ex’orcize v.t. expel (evil spirit) by invocation
etc.; clear of spirits thus.
The Greeks distinguished between epistēmē
and tekhnē, knowledge and its application – the Baconian
aphorism, Knowledge is power, is after all very Greek in spirit.* For the Greeks tekhnē comprised
both what we today call technology and what we today call art. The Romans as usual followed suit and distinguished
correspondingly between scientia and ars. Only, they started making the tidy-minded distinction
between useful arts (precursors to out technology) and not so useful
arts (precursors to out art). It
is something of an irony, therefore that we moderns would like to
make a technological age safe for the arts as if there is some basic
incompatibility between technology and art.
And even if we don’t see any such basic incompatibility between
the two descendants of tekhnē one may still wonder as
to how either of them could be a relevant context for the other.
One could no more take the relevance of technology for granted
than one could take the relevance of art for granted.
The Relevance of Technology to Human Life: It takes an industrial metallurgist turned
historian of technology Cyril Stanley Smith (1975/1981:325) to remind
us that “Technology is more closely related to art than to science…..art
must somehow involve the selection and manipulation of matter….the
technologist, like the artist, must work with many unanalyzable complexities…..historically
the first discoveries of useful materials, machines, or processes…..were
not done for a perceived practical purpose.
Necessity in not the mother of invention – only of improvement……;
it can only exploit what is already known to exist.
Discovery requires aesthetically motivated curiosity, not logic….”
Rather than looking upon technology as either a poor relation to science
or a poor relation to art one would do well to consider technology
in and for itself.
The broad constraints and opportunities that the universe,
in particular the immediate environment, offers to Homo sapiens, especially
to the consciousness of man, together constitute what Malraux called
“la condition humaine”. Man has then gone on to ask questions such
as this, Is the earth a paradise or a vale of tears? And does technology
make a difference to the way he answers such questions?
Technology is best seen in an ethological perspective –
when the first ape-man used a stick or a stone as a tool or cooked
his food or dressed a wound or patted clay into shape, he undertook
to transform or restructure the environment to meet his needs as distinct
from letting or making himself transformed or restructured to meet
the demands of the environment. The
biotic fact of adaptation takes on a new meaning with the entry of
man and his artifacts on the scene.
To begin with, technology is best seen as prosthesis or
extension of the channels of sensory input (groping in the dark with
a white cane is so much better than doing so with one’s bare hands
or getting another person to lead you; microscopy or telephony or
acid tests or remote sensing are only more elaborated examples) and
of the channels of motor output (breaking nuts with stones is so much
better than breaking stones with a bare fist; power tools or helicopters
or robotry are only more elaborate examples). Technology has certainly enhanced the range
and power of man when it comes to mapping things or acting on them
– acting with precision if need be.
The restructuring of environment through technology consists
in the chemical or physical manipulation of matter, in transforming
energy or putting energy to work, and finally in the transfer or storage
or retrieval or processing of information as the case may be. (I am of course using the term ‘information’
here in the cybernetic sense. The
manipulation of information may be either for the sake of control
– as in a ball-cock or a thermostat – or of sending a message, that
is, information in the everyday sense – as in a traffic light or a
What then is the whole point of this prosthesis or this
manipulative activity? There are two sides to the answer to this question. On the one hand, technology establishes a functional
order in the midst of dysfunctional or nonfunctional disorder – as
when the flow of surface water is regulated and managed. On the other hand, technology could also be
seen to afford man a certain operative freedom in the midst of the
relentless, unyielding regimen imposed by nature – as when safety
devices allow us to function in unsafe situations.
From ecology to economy is but a step. Technology alters the cost and revenue equation
of production on the one hand (as when stone implements, the use of
metals, the primary machines, domestication of animals and plants,
harnessing of energy progressively increased the rate and scope of
production). It makes for more efficient consumption on
the other hand (as when cooking, clothing, shelter, medicine, storage
and transfer of goods, gadgets, devices like writing for the storage
and transfer of messages progressively improved standards of consumption).
Thus both supply and demand are accentuated – a surplus
of supply is matched with an enhancement of demand. It became practicable to support a larger population and a better
standard of living. (Does
this mean a better quality of life? But let us not anticipate.)
Technology was of course the most important constituent
of “the forces of production” that Marx identified, along with “the
relations of production”, as the initiators of historical change. A consideration of this will of course lead
one into a whole politics of technology.
Considering that some technology, even some kind of advanced
technology (think of the drainage system of Mohen-jo-daro) has everywhere
and always accompanied man one may reasonably ask why one should then
speak of the present age beginning with the Industrial Revolution
as the technological age. Technology with a capital ‘t’ is technology
informed by empirical and formal sciences.
Early science was often a by-product of technology – think
of geometry and alchemy. Early
modern science was too busy discovering things to think of inventing
practical devices. Indeed it remains true even today that an inventor
need not be a scientist or even a technologist but that the inventive
turn of mind or the happy accident does not see him through harnessing
the invention – that is where modern scientific technology comes in,
and in a big way too.
