Monday, 31 August 2015

Mystique of Modern Poetry

Reading Rafiq Raaz’s Naiy Chhay Nalaan
Some poets become brand names during their youth. They are too powerful, and charming to resist for lesser mortals. Under their shade many lesser trees fail to find their individual bloom. Their devotion to perfecting the art – at least in its formal aspect – earns them both respect and awe. They dominate their age. They lure goddess of poetry with all her beauty and grace.  Amongst such poets is Rafiq Raaz.
Rafiq Raaz’s Naiy chhay Nalaan (The Flute is Complaining) is one of the most influential volumes of contemporary poetry in Kashmir that helped shape Kashmiri ghazal written after it. With its publication its poet has established himself as a Master of younger generation of poets in lyricism through deep attention to form and metrical innovations.
Raaz’s language is neither elitist nor arcane, unlike some parts of his illustrious contemporary, Rahi. It doesn’t get needlessly ambiguous that constitutes dubious virtue of much of modernist poetry. Like Nasir Kazmi, he bridges the gap between passion and imagination. Raaz takes ample care to chisel words and sounds and part of his success lies in this superlative attention to the universe of rhyme and rhythm that constitutes the secret of beauty of the palace of art to which artists have special access and take lesser mortals or more earthly people.
The poet generally speaks in first person and of first person’s pain and exile somehow mitigated through turn to art. Words – the magic of words that poetry is – somehow allows the poet – Raaz says – to say yes to life and partake of immortality in  what otherwise appears a world full of sound and fury not signifying anything.   With the help of certain stunning and “unforgettable” images that could resonate across cultures, Raaz invites or commands our attention. The poet gathers or summons “the shade of dew” “green peace of the dawn,” “radiance of the sunny day” “inflamed snowy night” courtesy “ the bath of imagination” (just a few images in a couple of couplets from one ghazal only showing the power of the poet) “love’s radiance” that illuminating “the forest of thoughts” and is able, in some blessed moments that poetry steals from heaven, to fly high over the Divine Throne  where “angels are singing.” Raaz has been, insightfully, compared by Majrooh Rashid, a prominent critic of Kashmiri poetry, to Munir Niazi. However he also reminds us of many a modern  poet writing in Urdu. And himself he has grown into a considerable presence in the Urdu camp as well. He is the only poet from Kashmiri who has grandly succeeded in both Kashmiri and Urdu languages. There is a secret in Raaz  that makes him a good recipient of the Muse. However, the Muse dictates and is playing the flute on its own terms that our poet, true to his modernist individualism and subjectivism,  doesn’t seem to be accepting in good faith. His flute is complaining – this is distinct from the kind of complaint with which Rumi opens up his Masnavi. And this constitutes distinction of Raaz though it is hard to grant him an epistemic or artistic superiority on that ground and that might well constitute his Achilles’ heal if we approach him from his avowed Oriental and traditional framework.
What distinguishes Raaz is a conscious engagement with and brilliant appropriation of Sufi poetry – one can read many of his verses and some ghazals in their entirety as modern mystical ghazals. Raaz evokes the transcendent both through his craft as an artist who carves words in such a way as to let Being manifest its riches and by invoking, forcefully, Love and Beauty.
Oriental in sensibility, he has not given up individualism that modernity has bequeathed with all its legacy of grandeur and misery.  He holds fast to the myth of authenticity or subjectivity that wants to have his own as if art isn’t imitation or acting and witnessing or vision but something in service of the self. (Opening verses of his famous ghazal that calls on God to visit him in the midnight is susceptible to both readings – a modernist promethean one that frames transcendence in its own terms and traditional mystical one that expresses an impossible desire for wasl or union by a devotee in a world of dualities.)
A poet of passion and love and memory can’t afford taking note of “discordant” notes in the strange raga in which the scripture of the cosmos and life is composed. His life’s odyssey (travelled with twin treasures of soz-i daroon (inward passion) and ishq-i laey (tune of love) isn’t untouched by the feeling of the absurd even in the most metaphysical and mystical moments – again we see his modernity asserting. He remains oriental in his love for form, especially ghazal with all its traditional “paraphernalia.”
His great attention to form isn’t occasionally matched by attention to theme or content; he, here and there, overturns both traditional imagery and symbolism or meaning spaces and one wonders if this is consciously done by him or he is somewhat casual in his handling of the same. To quote an example:
“Meon wajood sarbisar gardi gubaar haertuk
Rozi kout taam darbider phaeriyi wav ta bi kaey.”
(My being is wholly the dust of wonder
How long will the wayward wind keeps marching)
The state of wonderment (aalam-i-hairat) is, in traditional Sufi understanding, the greatest achievement, but here it is a pejorative term.
For Raaz, art or creative process itself, not unlike many modern and most postmodern poets, is his refuge and salvation and forms chief subject and object of his work. However he is not ready to concede inherent limitations of the artistic and the necessarily tragic dimension of all aesthetic projects.  
Chae iztirab daemages chae intishar husnes
Mae dilfaraeb kalames panin nazakahraaev“

