SHAMSUR Rehman Farooqi is one of the most respected and most feared critics in today’s world of Urdu literature.
He has earned this awe with hard work, deep study, a lucid vision and, above all, a point of view which is independent and has evolved over the years through research and reflection. For this independent and self-moulded view, Farooqi had to pass through many cumbersome ideological terrains and quit many circles that had once been his refuge.
Farooqi has come a long way in his literary career that now spans more than 60 years. In the beginning, he was impressed by both progressives and Islamists. He quit both of them because they stressed ideology over literary considerations. He then was inspired by Russian Formalist School and was much inspired and impressed with Muhammad Hasan Askari, too, one of the most formidable of critics in his times. But with the passage of time, Farooqi turned out to be a modernist and his literary magazine Shabkhoon became one of the most distinguished vehicles for modernism in Indo-Pak subcontinent as well as a forum for expression of Farooqi’s views.
A speciality of Farooqi’s is his metacritical theories. Metacriticism is the criticism of criticism. In other words, metacriticism examines the principles, methods, logic and theoretical discourses of literary criticism. Some scholars use the term ‘extrinsic criticism’ as a synonym for metacriticism and, as put by ‘The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms’, the term ‘intrinsic criticism’ may be used as the contrary of metacriticism. But intrinsic criticism must precede extrinsic criticism or metacriticism, says Roger Fowler in his ‘A Dictionary of Modern critical Terms’, “as no literary work can constitute valid evidence in any more general field until its own nature has been rightly assessed”.
As for Urdu, one can name just a few critics that reflected on the issues related to the very nature of criticism itself and propounded their own theories about literary criticism. Among them are Muhammad Hasan Askari, Vazeer Agha and, of course, Shamsur Rahman Farooqi, as they have evaluated critical literary discourses form their original and innate point of view. Hence, metacriticism in Urdu owes much to these critics.
Shamsur Rahman Farooqi’s critical works and his metacritical theories have stirred not only great interest but debates as well and they truly deserve to be discussed and evaluated at length. Recently Safdar Rasheed was awarded a PhD for his dissertation on Farooqi’s critical works and critical theories. It has now been published in book form by Lahore’s Majlis-i-Taraqqi-i-Adab, also briefly referred to as Majlis, under the title Shear, Sheariyaat Aur Fiction, subtitled Shamsur Rahman Farooqi Ki Tanqeed Ka Mutal’a.
The commendable aspect of this thesis is that Safdar Rasheed, quite contrary to what today’s other PhD students do, has fully read, understood and digested the critical works of major critics of Urdu and has analysed Farooqi’s critical works against the backdrop of those works and that too quite meticulously. Let me quote from three forewords of the book that have much crux. The first foreword is by Prof Dr Tehseen Firaqi, the director of Majlis and a researcher and critic in his own right. While appreciating Farooqi’s views, Firaqi says that Farooqi believes that a literature is based on the poetics that is determined by the cultural traits of the region where that literature originates and flourishes. Hence, it is unfair to judge a literature on the basis of foreign or alien poetics. Secondly, says Firaqi, Farooqi has indeed benefitted much from Hasan Askari, but has expanded on that and Farooqi does not follow Askari blindly. But Firaqi takes exception to some of the views of Farooqi and disagrees with him when Farooqi says that Shibli followed the west blindfolded. Firaqi thinks Shibli indeed had
drunk from the western fountains of knowledge but he had also rejected many misconceptions of the west, especially the ones that say Muslim philosophers had just copied down the thoughts of the Greek philosophers.
In the second foreword, Dr Nasir Abbas Nayyar has summed up Safdar Rasheed’s work as well as Farooqi’s literary theories and critical works quite well. In the third foreword, Muhammad Hameed Shahid says that Safdar Rasheed has discussed in this book both theoretical and applied aspects of criticism, but at the same time has raised some new questions.
The first chapter describes Farooqi’s works and the factors that have contributed to Farooqi’s critical philosophy and point of view. The second chapter discusses Farooqi’s critical views and especially his views on eastern poetics. Other chapters evaluate Farooqi’s thoughts on classical ghazal, daastaan, theories related to poetics and epistemological issues. Safdar Rasheed says that Farooqi has contributed very valuable thoughts on post-modernism as well and has tried to reclaim our cultural and literary identity. Two appendixes have added to the depth of book as they give detailed list of Farooqi’s life and works and a questionnaire that expounds Farooqi’s views on certain literary and cultural issues.
Safdar Rasheed had been associated with National Language Authority for quite long and now teaches Urdu at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2019