It is a commonplace of history that the pace of change has
accelerated so much that more transformations have overtaken man’s
life in the last couple of centuries than in the whole of the previous
history of man. The heat engine,
the harnessing of electromagnetism, industrial chemistry, the electronic
revolution, animal and plant breeding in a systematic manner, asepsis,
inoculation, anaesthesia, chemotherapy – each of these has been a
turning point in the relevant field. (Scientific technology has invaded sports,
pharmacology, cattle breeding, warfare, data-processing – indeed everything,
even the reproduction of the human species.)
That is what lies at the back of our speaking of the technological
age. In so doing we undertake
to sort out the effects of scientific technology from the effects
of social and political organization.
We should not describe as effects of technology what are really
effects, say, of the change from the closed society (Gemeinschaft)
to the open society (Gesellschaft) or the effects of a capitalistic
or socialistic economy or the effects of a libertarian or totalitarian
polity. Where formerly the
cooking pot was made and sold by a single artisan, now a whole team
of designers and engineers and workmen, marketers and distributors
is behind the manufacture and sale of a cooking pot.
The implications of technology, all technology, scientific
or otherwise, run deeper than one might suspect. Technology is a vital modification of the interface
of man and his environment. Technology
is no mere survival kit, no mere activator of production and consumption,
supply and demand. Rather
it affects the very quality of life, and does it profoundly. This is something that is lost sight of in
identifying development with technological and economic development.
The contact between man and environment is now mediated
by technology (‘untouched by human hand’) as often as it is immediate
and direct (‘barefoot’, ‘naked eye’).
The contact can now be disinterested and not merely utilitarian,
we have “time to stand and stare”.
The beauty of landscape and seascape became a commonplace only
in 18th century Europe.
The sea was no longer merely a source of food and danger.
At its most acute this distancing can be alienating, self-estranging.
“Vivre? Nos machines le feront pour nous!”, we seem to be saying.
(“Live? Our machines will do it for us!”)
Technology facilitates the replacement of sensory impact
by sign impact – one takes readings off the dial, clicks the camera
rather than take a good look at the Taj Mahal.
But then this replacement has vastly enlarged and enriched
man’s time perspective as well as space perspective.
Technology also facilitates the replacement of motor efforts
by minimal gestures – a flick of the arm substitutes for a heaving
of the hammer, a felicitatory telegram does duty for a warm hug. Paul Valéry (1928/1964 : 226) says, “Just as water, gas,
and electricity are brought into our houses to satisfy our needs in
response to a minimal effort, so we shall be supplied with visual
or auditory images, which will appear and disappear at a simple movement
of the hand, hardly more than a sign.” (Emphasis added.)
This is prosthesis carried to an extreme.
Technology has often sought to imitate animal adaptive behaviour
– not always with success (witness, man’s early attempts to fly like
birds). Man in turn often tends to imitate his own technology – the handling
of technology is a learning experience in itself and this learning
is transferred to his ways of understanding and appraising things,
of work and play, of making and managing things.
Thus, quantification and measurement becomes a habit, buildings
and streets are alphanumerically labeled rather than named, pleasure
trips and weekends are planned if not scripted rather than improvised,
food recipes are tried out and experimented with.
It is not for nothing that bureaucracy is often called administrative
machinery. At this point it will be worthwhile to point
out a basic difference between theoretical science and science applied
to technology. A theoretical
scientist works hard to arrive at (in Descartes’s classic phrase)
“clear and distinct ideas” if not clear and distinct ideas” if not
clear and distinct algorithms or mathematical procedures.
But his interest and excitement ceases the moment his initial
icons and imponderables crystallize into formulae that permit him
to dismiss details as calculable variables.
Not so the technicians. He has a warm and intimate feel, even feelings
for detail; he often begins where the theoretical scientist ends –
he adopts and adapts the formulae to practical ends. In so doing, however, he may, like the theoretical scientist, strive
for elegance as he designs and fashions his artifact. There is an aesthetic component in machine
design. What Thornstein Veblen
called the ‘instinct for workmanship’ (an aspect of what we may call
pattern hunger married to activities hunger) drives
man towards the useful production of goods and services rather than
towards mere status pursuit or mere profit-seeking.
Ugliness, drabness, waste, unpleasantness is not inherent in
technology – rather is it traceable to human greed, laziness, indifference,
and poverty of imagination.
And finally, technology has a moral dimension. Too often technology is made out to be morally neutral – one may
make or mar, heal or hurt, construct or destroy with the help of technology.
What is lost sight of in so saying is the fact that quite often
technology permits us to escape between the horns of a painful moral
dilemma – the modern midwife is confident that she may be able to
save both the baby and the mother, the spreading of education need
not be quantity without quality or quality without quantity or some
uneasy compromise. Technical
progress consists in the progressive elimination of painful choices. It grants man a partial reprieve so to say from the tragic gap that
sunders man’s aspirations and dreams from man’s capabilities and sufferings.
Freedom is as much a suspension of necessity as it is a recognition
The Relevance of Technology to Art:
We have already seen how technology introduces functional order
combined with operational freedom and how this enlarges man’s moral
freedom by narrowing the range of painful moral choices.
The combination of orderliness and freedom brings technology
close to art. A human artifact – whether the underlying impulse
is technical or artistic (or both as in the design arts) – creates
an island of a characteristically human order in the natural universe
and helps man to feel ‘at home’ in the world.
The artifact participates in the transition from the natural
order to the socio-cultural order.
By offering man the right mix of orderliness and freedom technology
and art constitute the positive side of man’s alienation or distancing
himself from the world.