“Lafzen ander waepekh ti kadi kaad zindagi
Sharen ander achekh ti labekh dayimi hayat”
( Fitting into the sanctuary of words, life will bloom
Drawn into the verses, life will be immortalized)
Raaz is able to deploy striking images and irony to express life’s little and great jokes. Somewhat hackneyed theme of existential alienation and stock images conveying it is handled with a freshness and conviction that compels attention:
“Taaph chuh shames taam diwan insanes braem
Douri cha sekh tam basaan sabzar”
(Sunshine keeps man deluding till the dusk
From a distance, even sand appears as greenery.)
Steering clear of dominant ideological frames in both form and content, Raaz stamps his unique nostalgic vision in an environment that distrusts poets’ claim to access the sacred or transcendent world in a language and idiom that is appealing on both sensuous and intellectual planes. The poet of the Spirit who struggles with the claims of centrifugal psyche that our technologized urbanized world impinges on us with increasing and ruthless force, Raaz recalls the poet to his original vacation of which great German and English Romantics reminded the secularizing world. Nostalgia for what is gone – Tradition symbolized by all kinds of rustic and primeval images including those of innocence or children – is what gives haunting pathos to Raaz. Raaz seems to avoid dualistic theological and occultist mystical flights.
Raaz is too reflexive, too self-conscious a modern subject – the first person speaker with all its psychological and self-oriented paraphernalia occasionally bordering on Faustian and Promethean streaks is evidenced on almost every page – to unqualifyingly court an oriental aesthetic and metaphysic that  is otherwise so dear to him and this results in more or less discordant and heterogenous work of art from perspective that upholds the sovereignty and relative autonomy of art in a hierarchical cosmos oriented towards the Good or moved by Love – the world of Tradition the poet situates himself in.  One could argue the case for a postmodern Rafiq Raaz who both participates in and gives voice to a world of experience that resists traditional frames. The individual who writes poetry, seeks consolation or meaning is always in in the background while getting written off by the Other
Kashmir’s  “preeminent modern poet,” Raaz sings songs that are no longer heard – he is late – and that explains power of his heart rending poetry at once romantic and thus tragic, mystical and thus eternally interrogating and radically open to rhythms of experience.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Kashmiri Marxists and Religion

