Essay on Literature (CSS 2017) by Shamsher Ali (CSP)

Essay on Literature (CSS 2017) by Shamsher Ali (CSP)



1) Plato excludes poets from Ideal State
a) Being imitators poets are far from truth
b) Poets ridicule the sanctity of the society
c) Poets appeal emotions, society develops on rationality

2) Romanticist escapism
a) Escape from society and flight towards nature
b) Imaginative emotionalism & nostalgia

3) Modernist reaction
a)Kafka’s and alienation
b) Existentialism and meaninglessness of life
c) Theatre of absurd

Poetry, fiction, drama and all other genres of literature appeal emotions. These are great source of catharsis for an individual. Rumi has exalted poets as prophets. But when it comes to the real problems of the society then literature has its limitations. It could be established that fiction, drama, poetry and all other form of literature have never solved any real problem of the society. Writers involved in poetry and fiction writing are non-practical and escapists. Plato excluded the poets from Ideal State because they corrupted the minds of rational youth. Romanticist divorced themselves from urban life and found there safe haven in rural life. Modernists reacted against the project of Aufklarung (enlightenment). They were champions of pessimism whereas philosophers of enlightenment were optimistic about the bright future of mankind. Classical Urdu poetry is completely detached from real life issues. 

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Plato had no place for poets in his Ideal State. Plato, for whom Emerson once said “Plato is philosophy and philosophy is Plato”, thought that the world in which we are living is not a real world; it is imitation of the Ideal world. Poets draw their images from this non-real world so they imitate the imitated. Hence they are far from reality. He remarked, “The tragic poet is an imitator, and therefore, like all other imitators, he is thrice removed from the king and from the truth.”

Plato also deduced that poets being immoral are harmful for the well-being of a healthy society. According to Plato “poets tell the greatest of the false hood for greatest of the beings (gods)” (Ref: Plato’s Republic, Book II). Plato was furious because poets not only ridiculed gods but they shattered the very sanctity of the society.

Plato was the first thinker to write on the nature of literature. It was he who discovered that the main concern of poetry and other forms of literature is to appeal emotions. He was also right to trace that the real ills of the society cannot be cured by emotionalism. Poetry, he said “feeds and waters the passions instead of drying them up; she lets them rule, although they ought to be controlled, if mankind are ever to increase in happiness and virtue”. Plato was real genius to find the limitations of literature.

Plato’s findings about poets show us that the literature and scientific/ rational progress are poles apart. Literature leads us towards utopian state of mind whereas rationality inquires every problem with evidence, finds its causes and resolves the issue.

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On other hand we can see the attitude of the Romanticists towards society. One of the greatest movements of the literature had found its way back in to the pastoral life. It is true that earlier young romanticist inspired by French revolution sought an enlightened way for the emancipation of mankind and wrote revolutionary poetry. Once disillusioned by decline of revolution, Wordsworth, Coleridge and other poets took the path of conservatism; Romanticists reacted against the age of reason. They championed the Rousseau’s slogan: “Go back to Nature”. By praising nature, Romanticists were not contributing to the social consciousness but going away from practical life.

Romanticists put a great emphasis on imagination. These imaginations again lead them towards inward world. Due to their escape from burgeoning cities, nature fostered a sense of nostalgia for the times in which man was more close to nature. Instead of looking towards future, nostalgia of the Romantic poets found its way in the past. They forced the time to tick backwards.

Modernism was a reaction against First and Second World War. Disillusioned by a future society developed on rationality, modernists advocated pessimism at a great deal. They promoted alienation, absurdity, meaninglessness as the prime features of “dark” human nature. Modernist literature truly became lonely planet for idealists.

Kafka, a highly introvert figure, emerged as prophet of alienation. His stories Metamorphosis, In the panel Colony, A hunger artist and many other stories are the stories of a highly alienated person of a society. On the other hand war torn society of Europe was groaning under the heels of poverty and misery. Kafka took the escapist path of alienation, too individualist to solve the collective problems of society.

Same was the case with existentialist writers like Noble laureate Albert Camus and Jean Paul Sartre. They advocated that the life has no purpose. The fall, Outsider and The plague by Camus, and Nausea and No exit by Sartre portrayed the meaninglessness of life. This drove man too away from the hopeful future for society. Literature was never a proponent of pessimism before these advocates of meaninglessness.

Samuel Backett, the founder of Theatre of Absurd, also staged the absurdity through his dramas. His famous play waiting for Godot is a hopeless wait by lonely creatures in no man’s land. “Nothing is to be done”, he wrote. This inactiveness based on absurdity had very negative impacts on the optimism.

It has been now clear that literature mainly appeals emotions and imaginations. At times literature reacts against rationalism and promotes absurdity, meaninglessness and pessimism. In this manner literature has limitation that is why it has been proved unfruitful for scientific and conscious development of society and unable to solve the real problems of man. Literature can heal the wounds of an individual for the time being but to build a great nations are built on rational footings not on emotional grounds.

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