Why don't you write something about it and post the link here?

    Connie, thanks for your generous comment. I am also a humble student of these things, just like others. Regarding America, certain historical facts cannot change despite good or bad times (such as those mentioned by the founder of Pakistan to the first American ambassador):

    "The historic fight for self-government by your people and its achievement by them, the consistent teaching and practice of democracy in your country had for generations acted as a beacon light and had in no small measure served to give inspiration to nations who like us were striving for independence and freedom from the shackles of foreign rule."

  4. Yes, Fatima - I would also like to see your comment elaborated.

    khurram Sahib - your reminders of the "good" seeds provide a kind of compass to us about where we need to be heading during these such agonizing times. I am someone who does not live well nor peacefully without such a compass.

    With gratitude for those you and the others here have noticed, reflected upon and given to us here.

  5. Somehow I missed this post, just saw today. Literature is something higher than the other disciplines. It contains more than what, science, philosophy, sociology, politics, psychology and theology has to offer separately. It is complete discipline in itself, engrossing all at a time and very subtly bringing a message home without much fanfare and pomp, but still with grace and style. LITERATUE IS COMPLETE BOOK OF LIFE.