Badri Raina is Kashmir’s contribution to Marxist discourse in India.
A vast majority of people are not capable of thinking – or don’t care to think – and don’t distinguish between opinion and truth. (If you doubt, visit facebook and see how illogical, uninformed, prejudiced comments don it). The question is why so many brilliant and gifted minds, especially in the modern world, have been alienated from religion and have, in order to maintain loyalty to critical reason, taken other refuges than what we would call the refuge of religion? Isn’t it strange that religions should be convicted in the court of reason when their ultimate principle (Logos/Truth/Good/Buddhi/ Aql) grounds reason and its deepest motivations that secular humanism has championed?
I don’t intend to attempt to clarify this issue but ask a somewhat related question – is it the religion of the masses or priests or saints and philosophers that fails the test of common sense and critical rationality – while reading one of Kashmir’s gifted souls and minds – Badri Raina. Raina is a literary critic whose contribution has been recognized  by many including some of the tallest figures in the relevant field, a poet who has some powerful poems to his credit including the two we study today, an influential or at least widely read columnist or commentator and a presence to contend with in Indian Marxist camp and beyond in the select academic and intellectual circles.
A brilliant orator and equally brilliant conversationalist, Badri Raina  is Kashmir’s contribution to Marxist discourse in India. With him, you can enjoy, as with very few in Kashmir,  a serious and rigorous academic and intellectual conversation on a host of issues including religion. Raina is a  man of many colours ad seasons – a remarkable human being in many respects and unfortunately we can deal here with only a very small but significant aspect of his poetry  leaving his provocative and insightful The Underside of Things and his Dickens and the Dialect of Growth – his magnum opus in literary criticism of Dickens – for some future moment.
Raina is himself a half convert to mystical or Sufi approach to religion which converges with the traditional philosophical approach – from Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi to Suharawardi and Mulla Sadra and philosophers associated with Ikhwanus  Saffa we find a view of transcendence that is neither irrational nor subrational but grounded in intellect.
He is deadly critical of politicized religion, of religion degenerated into ideology, of socially and politically insensitive or complacent  dabbling with transcendence. Casteism and what he calls Brahmanism (ironically, Brahmanism too, at least in theory, or ideally, called for absolute devotion to intellectual or contemplative mode of being or discoveries of theonomous reason) he dissects with sharp but sometimes ill fitting scalpel. Let us read how he brings his gift of sarcasm and irony to target “religious” view and leaves his adversary – Mulla, a priest and hereditary Brahman – speechless.   I often wonder how thin a line is between “No God Federation” ( with which Classical Marxism more appropriately and NeoMarxism  is less appropriately identified) and “Know God Federation” – to again borrow expressions from Prof. Sanaullah Parvaz who when, in his youth chased by local clergy for supposedly leading “No-God Federation” escaped by explaining that he means “Know God Federation” really which is the federation led by saints and urafa (knowers of God). Faiz – a NeoMarxist when asked about his religion by an official in jail  replied that his reigion is the religion of Rumi. Badri Raina seems to be toeing the same line. To let Raina the poet speak:

First we are born to man and wife,
Then they give us our names,
Those names then our prison make
Of inflexible religious frames.
But I that a ‘Hindu’ am
Might well have a ‘Muslim’ been,
Had the sperm and egg that wrought me
Come from an Aslam and Nasreen.

What sense that we should thus invest
Our lifelong loves and hates
To an instant we had no inkling of,
And consign to that our fates.

On Fascism, he writes:

I am not a fascist only when
I pull the trigger and kill;
I am a fascist when first I think
My work is God's own will.

I am not a fascist only when
I break the common law;
I am a fascist when first I think
I make the common law.

I am not a fascist only when
I decimate all other kind;
I am a fascist when first I think
It is purity I have in mind.