Art is by no means above satisfying some of the basic needs
of man. Man has stimulus hunger – a prolonged
deprivation of stimulus can be shown to be not merely tiresome but
profoundly disturbing. Art affords relief from boredom and ennui by
structuring time: art can be entertainment.
Man has activity hunger – a prolonged spell of inactivity
can be unnerving. Art affords
relief form inaction by structuring behaviour: art can be work and
play. (An artist’s sense of work and play can of
course be the reverse of other people’s sense of work and play.) Man has pattern hunger –prolonged exposure
to unpredictable change and a disorderly landscape can be unsettling.
Art affords relief from confusion and uncertainty by structuring
space: art can be decoration. Finally man has interaction hunger –
solitary confinement or the Robinson Crusoe experience can cause acute
distress. Art affords relief
from surrounding indifference or uninvitingness: art can offer ‘human
interest’. Art as entertainment,
as activity, as decoration, as a source of human interest? This is
art at its biotic minimum and at its closest to technology. At this level art interlaces with work no less than leisure and
The technological age profoundly changes the context of art. Not only does it bring about a change (as we
shall presently see) in the very conditions of artistic production,
reproduction, and reception, but it redefines the status of art also. And how? Technology tends to domesticate art.
(Does this call for an exercise in wild life preservation?
But we mustn’t anticipate.)
Although art has always served to satisfy man’s basic hungers,
that is, kept man entertained and active and man’s environment tidy
and decorated and full of human interest, it has also managed to distance
itself from everyday affairs by associating itself with narrative
– making, magic, and rites. In a social environment where religion (sacred
ideology) is strong and receptive to art, art has even been assimilated
to sacred narrative-making (myth-making), sacred magic (tantra
in one of its many senses), and sacred rite? (ritual).
(Royal patronage, let it be borne in mind, partakes of the
sacral.) The intervention of technology, even as the
intervention of religion that is suspicious of or hostile to art,
robs art of this privileged association.
Art is turned into a commodity, a piece of consumer goods –
at best a luxury item, at the lowest a biotic necessity or a piece
of appreciating real estate.
Paradoxically, the technological age has also un-domesticated
art-unhoused it from its traditional dwellings.
And it has also driven a wedge between homely entertainment,
activity, decoration, human interest, that is, art at its minimum
and art at its maximum potentiality. Art at its maximum is no longer associated
with the sacred (media stars are at best ersatz royalty and do not
partake of the sacral) but often tends to develop its own mystique. Not art in association with myth, tantra,
and ritual but art in association with mere legend, mere fetish,
mere cult. A case in point
is what may be called “the shivering virgin image of art” that stoutly
disowns any demeaning connection of art with the biotic functions
of art (entertainment and the rest) and the discursive functions of
art (rhetoric, propaganda, ideology – inclusive of sacred ideology
age not only domesticates art and un-domesticates art but also redefines
the context of art in one other way.
Modern science, scientific technology, and the market-oriented
economy all share one feature – continual self-renovation. The pace of change is not just a fact of life: it has tended to
become a way of life. So this
continual self-renovation communicates itself to art – not only the
world of fashion (the design arts) but the world of art as such.
have already seen technology can support a larger population and an
enhanced standard of consumption (inclusive of the demand for art
as a biotic necessity). This demographic and economic circumstance
has also affected art.
people are producing more art for more people with more leisure. Quantity is bound to affect quality and not necessarily for the
worse. If today’s consumers
are exposed to quantities of mediocre art or (what is not the same
thing) of minimal art, they also have more first-rate art or more
maximal art to choose from.
consequence of this situation is the change in the recipient’s status. Yesterday’s recipient was quite likely to be
an artist in a small way – singing at work or to the family circle
or in the bathroom, for example.
Today even with more leisure at his disposal he is more likely
to be overawed into passivity. If this trend has affected even sports (television
cricket pushing out back-alley cricket or club cricket) it is even
more likely to affect art (the bathroom singer going in for piped
or canned music whose quality he cannot hope to approach even remotely). I submit, without arguing the point here, that this is not a desirable
craft or technique, his handling of the vehicle of art, receives a
new impetus from technology. The
coming of phonography, photography, cinematography, synthetic sound-making,
and synthetic image-making (animation film, computer art) – whether
used separately or in combination with one another or with more traditional
processes—have profoundly affected the artist’s craft.
Once the initial distrust and fumblings are overcome (Will
photography hit portrait painting? Will cinema hit the stage? Isn’t
cinema simply a canned stage performance?), these new processes are
seen to enrich existing possibilities and open up newer ones.
To see Shakespeare made into film is a revelation of the cinematic
qualities of Shakespeare made into film is a revelation of the cinematic
qualities of the Shakespearean theatre. A play like A Midsummer Night’s Dream or
King Lear simply cries out for being remade into film.
of experimentation (rather than conforming to a tradition) and working
to a blueprint or script (rather than improvising) that technology
has already been seen to instill overtake not only the newer vehicles
but often serve to enrich the older crafts too.
pace of life has put a premium on crispness and despatch over more
rambling or leisurely patterns. The
duration of a musical or theatrical performance has been curtailed. This brings us to the content or the experiential performance has
been curtailed. This brings
us to the content or the experiential material of art as distinct
from the vehicle. The designing of consumer products has shifted
from decorative design to functional design. Abstract art has come into its own without being relegated to the
status of an accessory ornament by the side of representational art. (This is true of dance and music no less than
painting and sculpture.)
was a time when long and careful preparation was associated not only
with the making of art but also with the making of an artist.
