Folk Tradition of Bengal (and Rabindranath Tagore)

by Joydeep Mukherjee | 2018 | 49,317 words | ISBN-10: 8186036989 | ISBN-13: 9788186036983

An English study regarding the Folk Tradition of Bengal and its influence on Rabindranath Tagore—an important Bengali polymath from the 19th century who excelled in philosophy, arts (painting), literature and music. This research tries to initiate the semantic aspect of “folk” through the help of various dictionaries....

Chapter 1.7a - The concept of ‘Influence’ and ‘Reception’

The concept of ‘Influence’:

The concept of influence is definitely a part of French school of comparative study. The concept ensues a wide scope of interpretation among the critics. But simply the concept says a conscious and unconscious movement of an idea, theme, an image, a literary tradition and even a particular cultural concept in literary texts. The process is unending dividing it into distinct types of influencea)

Literary and non literary ‘influence’:

The concept of literary ‘influence’ seems to trace the hidden mutual relation between two or more than two literary texts. It can be regarded as the ‘touchstone’ of literary studies. G.B. Shaw’s Pygmalion and Tawfiq’s Al-Hakeem are perfect examples of literary ‘influence’. While a comparative study between Rifaat’s Al-Jahtawi and French culture is based on the principle of ‘non-literary’ influence.

b)Direct and indirect ‘influence’:

A direct influence is marked when there is an actual contact between writers beyond culture, language and space. To be more specific, a literary text would not have existed before any connection with the ‘original’ text or the writer himself or herself. It is definitely a tough task to identify such direct reflection without any reference of the writer. Shakespeare is the prime example for that. His texts are largely based on history and folktales. But it is his genuine creativity rather the genius which remoulded and reshaped those into new forms. Therefore, it would be a risky decision to render it as direct ‘influence’ but better to say that it clearly pertains to the theory of direct ‘influence’.

On the other hand in end number of cases, the concept of ‘influence’ is very submissive or subdued due to number of reasons. One prominent reason might be language. But here mediators could be the popularity of the text / person, various creative and critical discussions of the same on various periodicals and journals, translation or through seminars. Such kind of ‘influence’ can be termed as indirect. Prime example is Rabindranath Tagore and Lalon Fakir, though language is same but it was all together a different country and different time as well. Mine de Staet’s D’Allemagne (1810 published in Britain in 1813) is one such example.

c)Positive and passive ‘influence’:

When a foreign literary text is helping the writer create successful work, it is considered as positive ‘influence’. Accordingly some foreign works may have a passive influence upon a national writer when s/he feels to write a book in terms of a reaction or reflection or criticism. Examples are Daniel’s Cleopatra (1606), William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra (1606), La Chapelle’s La Mort de Cleopatre (1680), Asommet’s Cleopatra (1824), Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra (1912) etc.

d)Translation and False ‘Influence’:

Translation can also be regarded as a part of ‘influence’ study. Due to a strong impulse, the writer translates the original text beyond the limits of culture, language and space. Which is why the writers sometime fail to bestow a proper shape may be consciously or unconsciously. Therefore, it results in a different problem called as false ‘influence’. Here readers are neither getting the taste of original text nor the flavour of a new one. Charles Pierre Baudlaire’s translation of Poe’s stories into French and several other English translations are clear examples. Plainly it can concluded by saying that false ‘influence’ can be found when a writer is influenced by a foreign ext and is treated with a flavour of own cultural context.

‘Influence’ study is typically different because of its nuances. To talk about ‘influence’ one must know/acknowledge the concept of ‘reception’. Further discussion/digging desperately directs to the concept of ‘borrowing` and ‘imitation’. Here the research tries to highlight some basic concepts on these.

e)The concept of ‘Reception’:

Without ‘reception’, the concept of ‘influence’ is impossible. On the other way it is particularly ‘reception’ which drags the writer to the level of ‘influence’. Therefore, according to the research, there is no solid demarcation between these two rather two different levels/stages of acceptance where one leads to the other and ‘influence’ on the other rolls the same to the another pursuing them to write a new text. Russian scholar Zhirmunsky commented on its nature. He says the process of ‘reception’ is not coincidental or mechanical but rather systematic, as it takes place only when the foreign work brings in cultural and ideological modes that accord with or help evolve those of nation.

f)The concept or ‘Borrowing` and ‘Imitation’:

Borrowing is a ramification of ‘imitation’ in a larger sense. It ranges from the refashioning of the best parts of a foreign work in a way that fits well the national public taste to the adaptation of a particular style and technique. Pushkin’s adaptation of Byron’s elegy or Pound’s collection of the Russian old models of poetry is the perfect example of ‘borrowing’.

‘There is an ancient quarrel between philosophy and poetry’ declares Plato, the most celebrated of the ancient philosophers to have committed himself to paper, at the end of Book 10 of The Republic. And such a judgement of the relation between philosophy and art of an inherent antagonism on the basis of imitation is only the culmination, the necessary consummation of a cogent elucidation of the unbridgeable hiatus between the two in his ‘Theory of Ideas’ presented within the larger form of a theory of art in the same book. Plato who is otherwise famous for his non-aesthetic approach to literature, usually banishes literature from his ideal ‘Republic’, his utopian dreamland, because of philosophical, religious, moral and practical reasons because they water and feed the passions and desires of men. But here, in his theory of art the philosopher in him too contributes to the strictures against poetry. But in the process emanates a brilliant theory of ‘mimesis’ which is original for it reveals the fundamental truth that all art is, at the core, imitation. Though Democritus had to a certain extent anticipated the concept of ‘mimesis’ in his reference to singing as an imitation of birds. ‘Theory of Ideas’ is the first instant where one can grasp ‘mimesis’ as a critical term.

The theory of Ideas or Forms speaks of one ideal single form on one hand and of the many imperfect copies of the perfect original. The two analogies of the prisoners in the cave and that of Divided Line in Book 5 of The Republic proving greater illumination to this theory. The prisoners in the cave are at first chained to face the back wall where all they can see are shadows cast by a fire which is behind them. The fire, symbolic of the sun and of reality, is invisible and even inapprehensible to the prisoners. Similarly the Divided Line has four ascending phases of knowledge of which the bottom (‘eikasia’or sensory apprehension) and the one above that (‘pistis’ or faith), are collectively known as ‘doxa’or mere opinion accessible to ordinary humanity. The two higher divisions- ‘dianoia’or discursive understanding and ‘neosis’or intuitive knowledge of permanent things-are together termed ‘episteme’ or knowledge, and are beyond common human beings. Poetry is related to these theories because of the fact that it deals with the apparent world of manifold forms rather than the real world of single form. It deals with the prisoners and can only provide ‘doxa’ or mere opinion, not true knowledge.

The subject of ‘influence’ is so subjective that it is divided into two groups of thinkers; the French group of theorists and American school of theorists. The founder of American school Henry Remarks opines that ‘comparative literature’ should not be regarded as a discipline on its own but rather a connecting link between subjects and ‘subjects areas’ thus he makes the comparison beyond any limit or shortcoming. At once it can include music, painting, philosophy, history, geography, physics, social science and so on. One way he makes it as a form of the notion of ‘nationalism’. Therefore, ‘depolarization’ of comparative study makes American school district from the French group of thinkers and it is mainly divided into two fundamental theories:

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