About the first quoted poem, I wish to note that while it is
Raina's one of the most powerful poems and succeeds in its aim of jolting the reader – even the secular reader who isn’t immune to another kind of brainwashing from the secular parents who might be subscribing to any pathological ideology including that peculiarly  modern but pervasive ideology of Fascism that the poet identifies in his next poem. It is to the Prophet of Islam (S.A.W) to whom is attributed a statement in the name of which the poet wants to speak against enslaving exclusivist theology. To quote the prophetic tradition: “All children are born in a state of fitrah and it is his parents that make him Jew or Christian or Polytheist.”(Equivalent expressions from other traditions like “my face before the birth” also come to mind.) While this tradition has been misappropriated by many Muslims in the service of exclusivist theology (forgetting that the term Islam reduced to a religion as against The Religion or universal existential attitude of submission to Truth or openness to experience or radical innocence itself emerged many decades after the Prophet passed away); it is the exclusivist framework itself that is clearly targeted by the tradition.
Man is a creature who seeks to transcend himself – his narrow circuit of personality – in love, in beauty and art and through thousand other forms and symbols. Dogmatic Marxism has denied man the instinct to talk with the stars or fly high into the empyreal realms that are really visions of a  transformed and illumined earth and not of an abstract beyond. (Buddha saw the earth blooming and smiling when he attained nirvana.) Religious fundamentalism has demanded worship of the form. Man is a creature who seeks the formless in every form he momentarily or permanently adores. Sufism requires transcendence of all beliefs and diving into the ocean of love unfettered. Raina’s critique applies to exoteric or zahiri religion that is traded in the marketplace. A Sufi is a bird and child of Lamakaan and his track is trackless, to paraphrase Rumi. He moves on a pathless path to take flight into the world that is neither here nor there but in another dimension that embraces but transcends this world of space and time, history and materiality.
All of us are somehow convinced regarding superiority of our convictions or what Marxist critique exposes as ideologies. Who doesn’t think he is not on the right path and would not seek some sort of conversion to his path? Doesn’t  this attitude extend to ideologues of secular ideologies like Fascism and Totalitarianism? Raina, a NeoMarxist who calls himself a Sufi Marxist (although there is an argument that there is a copyright on the term Sufi!) rejects all ideological deformations and I don’t think his version of Marxism would or should be read as an ideology that has its own exclusionary tactics, its own dismissive reading of ideological other it often identifies as religion including its spiritual mystical core.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Hardy, God and Problem of Evil

 Modern age is characterized among other things by extreme obtrusiveness of evil.  Acute perception or cognizance and evil - evil within and evil without – in diverse manifestations deeply affected him and his relationship with the ground of all goodness – God.

Yet in the wasteland – that immense panorama of waste and futility that modern life is, the traditional belief in the goodness of God and man has lost credence.  Modern man fears God dead, or impotent or absent or on leave.  Modernism as the search for alternative values, the humanized God, God as superman presumes that traditional theistic worldview is no longer credible.  Modern man’s pessimism, absurdism, agnosticism and paganism and his loss of belief in Grace, Salvation or Heaven are all attributable to his acute sensitivity to evil and consequent loss of traditional belief in Divine Goodness.  He feels with Arnold that there is no help for pain.

Having felt disenchanted  with or alienated from the God, “who holds all goodness in his hands” as the Quran puts it, having abandoned the faith in suffering God or God who dies to save the world, he has created substitutes and among these substitutes art is one.  It is poetry that will take the place of religion and it is art that will save the world according to modern prophets.  Faustian and Promethean rebellious spirit of modern man are intimately connected with disregard of or incredulity towards traditional worldview where Good Omnipotent God claims all sovereignty and  man is asked to surrender to Him and to acknowledge his creatureliness (and sinfulness) and the need of Grace.  He has no faith in providence that shapes our ends.  The traditional God, who is Compassionate and Merciful.  All seeing, All knowing, All Wise and takes on Himself the task of emptying the hell and secure our salvation, has become unbelievable and modern man is just unable to commit to a scheme of things in which “innocent” children are put to torture.  He doesn’t comprehend the ways of God and rejects the vacation of priest – who justifies ways of God to man, in favor of an artist who tries to make life endurable by turning it into art or  just by escaping into the heaven of artist’s making.  Having failed to make peace with God, to clear his debt that  he owes to God, to Life, the universe, he wants to return his ticket to Him. He finds the odyssey of life  as meaningless, absurd, farcical and repeats it and doesn’t renounce it  in Sisyphean spirit.   Traditional belief in the kingdom of God is connected with the belief in the kingdom of son of God or divinity of man and life’s sacredness and Nature’s sacredness in general.  Modern man’s disbelief in traditional God means disbelief in man and his cosmic significance, his vicegerancy of God and his salvation.

