JULIA Kristeva, the feminist and critic, is usually credited with coining the term intertextuality. It basically means that the meaning of a text does not lie in the text, but it is produced by the reader’s response to that particular text as well as a vast and complex body of texts that are invoked in the mind of a reader while he or she is reading that particular text.
This concept — initially put forward in late 1960s by Julia Kristeva and supported by some other intellectuals — caught the fancy of critics. Somehow connected with postmodernism, it was deliberated in literary debates in the west. But the modernist and postmodernist issues were rarely discussed in Urdu until 1960s and Zamir Ali Badayuni was among those few critics who began writing on existentialism and some other philosophical and critical theories. His article ‘Iqbal Vujoodiyon Ke Darmiyaan’ (Iqbal among existentialists) was published in an issue of Maah-i-Nau in early 1960s and had created ripples that kept on hitting the shores for long.
It is a fact that scholars and critics of Urdu, writing on issues related to modernism, postmodernism, structuralism and deconstructionism — such as Gopi Chand Narang, Vazeer Agha, Faheem Aazmi, Qamar Jameel and some others — began writing on these topics much later and Zamir Ali Badayuni was the true torchbearer who led them on this dark and unknown path taking them to whole new worlds of philosophy, criticism and literary theories.
As put by Qamar Jameel, a critic in his own right, “it was Zamir Ali Badayuni who kindled the philosophical debates in Karachi’s literary circles in 1960s and it was him who used to debate on the theatre of the absurd, black comedy and prose poetry in an era when nobody had heard of these issues and, at the most, people generally used to ‘curse’ prose poem”.
His articles were compiled in two volumes. The first one, Jadeediyet Aur Mabaad-i-Jadeediyet: aik adabi-o-falsafiyana mukhatiba (modernism and postmodernism: a literary and philosophical address), was published in 1999. He had compiled the other collection of his articles and essays Mabaad-i-Jadeediyet Ka Doosra Rukh (the other side of postmodernism) in his lifetime but was published posthumously in 2006. These volumes have remained out of print since long. Realising the importance of these books and responding to the constant demand from the readers, Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi, decided to reprint both the works. Now they have been reproduced in one volume, titled Jadeediyet Aur Mabaad-i-Jadeediyet, Mabaad-i-Jadeediyet ka Doosra Rukh’, subtitled Majmoo’a.
As mentioned by Dr Fatema Hasan in her intro to the book, “presenting philosophical ideas in an easy-to-understand way and applying them to literary criticism as well as Urdu literature was an extraordinary feat achieved by Zamir Ali Badayuni”.
Some of the themes of the articles included in the new, two-in-one book show how Badayuni related the modern and postmodern concepts to Urdu’s classical and modern-day literature. These articles juxtapose Urdu writers works with modern western literary theories and discuss topics like: Fani Badayuni and Heidegger; Manto and existentialism; Ghalib and intertextuality; Mir Taqi Mir and Roland Barthes; Sartre: from reality to image; existentialism: the sun that is setting.
Some other articles introduce the readers to some postmodernist and poststructuralist critical theories and discuss the concepts deliberated upon by giants like Kafka, Ferdinand de Saussure, Levi Strauss, Jacques Derrida and Jacques Lacan.
What is important to bear in mind while reading the book is that it offers different points of view, as Badayuni says in his foreword “our constraint is that we cannot imagine the meaning of a text without its author, although text exists before text and meanings exist before meanings, this is known as intertextuality. This book discusses such new realities that have emerged in literature and philosophy. But situation is not inert and it is changing rapidly. [...] in this fast-changing situation no one theory and no one point of view can cover it all. It has been, therefore, endeavoured to present here different points of view so that the readers may be at more liberty to create and hold their own views”.
Zamir Ali Badayuni was a critic, thinker and broadcaster. He was born on June 20, 1941, in Badayun, UP, British India. Having studied at a prestigious college like Bombay’s St Xavier’s, he migrated to Pakistan and joined Radio Pakistan from where he retired in 2001 as controller. Here at Radio Pakistan’s Karachi station, he remained associated with some well-known intellectuals and writers, such as Saleem Ahmed and Qamar Jameel.
He died in Karachi on October 20, 2003.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2022