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Column: The ‘purpose’ of art


By Intizar Husain

Lahore University of Management Sciences’ Gurmani Centre for Languages and Literature brings out a literary journal in Urdu, Bunyad, under the editorship of Professor Syed Nomanul Haq. Now in its third issue, it has been established as a journal of high scholarly standards, devoted to the research and critical study of our literature and culture. The writers in this issue include Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Dr Khurshid Rizvi, Mohammad Umar Memon, Asif Farrukhi, Professor Moeenuddin Aqeel, Mahmoodul Hasan Bazmi, Tahira Siddiqa and the editor himself.

I would like to talk specifically about Faruqi’s article in which he deals with questions put to him by different interviewers, and to questions he has come across during his long literary life. The progressives in their heyday came out with the theory of purposive literature. Faruqi quotes pre-revolution Russian critic Belinsky: “Literature in our times doesn’t enjoy the privilege of being a master. It is required to serve as a slave.” And Faruqi asserts that when the progressives, ignoring artistic requisites, lay emphasis on purpose alone, he refused to accept their stance. But, he adds, as time passed they conceded a little and amended their attitude by acknowledging that art and purpose should go together and that purpose alone will fall short. In other words, we should acknowledge artistic requisites too. Only then will purpose bear fruit.

Faruqi dismisses this formula and says that art and the purpose cannot go together. Trying to explain the impossibility of such a combination, he adds that it is very easy to define a purpose. On the other hand, it is well nigh impossible to define artistic requisites. So the idea of a balance between the two will automatically lead to the dominance of purpose. As artistic requisites elude definition and are in general vague, they will remain unattained.

In the tug of war between the progressives and modernists, Faruqi stands with the modernists. And in his article he explains why. He cannot agree with any theory where an attempt is made to make literature subservient to any purpose or to any cause. In contrast to the progressives, the modernists do not demand from poetry or fiction to serve any ideology or cause. Instead, poetry and fiction are expected to serve their own causes.

From modernism Faruqi makes a long leap into the ancient literary tradition of Sanskrit. “Sanskritwallas,” he says, “had only one question to ask: whether the piece of poetry under consideration bears some meaning or not. They may further ask whether poetry under discussion has only one layer of meaning or possesses more than one layer of meaning.” He adds, “how unfortunate, that by ignoring the meaning, the progressives wholly insist on purpose and cause”.

Faruqi defends his literary stand vehemently in response to the charges levelled against him. A leading writer of our times, he stands in the dock, speaking with faith about what he thinks and believes.

The other valuable contributions to this issue include the Urdu translation of a part of Mansur Hallaj’s Kitabul Tawasin by Dr Haq. We have had a few translations of the book, but they had been translated from English, which, in his opinion, is not very reliable. The Arabic text has also been reproduced along with the Urdu translation.

I also read with interest versified Urdu translations of Shah Husain’s Punjabi poetry. Abdul Majid Bhatti, a known Urdu poet, translated the poetry.