 Thomas Hardy appears to exemplify modern man’s problematic par excellence. He comes very close to religious diagnosis of the problem but had not faith in the religious solution to the problem, although there are striking parallels between his faith in the strong power of love, duty and endurance and traditional religious  vision.  He rejects all “soul – making” theodicies.  He has no faith in the ultimate victory of good over evil or in the goodness of the First Cause or Principle. He takes a full look at the worst and then sees certain grounds for some sort of meliorism.  He believes in no mediators or saviours or grace.  He tries to achieve salvation (conceived in his own way that has a little common with religious concept of salvation or nirvana or heaven) unaided, maintaining a defiant posture towards God with poise and dignity. He is least convinced by attempts that try to see silver lining in the tragic predicament of humans. He is fully convinced of the first noble truth of Buddhism –the truth of suffering .Nothing can reconcile him to the goodness and beauty of the world. His protagonists, generally speaking are bitter, frustrated and die unreconciled. He cannot pin his faith in immortality as a possible solution to the tragedy or evil of death. There can be no redressel of evil in the next world as there is hardly any ground, according to Hardy, of believing in its existence. He can’t be reconciled to the world and to God’s governance of it.  He invents unconscious Will, Chance, Destiny, Fate, as a substitute for traditional God to account for unaccountable evil and suffering in the world. He is thoroughly convinced of the dark reality of sin and Satan but has no hope in any crucifixion or redemption.  He is a great believer in hell but has only a vague belief, if at all, in heaven (which he equates with non-existence).  And that hell exists here and now, in this world.  There is no heaven although there may be a semblance for it in this world for some of his protagonists at some moments.  Art may be one of the means to reach this heaven. He shared the Arnoldian (and Schopenhaurian) faith in art’s saving power.  His attempt to find heaven in this world, as he had no belief in the next world, could not but come to grief as all religions have warned. There is no salvation possible in this world, in this life, in this realm of time. Eternity and Immortality belong to another world although that doesn’t mean that this world of time, this hell  isn’t permeated or penetrated by the Eternity or isn’t a reflection of Heaven.  He saw life as an unmitigated evil and the only choice before us to enjoy a few presents moments.

It is typical religious attitude that Hardy displays, when he puts the responsibility of evil and redemption on man rather than some external cause, cosmic or divine.  In his last years he seems less prone to blame some ultimate cause for the plight of man.  Winter Words ends significantly with one of the poems expressing disillusionment with the human race for its hideous self-treason.  However, he seems hopeful about man if consciousness of him is transformed.  It is the transformation of consciousness that form the requisite of religion’s promise of victory over evil He hopes that human prayers will reach Will.

  Hardy’s diagnosis of man’s pitiful condition is based on certain unexamined assumptions and the solution that he proposes is quite problematic. In this paper it is proposed to interrogate his philosophy that necessitates a pessimistic diagnosis of human condition and equally unsatisfactory answer to the problem of human misery. Appropriating elements of modern philosophical and scientific thought currents such as modern humanism, rationalism, evolutionism in his incoherent and half baked eclectic philosophy he develops a few arguments to reject traditional picture. Selectively appropriating Schopenhaurian ideas but without cognizing his suggested remedy to the problem of suffering as denial of individuation and will, Hardy’s personalist philosophy is unprecedented in modern literature. He finds life a poor joke and despairs of it though not to the extent of subscribing to ascetic denial or suicide. He accuses God of some ancient charges to justify his atheism. First of all his criticism of theology will be discussed as it provides the context for his pessimistic estimate of man and advocacy of alternative philosophical view that is supposedly more realistic and rational.

He images God as variously flawed – forgetful in ‘‘God Forgotten,” absent minded in  “By the Earth’s Corpse” and error-prone in “I Met a Man.” Hardy has gone farther and farther away form  the traditional picture of personal God  because of his exploration  of reality of human suffering.