Technology enables as well as encourages us to condense or
even bypass this process.
of art objects, art performances, and art texts has been greatly facilitated
by mechanical and electronic devices, and this has led to better conditions
of storage, retrieval, and dissemination of art.
The art of other ages and other regions is more freely accessible
today. Art is accessible to
more people now—across divisions of age, sex, class, and education. It can relieve the loneliness and immobility
of the aged and the infirm. But
accessibility of course doesn’t guarantee actual access. Bad money
can drive out good. Familiarity
can breed satiation if not contempt.
(1928/1964:228) complains, “One can no longer eat or drink at a café
without being disturbed by a concert.”
Familiarity with the best can also intimidate the novice or
the amateur. Access can also
suffer from the problem of transplantation.
There is an sir of unreality about a visit to the museum, a
piece of folk theatre transplanted from the fairground to the closed
stage facing a city audience, or even a festival of India being staged
in a foreign country.
on reproduction also tends to affect the kind of art that gets produced. A preference develops for art that is eminently
reproducible, portable, accessible, memorable, sharable. (The older demand for the memorizability of
art performances and art texts was a different matter as it depended
solely on human memory.) This
is of course closely connected with the commodity status of art and
the customer being always right.
the reception of art is also affected by the technological character
of the age. The bombardment
of the recipient with art may lead to satiation and contempt on his
part, as we have already seen. But technology can create conditions that will
encourage the privacy and authenticity of reception. Technology enables us “to choose the moment
of enjoyment, to savor the pleasure when not only our mind desires
it, but our soul and whole being craves and as it were anticipates
it” and thus permits the artist’s creations “to live again in a vibrant
milieu” so that we get the most out of them (Valéry 1928/1964:227).
The habits of prosthesis and alienation, however, may carry
over into the reception of art and encourage excessive and even careless
passivity in the response. The
conditions of reception in the technological age will favour identification
without involvement in response rather than involvement without identification.
of Technology to Language and Discourse.
Language is at once a means of understanding and interpreting
the world, the human world, and oneself—almost a means of shaping
the learning experience of handling technology (especially scientific
technology) affect language? One may speculate that the nominalized
vocabulary of today such as have a shave or give a bath
or put into operation or operationalize rather than
just share or bathe or operate”) may be evincing
a technological bias. The
exposure to phonography, photography, and cinematography on the part
of the recipient as well as the artist has not only affected the arts
of visual and auditory shapes (one can no longer draw the horse galloping
conventionally with legs fore and aft) but also the use of language
for depiction and narration (making Zola as well as Robbe-Grillet
possible). Literary art can take on photographic or cinematic
discourse, and along with these the language-using arts (literature,
oratory, literary theatre or drama, talking film, song) undergo changes
every time technology enters into the reception end.
First it was writing (with loud reading), then it was writing
with silent reading (discovered apparently by Saint Augustine in the
West), then came printing with loud or silent or silent
reading, and finally we have listening to speech that is recorded
or recorded-and-broadcast or live-broadcast.
(Here under broadcasting the loudspeaker and the dissemination
of speech records with or without the moving picture are as important
as radio and television.) Each
of these innovations induced significant changes.
Thus, the leisurely backtracking, fast-forward, repeating,
and the ruminating pause that some of these innovations in the reception
process permit have profoundly affected modes of depiction, narration,
analysis, or argument in discourse.
Prose came into its own only with their support.
The influence of serial dissemination with its interrupted
reception on prose fiction and the poleminal tract is well-known.
is relevant to what man needs and what man needs and what man wants-the
needs and wants of the literary artist and of the literary recipient
need not coincide, their rôles
are different. The possibility
of a difference between what man needs and what man wants leads to
an oft-discussed problem—should they get what they need (What is good
for them’) or what they want )’twenty thousand people can’t be wrong’)?
Needless to say, it is always ‘them’, not ‘us’ whose needs and wants
we shall concern ourselves with the needs and wants of the literary
recipient (listener or reader) as distinct from the literary artist
(the maker of the oral or the written composition).
we leave ‘them’ and ‘us’ behind and try to get to the bottom of the
matter we suddenly realize that the relevance of literature as, to
use the philosopher W.B. Gallie’s phrase, an “essentially contested
(Kelkar, ‘The Meaning of a Poem and the Meaning of Poetry’) I have
argued that in so far as one seeks to resolve the issue of the relation
of the meaning of a poem and the being of a poem one could discriminate
between five critical positions (to be precise, five families of critical
positions) and then proceed to define the relevance of poetry accordingly.
