Literature is something that we cannot see in isolation. It originates in our society. Authors dwell in our society, among us and compose their works by founding their characters according to what they witness and observe in our very society. And therefore, critics argue (as it apparently seems to be the case), literature does have a context to it. One cannot view literature in isolation. By literature, I mean literature in general and that means the entire body of literature written in any language. We cannot claim that we like a particular work and not think about the ideas, values, arguments or contentions that the work we like proposes. And this is something like the argument that the school of literary theory by the name of Structuralism proposes.
I have not been a fan of literary theories by the way. I am also one of the readers who enjoy reading and that’s it. I did not bother much about the context or ideas that compose literature. I like a character and that’s it; my love for that character ends with the character. However, it was later that I came in contact with the versatile world of literary theories. I came to know about many theories and among them, Structuralism was much fascinating to me. I also learnt about the idea that Ferdinand de Saussure proposed, Langue and Parole, and searched more and more about it. I got to know about Strauss and his interpretation of myths. I came to learn about many other figures including Roland Barthes.
In the context of Indian literature, we can talk about such theories in detail. India has been a rich country when we talk about the bodies of literature that we have received from our ancestors as heritage. We have several groups of works that reflect several aspects of society. Spiritual, religious, stately, kings and kingdom, wisdom, politics and so on. We even touch upon the erotic ideas very openly and it surprises me seeing that today scholars in the West comment about our openness and our regressive views on sex, sexuality and subjects like these.
Coming back to the topic at hand, is context important in literature? Do we need to learn about a society before we can be able to interpret the literature produced by that society in its clarity? Let’s take an example from our literature. To understand Ramayan, do we need to read about the age of Ramayana first? Or, we can understand the age of Ramayana by reading the Ramayana itself? It seems, by these opposing arguments, literature does have the context to it. While some context does come from the social and cultural values, literature carries its own context and it acts as a mirror to the society in the true sense.
For modern literature, we cannot say it acts as a mirror of society. Modern authors and poets work upon their ideas and emotions with a rather contracted approach and therefore they do not think being open or all-accepting would be good for their literature. And we need to understand modern literature only by understanding the concept that it has been supplied with intentionally but indirectly. For example, we can take the names of literature by post-colonial writers or the works by Chinua Achebe to be precise. In India, we can take the names of authors like Kiran Desai and Arundhati Roy for such examples.
Well, it will be a prolonged debate to reach the conclusion of such an idea. As far as I believe, it cannot be reached because many of the literary topics often end with the unending acceptance of counters and further counters. I believe it is up to the work of literature and its qualities… whether it should be seen in a larger context or just enjoyed. You can safely enjoy the works by a few authors who write explicitly erotic fiction because their substance is not standard enough to add context to it. Just let it be read and that’s it.
What do you think? You can share your opinions in the comet section.
By Amit for Desi Readers