It was Darwinism that contributed much to the problematiztion of traditional theology and theodicy. It is evolution that has put the problem of evil in sharp relief and many conscientious men were compelled to say goodbye to faith in an Omnipotent and Good God.  Evolution has revealed a senseless struggle for existence and procreation  going on an unmoral universe.  Hardy, who was deeply  influenced by Darwin  and the sordid state of affairs that he discovered in Nature, found his inherited belief difficult to sustain.  How could God be all powerful and all-loving , in the face of the  overwhelming  fact of human suffering. Pain  and death were more real to the Victorians than  perhaps they are to us, at a time when medicine was very much undeveloped Angel Clare in Tess parodying Browning says, “God is not in his heaven : all’s wrong with the world’ Agnosticism of  many thoughtful Victorians including that of Darwin himself was inspired by this intractable problem of evil that seemed to prop up after the discovery of evolution in such disturbing form.  Newman’s classic apology for God’s rule couldn’t convince skeptical Hardy and he found this wishful thinking.  He wrote in Life, July 2,(1865), “Worked at J.H. Newman’s Apologia, which we have all been talking about lately. A great desire to be convinced by him. Only – and here comes the fatal catastrophe- there is no first link to \his excellent chain of reasoning and down you come headlong”(Life,48).

Mill was a strong influence over Hardy. Mill too had turned to agnosticism partly because of this problem of evil.  His famous essay ‘’Nature’’ shows this. Another strong influence, although this came later, was that of Leslie Stephen, whom Hardy described  as ‘the man whose  philosophy was to influence his own for many years, more than that of any other contemporary (Life,100). His famous essay “An Agnostic’s Apology” reflects Hardy’s own views He had no belief in Providence – a force that saw to it that everything in the world worked towards good. Belief in providence was one of the favorite beliefs of the Victorians.  Wordsworth wrote about  “Nature’s holy plan”: Browning “never dreamed, thought right were worsted, wrong would triumph.”  To Hardy these bland assertions seemed intolerably smug. In his later novels he forcibly drove home the message that there is no supernatural force which looks after the innocent. His descriptive passages often read like a piece of Wordsworth turned upside down.  Evolution and his acute tragic sense made him what Cockshut calls a “pessimist pantheist.” It is in tune with Darwinism that he regarded man as a part of universal system, differing in no fundamental respect from stars, animals and earth. There is no room for special providence as there is no special creation. Man  is in no way special, there is also no personal God who could arrange special providence. Evolutionism and “the light of reason” (rationalism)  argue against special providence and Hardy believed in both these dogmas.

C.E.M.Joad in his  God and Evil devotes a subsection to Hardy.  Hardy’s concept of God in terms of ‘fate,’ ‘Destiny’, ‘Chance’ or the  ‘Prime Mover’ which is basically a blind, unfeeling, unthinking will which, indifferent alike to human suffering and human happiness,   fares on its  way because  it must. If the power furthers human  efforts, it furthers them  without purpose ;  if it thwarts, it thwarts them without malignity.  Epithets used to describe its nature are ‘viewless,’ ‘voiceless’ ‘unmotivated’ ‘unimpassioned’ ‘nescient’ ‘unseeing’  ‘above forethinking.’   God, then, if the power behind the universe may be personified under such a name, is fundamentally  amoral. He doesn’t rule the world by  ethical standards.  He hardly knows anything of the concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, just and unjust. These are mere figments in the brains of His creatures which can’t be applied to Himself.  However there are variations on this view of God.  He suggests that God made the world, set it going and then forgot all about it.  This view  is set about in his poem  “God Forgotten.”  He seems to suggest that there is so much evil in the world because  He has lost contact with the world.   Hardy also conceives  God as a humorist who created for the gratification of His ironic spirit.  His emphasis on the role of haphazard’ or accidents shows this In his poem  “Nature’s Questioning” are found most of Hardy’s alternative views. Here he converses with the dumb furniture of nature, ‘the field, flock and lonely tree’, cowed yet questioning demanding to be told why they are here at all.


‘We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!

                     ‘Has some Vast imbecility,

                     Mighty to build and blend

                     But impotent to tend,

                     Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?

                     ‘Or  come we of an Automation

                     Unconscious of our pains?

Or are we live remains

                     Of Godhead dying downwards, brain and eye now gone?