I shall briefly present them here and assume for our present
purpose that the definitions could extend to literature other than
poetry as well.
hedonism holds that a poem should be in order to delight: the poet
is a purveyor, the recipient being a client; the poem is an anodyne
that hypnotizes, dealienates the recipient, restoring him to health
didacticism holds that a poem should be in order to communicate: the
poet is a didact, the recipient being a disciple; the poem is a discourse
that de-hypnotizes, alienates the recipient, rendering him thoughtful
and mindful of his commitments.
formalism holds that a poem should not mean but be a self-sufficient,
harmonious whole, the poet is a secular priest, the recipient being
an acolyte; the poem is a cult-object that invites him to an orderly
world that is meaningful in itself, enriching and refining his taste.
vitalism holds that a poem should be a form of life; the poet is an
observant participant or critic of life, the recipient being his interlocutor;
the poem is a learning experience that makes him more mature, more
open to life, more fully alive.
bipolarism holds that a poem should mean in order to be: the poet
is a priest-philosopher, the recipient being his acolyte-interlocutor;
the poem is an object that imparts form to life, making him aware
that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of
in your philosophy.
are of course other ways of cutting the critical cake. Thus, the five-way division may be crossed
by another two-way division based on the issue of the immanence or
the transcendence of art.
immanentalism holds that artistic activity and artistic experience
is immanent in human activity and experience and hence continuous
with non-artistic activity and experience.
transcendentalism holds that artistic activity and artistic experience
transcends most other human activity and experience with which it
one may conceive of delight (with the critical hedonist) in either
immanent or transcendent terms. The
concept of form with a French Symbolist is stable in transcendental
terms. And so forth.
have so far conceived of alternate critical positions as competing
pints of view that can be characterized in pan-human terms. This is certainly not to deny that in any given literary community
at a certain historical juncture only some rather than all the conceivable
positions may be attested and also that at a certain historical juncture
only one or two out of the competing positions may dominate the scene. One could even hazard, say, a positive correlation
of hedonism or didacticism with a relatively closed society (Gemeinschaft)
and of formalism or vitalism or bipolarism with a relatively open
society (Gesellschaft). Again,
one could detect in ancient and medieval India a transition from an
immanentalist position of the early phase to a transcendentalist position
of the later phase (Kelkar, “Classical Sanskrit Poetics: Then and
there is more to it than such considerations.
One may hold (as Marxists do) that relevance of literature
is essentially a historically emergent concept and that any analysis
in pan-human terms is at best going to be of a rather limited value. Thus, the literary transition from ascendent
early capitalism to decadent late capitalism was to be translated
in critical terms as a transition from immanentalist vitalism )’bourgeois
realism’) to transcendentalist formalism (late Raomanticism inclusive
of the crypto-Romanticism of the modernists or the New critics). Of course it is not necessary to concede historical
materialism in order to accept that the relevance of literature is
essentially a historically emergent concept.
(and Literature) in a Technological Age.
Having prepared the ground by showing the relevance of technology
(and that of the technological character of the present age) and the
relevance of the literary art, we can now proceed to take up our main
concern, namely, art (especially the art of literature) in a technological
useful point of departure for this purpose will be the traditional
way of stating the social equation of art in relation to the recipient
that we come across in both the Indian and the Western civilization. (Perhaps the Chinese and the Islamic civilizations
present a comparable picture.) I
have in mind the distinction between low art and high art and its
implications. (Needless to
say low/high ascribe status but do not indicate any appraisal—good/bad
art is a distinction that runs independently of high/low art.)
Low art is the art that no more than satisfies man’s hunger,
it is the art of satiation, so to say.
High art is the art that no less than effects an arousal of
hunger, it is the art of transcendence.
What was the nature of the distinction prior to the technological
age? One has to guard oneself against a potential misunderstanding
concerning this two-layer stratification of art (inclusive of course
of literary art). (Some of
the other terminologies are: folk-élite, genrecultivated, deśī-mārgī,
Prākṛta-saṁskrta, lokadharmin-nāṭyadharmin. Let it be noted that the last pair of adjectives
is applied not to theatrical styles so much as to theatrical techniques
that are often co-present but that tend to be associated respectively
with low theatre and high theatre.) Low art is for everybody (and that includes the select few also)
and high art is for the select few and/or for select occasions (such
as a community ritual or festival).
Typical societal correlates of low art and high art are: tribal-settled,
peasant-trader, rural-urban, profanesacred, uninitiated-initiates,
oral-literate. Repertory items
are liable to recategorization—low art iof one epoch may be promoted
to being high art of a later epoch.
There may be borrowal of vehicle deviϲ̣es
or content motifs from low to high art (consider the folk origin of
a deśī raga like Bhaṭiyār
Hindustani classical music) or from high art to low art (ϲ̣onsider
the endless variations on the Rāmāyāṇa and Bhāgavata
themes in low theatre and narrative art in India; with Mahābhārata
we probably have a case of a low-to-high transfer and then a high-to-low
borrowal; consider also the anthropologist Rober Reafield’s nation
of the Little Traditions feeding on the Great Tradition).
does one characterize low and high art as art? The polarity of lokadharmin-nāṭyadharmin
will serve our purpose here. Actually
it is a composite polarity consisting of the distinction between the
familiar and the innovative, the regional and the ecumenical, verisimilitude
and stylization. But of course
these represent only tendencies and not strict rules—thus, a certain
degree of stylization is inseparable from all traditional art low
or high. Note here that the innovative element is typically
not a subversion of the tradition so much as a variation on it. (Novelty or originality as a positive value
is an invention of 18th century Western Europe.) Again, the anonymity that one associates today
with low art often characterizes high art too (consider classical
Indian visual arts). Finally,
the virtuosity and allusiveness (or intertextuality) that one associates
today with high art often characterizes low art too (consider bhedik
or savāl-javāb in Marathi folk theatre).
