Friday, April 20, 2012

Consensus Literature

Did he write high literature
or popular?
We have been told about two types of art, literature and culture. There is a "high culture", which is the best of what has been said and thought, and can be understood and appreciated mainly by the experts and the initiated. Then there is a "popular culture" which includes everything else and is usually meant for consumption by the uninitiated, the masses.

The truth is that this distinction, perpetuated by a bunch of intellectuals in the middle of the nineteenth century, fails to do justice to the greatest masterpieces of all times. Rumi, Shakespeare, Goethe, Iqbal and most of the great names of literature were appreciated by the elite as well as the masses, at least in their own times.

If literature represents our dreams, then only literature appreciated by all segments in a society can represent the collective dream of that society. In fact, such literature would be rather like the dream of the King of Egypt through which a Joseph could foretell the destiny of the nation.

Therefore, at least for practical purposes, we need to rise above the dichotomy of high and popular. For this reason I have introduced the term "consensus literature" in my writings (in Urdu I call it jamhoori adab, جمہوری ادب). 

Consensus literature refers to those writings which are appreciated by all segments in a society. We need to identify such writings so that we could foresee the destinies of nations. Since the easiest way to identify something begins with naming it, we need this term: consensus literature.


  1. hmm...Shafique Sahib...very true...

    I believe that this Jamhori Adab(as you call it) very easy to find (in our times we can identify it very its available easily) but very hard to put in the records...because unfortunately the record makers in our society like Newspapers...Media and any other sources are in control of those (bunch) of intelligentsia...who have no regards or concern for the masses and thus what masses do or read is not important enough to be put up as a news...

    That's why our new generation has little knowledge of our national Heroes. What a pity! correct the history....the masses should first take over the record keeping responsibility....they should have the courage to voice out what they like and what they want to or see...

    Nice post.

  2. Greetings,

    Thank you for this post.

    I like the term, consensus literature. It's something that can be owned by all. From this post, I understand that consensus literature has been there all along, but has been obscured, and perhaps even denied, by a small segment of human culture.

    All good wishes,


  3. I think we have been brought far from literature let alone high and popular. The reading circles in Pakistan are very few. and if there are some figures, who are working in 'real' literature field, are kept behind. masses are piled up into tv programs which are promoting things which are not related to our ideology/dream.

  4. @Noor: literature need not be understood as the written word only. In the Pakistan region, the best literature has always been transmitted orally and through music. Hence the centuries of Sufi literature.

    After 1947, this tradition continued. Not only the novels of Ibne Safi were recited to those who could not read, but also we developed a very purposeful cinema from the 1960s to the 1980s, and then there were national songs. All that is literature and is popular among the masses even today.

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