                     Or is it that some high Plan betides,

                     As yet not understood

                     Of evil stormed by Good

                     We the  Forlorn Hope over which Achievement Strides?

                     Thus things around.  No answerer  I …..

                     Meanwhile the winds, and rains,

                     And Earth’s old glooms and  pains,

                     Are still the same, and Death and glad Life neighbors nigh.

The overall character of God that emerges in Hardy’s writings is  as Broad puts it, is that “He is indifferent, if not malevolent and forgetful. As the worst He appears a humorist in bad taste”(Joad:61). However, He is not Houseman’s  “brute and blackguard” and  Swinburne’s  and Shelley’s fiendish God.  He is Mill’s lame God who is unable to win the battle with evil.  Sometimes He seems to be  Alexandrian God yet to evolve as Hardy thinks that in some distant future our prayers may reach the  Will.  His evolutionary meliorism implies such a God who in the end triumphs over evil although presently he is struggling hard against it without apparent  success.  He seems to concede some kind of afterlife in “Wessex Heights” and  salvific note is struck at the end of Dynast where Spirit of Pities has the last word.  Pities express the hope of mankind that “the rages /Of the ages/ shall be cancelled,” as the Will becomes conscious of human suffering .  In ‘Fragment’ is the Theme of Dynasts, that eventual awareness of  human suffering will reach the Immanent Will. Here Hardy is less pessimistic than in ‘God Forgotten’.  He entertains  the hopes of immortality in ‘He Prefers Her Earthly’ Hardy isn’t totally skeptical of immortality and possibility of salvation that involves annulling or conquering of evil.  He hints at this in  “When Dead.”  Though vague, this is clearly remote from Hardy’s former rationalism  He hints at the same idea of existence before and after life in “Wessex Heights.”  In “Wessez Heights” is the line “was before my birth and after death may be.” These are strange words from the rationalist of the “Immortality” poems and the   Impercipient who could believe in neither spiritual preexistence nor life after death.  His concern with immortality and thus salvation and negation of evil allies him with religion.

 In his last years he seems less prone to blame some Ultimate cause for the plight of man.  Winter Words ends significantly with one of the poems expressing disillusionment with the human race for its hideous self-treason.  However, he seems hopeful about man if consciousness of him is transformed.  It is the transformation of consciousness that form the requisite of religion’s promise of victory over evil. These points along with his theory of unfulfilled intentions form the essence of his views on fundamental philosophical and religious questions.

Hardy is well known for his theory of unfulfilled intentions. This in fact drives him to accuse God of unbecoming things. He argues that because man’s dreams are shattered and his desires thwarted by nature the Ultimate Reality or the First Cause can’t be benevolent. It is quite interesting that different religions also foreground the fact that human desires and intentions are not fulfilled and can’t be fulfilled but don’t see this as any reason to pass judgment on the character of deity; Rather they criticize this desiring self, this dreaming and aspiring self, and call for its transformation. In fact nature’s or God’s benevolence or crookedness isn’t an issue at all for them but the issue is how man achievers his supreme felicity and how he comes to fulfill his most cherished desire of Bliss Unspeakable, of Peace that pasaseth all understanding.. Hardy doesn’t seriously consider the notion of karma that explains suffering by putting onus on man rather than God.

Hardy assumes that God is personal and His personality is defining characteristic of Him and this personality he conceives in crassly anthropomorphic voluntaristic terms. In this regard it may be noted that in traditional religions Absolute is not personal God but transcends him as heaven transcends earth. Godhead, Tao, Nirvana, Zat-uz-zat, He, That, Brahman, That Which Is – the terms or words used to designate the Absolute are not conceivable in personal terms. In fact personal God is a determination of the Absolute and in fact exists in the Realm of Relativity or Maya to use Vedantic terms.  How does traditional religion- as understood from a metaphysical perspective- understand the notion of Divine Will?

It is Hardy’s individualism, personalism and humanism that lead him to misinterpret obviously indifferent universe in quite negative and sentimental anthropomorphic terms. All traditions are opposed to these doctrines that humanism teaches. If man is not the measure of things how can he judge universe?