The various caveats we had to enter in characterizing low
art and high art as traditionally distinguished (low art is for everybody,
high art can be anonymous, and so on) will have given us some indication
as to the change in this stratification in the technological age. This is the age of the three ‘brows’. Between low art and high art emerges an intermediate
stratum—middle art and the stratification is defined afresh. (Other terminologies are: lowbrow-middlebrow-highbrow,
folk-popular-élite, loka-sugama-šāstrīya. A variant of folk is peasant; a variant of
popular is commercial; variants of elite are legitimate, Kunst-Variants
of loka are jana, jānapada;
variants of sugama are lokapriya, janapriya; a variant
is kālatmaka.) Low art is for
the peasant, the working class, the low income group. Middle art is supposedly for the ‘masses’, actually it is for everybody—especially
the middle income group. High
art is associated with the ‘educated’ in the middle or the high income
groups—this is the art that the critical fraternity, the intelligentsia,
and the academic student of literature usually consider to be constituting
the ‘main stream’ of art history (or literary history). Borderline interstrata are not lacking—kitsch art is essentially
middle art adapting itself to low art recipients, intermediated art
is essentially high art adapting itself to middle art recipients,
camp art is kitsch art catching the fancy of high art recipients,
adapted folk art is low art adapting itself to middle art recipients,
preciosity is middle art aspiring to high art status.
And so forth.
How does one characterize low art, middle art, and high art
as art? True to its linking status middle art shares some features
with low art in contradistinction from high art and shares certain
other features with high art in contradistinction with low art.
Low and middle art are conformative, accessible; for them
the recipient is rarely wrong. High
art is often subversive, is often difficult and/or stylized, and never
puts the artist in the wrong.
Low art is anonymous, technically simple and intuitive.
Middle art and high art are not anonymous, they are technically
often complicated and/or self-conscious, the artist is looking for
fame (succés d’estime). (Let it be remembered that ‘complex’ isn’t
the same as ’complicated’.)
is it that brought about or at least stabilized this redefinition
of the strate? The presence of technology with a capital t (or scientific
technology) tends to encourage the immanentalist position at the expense
of the transcendentalist position and in general to blur the line
between artistic activity and non-artistic activity.
At the same time the technological age accentuates the distinction
between art as entertainment, activity, decoration, source of human
interest on the one hand and art ‘proper’ on the other hand.
art culture tends to be associated with hedonism or didacticism; middle
art tends to be associated with hedonism or didacticism or vitalism;
and high art culture tends to be associated with formalism or vitalism
or bipolarism. Thus a Marxist with a lower class or lower
middle class background tends to espouse didacticism, while a Marxist
with a high art culture background tends to espouse vitalism or, less
commonly, even bipolarism.
and equally useful point of departure will be the traditional way
of stating the linguistic equation.
Of literary art in relation to the literary artist and the
literary recipient. I have in mind the set of three closely related
distinctions: between prose and verse, between prose and poetry, and
between conversational style and incantatory style. In each of these distinctions we are thinking of language either
as being closer to its everyday non-literary use or as moving away
in the direction of the musical and the symbolic.
In any case we are dealing here with a sliding scale.
was the impact of the technological age on this scale?
the first place we must realize that this is not a distinction between
the absence of style and the presence of style.
Rather is it the distinction between a style that dissimulates
itself and a style that declares itself.
(Comparable is the distinction between decorative design and
functional design of consumer products.
A modern lamp or serving jar does not try to look like a plant
or a bird or a boat.) Again,
one could think of this distinction as one between a spare, minimalist
style and a rich, maximalist style – the latter bringing literature
close to myth, magic, and rite. Myth, magic and rite make use of symbols and
so does literature tending towards verse, poetry, incantatory style. Similar remarks apply to the distinctin between
prose theatre and poetic theatre -- M¤cchakaṭikam
is an interesting study in contrast.
Is Racine prose theatre in verse or poetic theatre that is
less poetic than Shakespeare?
things have happened since the coming of the technological age.
prose comes into its own. Macaulay’s
dictum that as civilization advances poetry declines is perhaps to
be seen as an oversimplifying exaggeration.
the sliding scale of poeticity tends to slide in the direction of
prose. What once counted, say, as barely poetic would
now count as poetic enough. A
relevant observation could be offered – when one translates literature
from a Modern Indian language to a Modern European language from the
more fully industrialized societies we have to allow for the fact
that what sounds good poetry in the original may sound too sentimental
or syrupy in the translation – one has to tone it down to make it
sound just right. The opposite holds good for a translation in the reverse direction
– one has to accentuate the poeticity.
the whole contract between the author and the recipient, which defines
the particular literary game that the two are playing at, tends to
become more informal and less inflexible.
Consequently, genres like the novel where it seems that anything
goes tend to flourish, genres like the sonnect where variation is
permitted only within strict limits tend to vanish, and the distinction
between various literary genres traditionally inherited tends to get
blurred. Indeed the distinction between literature and
non-literature (journalism, philosophy, criticism) tends to get blurred.
these three changes betoken a change from a relatively closed society
(the ‘organic community’ beloved of certain literary critics lamenting
its loss) in which people need to and are able to count ion each other
and people strive to be true to their station in life to a relatively
more open society in which people demand less of each other and each
one strives to be true to himself (‘doing one’s own thing’ is an idiom
that would have been incomprehensible to an earlier age).
