WORLD LITERATURE INDIA
A DIALOGUE WITH POSTMODERN VOICES VOL 1
TODAY, I publish a flash from the interview with Dr Laksmisree Banerjee..who is a multitalented poet and music lover. She has provided an exhaustive reply to a one line question which bespeaks of her philosophical grounding and vast scholarship.
DR JS ANAND
Question – 1 : What draws a line between Literature and Empirical Reality?
DR LAKSMISREE BANERJEE
One may often derive overlapping connotations from the two, but in delving deep into the ancient Philosophy of Aesthetics as well as the output and input of Literary Artefacts in various temporal and geo-spaces throughout our human civilizational processes, from ancient Greece and Sumeria to India, we find a huge difference of signification and practice between the two. Etymologically, the Greek word ‘Empeiria’ which is cognate with Latin ‘Experientia’ are words which denote Experiential and Experimental roots which have sometimes been erroneously deemed as the Sensorial or Sense-based foundations of Literature and the Arts. Such thoughts about Empiricism do not add up to the highly evolved and refined forms of Literary Art. Both Aristotle and Plato were in certain ways Empirical Philosophers, also recognizing the Human Mind as an entity interplaying with Sensory Perceptions to produce Art or a Literary Product. However, in the ultimate analysis, they never ever gave an elevated pedestal to Poetry or Literature as manifestations of any particle or whole of a Cosmic Consciousness. They never believed or acclaimed the Arts as Truth in its Highest Forms. Aristotle’s designation of Art/Literature as Mimesis or ‘a copy of a copy’ or Plato’s theory of Poets and Artists as Liars or Dream Merchants vending Falsities, naturally leads us to an arena where we see a deep chasm between authentic Literature and Empirical Reality.
From the Classical Age of the Greeks, when we move on to the Neo-Classical, Pre-Renaissance and Renaissance period, we still find Empirical Philosophers like Locke and Hobbes evaluating a Literary and Artistic Product as some kind of an extension of an elementary, base, sensorial experience of reality imprinted on ‘the blank tablet or a tabula rasa’ of the Human mind, which is devoid of any Innate ideas or feelings of the Transcendental, which one may consider as Literature that is ennobling or enlightening. There is no doubt in affirming that the clear distinction between Literature and Empirical Reality comes from the Vedic Sages of Ancient India in the Aesthetic Theories of Sage Bharat’s Natya-Shastra in the 2nd Century BC. In this treatise he clearly defines the Arts in all its forms, as a Harmonization of the human senses, perceptivity, deep spiritual perception and the Realization of the Self as an integral part of that Divine Wholeness which is reflected in the Arts. In this context I also wish to touch upon the Sutras of Maharishi Kanada of 6th Century BC, who had fathomed the unfathomable depths of Universal Truth in the “Anu” or that Indestructible and minuscular Truth of an Atom or a cell which permeates all Literary, Spiritual, Physical and Metaphysical Forms. From such sanctified texts, we may well deduce that Poetry and Literature are imbued with that infinitesimal “Anu” or Speck of a Limitless Consciousness or the deeply Visionary Awareness of the Human Self, which is rooted both in Empirical Reality as well as largely and deeply, in those inscrutable and subterranean Mysteries which pervade the Writer’s Mind like Flashes of
Divinity (as Shelley would say). In this context, I would like to recall those famous Shakespearean lines from ‘Hamlet’, in which, after having a visionary experience of his dead father, the Protagonist Hamlet tells his friend Horatio the following: “There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy”. This iconic line of the Bard, I believe, defines, locates, identifies and disseminates the Essence of Literature as an amalgamation of the Supra-Natural and the Natural.
In defining Literature and Poetry, one cannot but focus on the significant Romantic Imagination of primarily Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Keats, and also on the Mysticism of Yeats and Tagore, which astonishingly have a great affiliation with our ancient Vedic and Upanishadic Idealism in the emblematic arenas of Life, Truth and Literature/Aesthetics. The Romantics believed in the Primacy of the Higher Imagination, in the real and surreal spheres of Nature and in the Sublimity of the Human Soul for their creative output. In one of his Letters dated 22nd Nov. 1817 to Benjamin Bailey, John Keats famously writes: “I am certain of nothing but of the Holiness of the Heart’s affections and the Truth of the Imagination —– What the Imagination seizes as Beauty must be Truth, whether it existed before or not —– the Imagination may be compared to Adam’s dream —– he awoke and found it Truth”. This idea is repeated by Keats in the final lines of his Ode on a Grecian Urn: “Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty / That is all ye know on Earth and all ye need to know”. This is very much akin to the ancient Indian maxim “Satyam Shivam Sundaram”, implying the correlation between the Ultimate Truth, the Ideal of Supreme Godhood and the manifestations of Beauty or Artistic Excellence. Hence Empirical, phenomenal or sense-oriented Reality is only a small stepping stone to a graded climb to the Summit of Literary Creativity. In this gradual ascent, there seems to happen a profound churning of the Inner and the Outer World, the tumultuous as well as tranquil integration of the empirical, the sensory, the mental and the spiritual selves of the Poet or the Litterateur .— so that finally one arrives from the partial slice of everyday reality to the Cosmic Completeness of Literature that remains an indefinable piece of Immortality.
@laksmisree banerjee *******************
Prof. Dr. Laksmisree Banerjee*
*Prof. Dr. Laksmisree Banerjee is an established Sr. Poet, Writer, Educationist, Scholar, Rotarian & practicing Classical Vocalist, with many National and International Awards, Accolades & Publications to her credit. She is a Senior Fulbright Scholar (USA), Commonwealth Scholar (UK,) and a National Scholar & Gold Medalist in English of Calcutta University, India. A University Professor of English & Culture Studies, she is a recipient of the coveted UGC Post-Doctoral Research Award (Govt. of India), which she was awarded for her Path-Breaking Post-Doctoral Research Work & Global Lectures on the Comparative Studies and Transformative Vision of World Women Poets. She has also been felicitated by the Sahitya Akademi with the “Avishkar” Award/ Honour for her dual expertise as a “Scholar- Musician and a Poet- Artiste”. Prof. Banerjee has been the Founder Pro- Vice Chancellor & Ex Vice Chancellor of Kolhan University, the largest in Jharkhand India. She has lectured, taught, performed and recited in premier Universities and Literary Festivals across continents. Widely published and anthologized, she has Five published Books of Poetry, One Hundred and Twenty Research Publications with Several Academic Books to her credit. Prof. Banerjee also has the rare Honour of being The Indian President’s/ Rashtrapati’s Nominee on Boards of Central Universities. Her pivotal areas of specialization include Women’s Global Writings, Tagore’s Poetry (Studies) with her English Transcreations of Tagore, Oriental Mysticism & Sufism, English Romantic Poetry, American Transcendental Poetry & Eco-Feminism. Dr. Banerjee is also a Sr. Rotarian & a Multiple Paul Harris Fellow. Through her Poetic, Academic & Other Writings as well as her Vocal Music & Poetry Recitals and Socio- Cultural Activism, she practices the avid Promotion of Peace, Freedom, Good Will, Equality and Universal Brotherhood for a Better World—- through Trans-Cultural Understanding which shines through every facet of her work.