Monday, June 27, 2011

Art and literature according to Iqbal

In his first book of poetry, Secrets and Mysteries (1915-1922), Iqbal differentiates between poets who celebrate optimism and beauty, and those who indulge in dead ideas and ugliness (this distinction is often forgotten in our times). The poets of the first kind lead their society to success and the second to doom.

In the second work, The Message of the East (1923), he applies this poetics on the contemporary scene and shows that the literary ideals coming out of the West after the First World War (1914-1918) are unlikely to be healthy. Therefore, the future of the East, and perhaps of the world, depends on the ability of the poets of the East to attune themselves with the new impulses of life arising in Eastern societies.

In the third work, The Call of the Marching Bell (1924), he traces his own poetical career to show how he gradually dissociated himself from the self-destructive movement of Western thought as well as the decadent trends of the East (which he suspects would find new sponsors in the West very soon). Saying goodbye to the decadence of both societies, he arrived at a new vision and became attuned to the rebirth of civilization that is now happening in the East (especially mentioned in ‘The Dawn of Islam’ – see Chapter 49 in A Novel of Reality).

The fourth work, Persian Psalms (1927), includes a section exclusively dedicated to depiction of the art and religion of the slaves. The examples seem to highlight the new trends emerging in the West in the interwar years (1919-1938). It seems that they are being imported in to the East, including the Indian sub-continent, by the new intellectuals. Iqbal warns his readers against the dreadful impact of such trends (see Chapter 62 in A Novel of Reality).

The fifth work, Javid Nama, illustrates the ultimate outreach of a poet of Iqbal’s school of thought: here, Rumi leads the poet on an odyssey across the spiritual universe. The journey culminates on a face to face meeting with God and a direct vision of the destiny of the human race unveiled before the eyes of the poet. Hence the analogy of Khizr becomes completed here – just like the legendary guide, Iqbal has now received knowledge from the Divine Presence and learnt the events of the future history of the nations (see Chapter 80 in A Novel of Reality).

In the sixth work, Gabriel’s Wing (1935), he shows how the visionary artists weave a timeless tapestry even when hampered with the limitations of mediums and materials that are time-bound (see Chapter 86 in A Novel of Reality).

In the seventh work, The Blow of Moses (1936), he declares a “war” against the present age. One of the five sections of the book is dedicated to art and literature. A careful reading of these poems in the light of the previous works of Iqbal depicts a rather disturbing scenario: the East, which reawakened not a long time ago, now faces a new threat from its own intellectuals who are blindly the West. These trends include the kind of poetry that was denounced in Secrets and Mysteries as responsible for the destruction of societies.

The last two poetical works – What Should Now Be Done…? (1937) and The Gift of Hejaz (1938) – show how the poets and artists can work together with other segments in their societies for discovering a practical solution for their societies.

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