So the literary community feels less sure in drawing upon shared
assumptions and symbols and expressions (think of the case of the
tell-tale ‘the’ of modernist poetry described by Rostrevor Hamilton)
1949 but more sure in expecting a readiness to meet the other partner
half way. (An extreme case
of this sort of thing is seen in certain kinds of concrete poetry
where the poetic text is hardly more than a do-it-yourself kit for
the reader to construct his own poem out of H.)
then, are the facts of literary life in the technological age that
compel us to review the relationship between artistic activity and
the activity and the activity undertaken by a society to ensure the
continuity of culture across generations (measures attempting, with
varying success, to prevent and cover the ‘generation gap’).
We simply have to think of art in relation to education.
The relationship has two facets—the place of art in education
as the object of learning (whether learning to be an artist or learning
to be an art recipient) and the place of art in education as the means
or medium of learning—the desirable ‘side effects’ of exposure to
art as a practitioner or a recipient.
consider these two facets in turn before we conclude.
is very easy to say what education in art appreciation shouldn’t be
– it certainly shouldn’t be the kind that makes the young hate Shakespeare
because of the heavy-going overkill nor the kind that leaves you cold
(the construe-and-parse approach or the made-easy approach or the
sink-or-swim non-approach). Unfortunately
it is equally easy to see how education in art cannot be left to chance
and family upbringing in these days of mass art (we just lapped it
up as we didn’t know anything better) and the technological quest
for ready algorithms (there’s always someone around to offer instant
this and three ways of gaining that) and the loss of shared experience
and conventions. All avenues
of education informal, non-formal and formal need to be explored.
There is no substitute for the slow rumination or carvaṇā
the read or the remembered text – audial, audio-visual, and visual
media could help only so much. There
is every danger of drowning the baby in the bathwater in modern education,
and certainly so in education in literary appreciation.
(The stronger claim of the media for visual and audial arts
is obvious – a good film on a group of paintings or even on a single
painting can sometimes be more effective than an illustrated lecture.) The problem of education in art appreciation is in essence the problem
of criticism of art writ small. But
the very challenges that the critic/teacher faces in this age can
be converted into opportunities, to wit—
encounter with art is highly private and yet inevitably demands to
be shared with others, so if the reader-response is excessively personal
the teacher-critic can turn it into a more meaningful involvement,
and if the reader-response is excessively shared the teacher-critic
can turn it into an exploration of shared tradition;
work of art strikes one as quite unique and autonomous and yet quite
vulnerable in isolation given its intertextuality, so if the reader-response
is excessively myopic the teacher-critic can correct it with an in-depth
historical or theory-eliciting enquiry and if the reader-response
is too much of the bird’s-eye view sort the reader-critic can correct
it with a perceptive close reading.
the reader has some blind spot preventing him from appreciating some
classic, that’s far less a cause for worry than the reader’s having
a ‘catholic’ taste for which the great and the trivial are equally
grist to the mill. Discrimination is a more important critical
virtue than generosity.
effective performance as of a repertory play or a musical composition
or even poetry which is based on a sound critical interpretation manages
to convey it to the audience and thus educates its sensibility. The introduction of avant-garde poetry to middlebrow recipients
through good poetry-readings is a case in point.
for the education of the artist the situation is rather peculiar. There was a time when most civilizations accepted
some form of training—typically apprenticeship with a master – as
necessary for any artist, even (to an extent) for a literary artist. This continues to be the case for design arts,
music, dance, sculpture and to a lesser extent for graphic art, theatre,
cinema. There is on the whole
a more ready acceptance of the self-taught artist – at any rate with
the literary artist this is far more readily accepted, courses in
‘creative writing’ do raise a snigger.
Is any review of the present situation necessary? Have we taken
the romantic dogma of inspiration from start to finish to be too sacred
to be examined? Are there aspects of the technological age to which
the artist is especially vulnerable? What is the rôle of the critic
in respect of the artist? There is a certain venial if irritating
ambivalence in the attitude of the practitioner of middle art towards
the critic. Even if he has
‘won’ popularity he hankers for the critic’s nod of approval and is
pleased if he gets it. But he will not normally admit to either this
hankering or to his annoyance with an adverse judgement. Actually the critic’s responsibility concerning
the artist (many a promising young artist has been stunted by excessive
early praise) is a part of his responsibility concerning the recipient.
The ‘reading/theatre-going/gallery-visiting public’ is quite
a different species of creature from the ‘circle of the elect’ (the
French salon or the Left Bank café, the ancient Indian goÀ¶hi,
the 18th century English club).
It is certainly a creature of the technological age.
exposure to technology is (as we have already stressed) a learning
experience, so is art. Art
is as much a medium of education as language or audiovisual aids or
work experience is. (Kelkar, ‘Art as Education’.) And I have of
course more in mind than the nurturing of a recipient’s taste or a
practicing artist’s inward judgement (a great artist can learn from
another great artist how different he is from the other).
the same time I must enter a mild caveat – to realize the potential
of art as education it is neither necessary nor sufficient to turn
art activity into a secular religion as critics have tended to do
from the time of Mathew Arnold (who was not guilty of supposing it
draw up a balance sheet of the artistic culture of contemporary India
after the Indian Prabodhan (1820-1920, misguidedly called the Indian
Renaissance by some Bengali analysts – an acceptable Englishing of
prabodhan will be the Indian Awakening), on the debit side are : an
etiolated theatrical tracdition (Maharashtra and Bengal being the
honourable exception thanks to the Prabodhan); an overblown kitsch
in the design arts, middle cinema, visual arts; poor dissemination
of visual art sense in the middle class, the nouveau riche, and the
uprooted peasant or tradesman; a poorly developed sense of humour
(even Sanskrit literature is not an honourable exception); and on
the credit side: traditional low and high design arts of a high order
thriving or gasping for life as the case may be (Maharashtra being
a traditional sorry exception); the Prabodhan revival of high art
in music and dance; a partially successful modernization of literary
and visual arts (Kelkar, ‘The Art of India Come of the Modern Age’).
in India don’t exactly need a cultural commissar to square the accounts
and we can certainly do without the cultural czars and bureaucrats
of the capital today (with its nouveau riche and babu ambience). What we do need are a little more self-conscious and better-informed
and self-assertive and a little less tantrum-throwing and gullible
artist and a little more educated and better-informed and responsible
and a little less self-conscious and jealousy-ridden and sycophantic
and opinionated and word-spewing intellectual-critic. The recipients of art in India certainly deserve a better deal.
short one can have the technological cake and eat it too.
we have to cast out the fear of technology (and the English language)
or the awe of technology (and the English language) (which is much
the same thing). And we have
to learn not to expect either too much from art or too little from
art (which is much the same failing).
Watter 1936. the work of art
in the age of (in German). Zeit
1939. On some motifs in Bandelair (in German) zeit schrift für
-------- 1968. Illuminations
(selected writings in English translation by Zohn, Harry). Ed, intord,
Arendt, Hannah. New York :
Harcourt, Brace ?& World. Also
: London :
1970. (Includes Benjamin 1936
Gallie, W.B. 1956. Essentially contested concepts Proceedings
of the Aristotelian
: 167-98, 1955-6. Rptd. In his : Philosophy and the historical
understanding. New York : Schocken Books.
Hamitton, G. Rostrevor 1949.
The tell-tale article : A Critical approach to modern
pioetry. London : Heinemann.
Kelkar, Ashok R. 1984. The
Meaning of a poem and the meaning of poetry.
Marathi version 1983. Hindi
version : Pürvagraha
no. 56, May-August 1983.
-------- 1984 Art as education.
New quest Jan-Feb.
-------- 1984 Classical Sanskrit
poetics : Then and now TheLiterary Criterion 19:1.
-------- 1986 The Arts of India
come of the Modern Age. New quest March-April.
Mumford, Lewis 1952 Art
and Technics New York : Columbia University Press also in
Smith, Cyril Stanley 1975.
On art, invention, and technology.
The New York Times 25
section II. Also adapted : Technology review (MIT) 78:2:2-7,
1976. Reprinted in his : A Search for structure
: Selected essays on science, art, and history.
MA : The MIT Press, 1981. Ch. 11, p 325-31.
Paul. 1928/1964. La Conguête de l’ubiquité.
In his : De la Musiqua avant toute chose. Paris : Éditions du Tambourinaire. Rptd in his : Péices sur l’art. Paris : Gallimard, 1934 : Trans. Manheim, Ralph.
The Congquest of ubiquity. In his : Aesthetics New York : pantheon
Books, 1964, London : Routledge & Kegan paul, pages 1964 225-8,
notes by ed. 246-7.
1937/1964. Art et technique. Revue
of synthése. July-August.
English tr Manhcim, Ralph. In his : Aesthetics New York : London
1964. Pages 222-4.
There is one more way in which the age of
technology can condition art (or fail to do so).
This has to do with what Walter Benjamin (1939) felicitously
calls the ‘aura’ of an object of perception (in the broad sense –
inclusive of mental perception and perception of the word).
What is aura? Aura is the cluster of associations around the
object of perception whether they are lodgéd in one’s involuntary
memory or lodged in one’s intelligent, voluntary memory having arisen
out of experience that has left traces of the practiced hand.
Eaze has to overcome distance and separation
if it does, this will strenghtn involuntary memory.
If it remains self-protective or blank, the distance remains
intact. Technology is available
for bringing about distance and separation.
Again, recording devices offered by technology (phonography,
photography, cinephotography and their combinations) extend the range
of voluntary memory. They
cannot capture the aura though. And
yet they can easily pander to the vulgar notions of verisimilitude.
Thus, ordinary felt chat portraiture by a camera will surely displace
portraiture by a painter. Will this be a threat to imagination? Finally, it is by virtue of the aura that the
object of perception can return our gaze, turning our contact with
the object into an encounter (as with a person).
* This is a slightly revised
and enlarged version of a paper presented at the Seminar “The Writer
and his Audience in an Increasingly Technological Age,” Sahitya Akademi,
New Delhi on 21-24 February 1988.
It was published in Indian Horizons 37:1-2:23-40, 1988
(published 1989, Indian Council for Cultural Relations, New Delhi)