Hardy’s argument is quite simple. Since evil exists and innocents suffer and man is born and dies like a rat, lives in exile, and universe doesn’t care for his welfare God is unbelievable. I need not labour on the speciousness of the argument from evil against God but only point out that we see lurking behind Hardy’s analysis a set of assumptions that he accepts without much examination.

·   Life has no higher purpose. Values don’t justify it, nothing justifies it. Goodness, beauty etc. are ungrounded in any Absolute.

·   Man is born astride of a grave and doesn’t know his business on earth. The fact that he is conscious has no special metaphysical significance but only makes him conscious sufferer. It marks him for life of suffering.

·   Man dies, passion for life not withstanding and death is annihilation pure and simple. There is nothing in man that transcends birth and death, space and time.

·   God or the Unconscious Will creates in sadistic spirit. It knows no care, no planning and no purpose for creatures caught in the absurd trap of life. Intelligence that man possesses and that seems to move the spheres is really unintelligence. In the Will centred ontology there is little scope for intelligence. Self consciousness is a burden. Transcendence is illusory. Man doesn’t count in the scheme of things. Nothing counts. All is vanity. The Principle has no such attributes that prophets, sages and traditional philosophers have asserted.

·   If God has any plan it is unknown to man and it certainly seems to leave him out of the picture. The mystery of existence doesn’t uplift soul.

·   Though this seems to account for evil in the world according to him, goodness of the world, its beauty and its immense complexity that speaks of intelligence and strange mystery remain inexplicable.

·   Man is stranger and he should rebel against fate rather than love it. Existence can’t be man’s object of love or even trust. Heavens are deaf to his cries. He lives alone and dies alone. There is no cure for the malady of life except death.

From such premises one can hardly derive any life affirming vision. There is even little consolation.  However he has attempted to stand by the side of human dignity and affirms whatever little crumbs he can pin his hand on. It is amazing to see his stubborn faith in life despite all evidence of reason and experience to the contrary. One wonders wherefrom this faith comes. But what I want to point out is that Hardy’s hope and faith in man and his humanism are acts of sheer faith as otherwise there is little scope for such things in a worldview that starts from Blind and Unconscious Will.

It is interesting to see how religions approach apparently indifferent universe. No religion believes that someone up in the heavens is interested in fulfilling man’s wishes and desires. Providence doesn’t work in the way anthropocentric and anthropomorphic imagination would like it to be. Individual doesn’t count. Desires lead to dukkha and thus are not to be pursued. God is totality of existence, impersonal  or transindividual principle. He can’t be propitiated. Fate is no respecter of man’s wishes. Salvation lies in man’s relinquishing his separative consciousness, his individuality, his egocentrism and submit to the flow, the rhythm of the Whole or Totality or Tao. Man must love fate to be worthy of God’s love that saves. Religions offer no consolation; salvation is to be won diligently by oneself. Suffering is the fruit of one’s action and there is no compensation for such a thing. Religions offer a scheme of amor fati that heroically encounters every thing that happens in the world. There is no bad faith, no escapism, no negative fatalism. Nietzsche’s superman approaches such a heroic ideal but saint is far more heroic than him. Result is quite different in the two cases. Frustrated and bitter protagonists of Hardy dies unreconciled. Rebels against the order of things don’t die a sweet death. Religions advocate an attitude of submission to the impersonal order of things that is created not in jest but, if one cooperates, for making possible the treasures of the kingdom of God.

The way  Hinduism, Buddhism and  Jainism put this doctrine of karma shows how superficial is the ironical vision and the lament over  a sense of irreconcilable  disparity in  the scheme of things found in certain pessimistic  writers like  Beckett, Conrad and discernible in the minor poetry of Hardy created by mere intellect.

 Hardy suggests art, not quite unlike Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, as a means for salvation which amounts to nothing more than making life endurable. Before embarking on the discussion of how effective and viable this saviour proves to be let us point first note the great difference between religious and Hardyan ideals of salvation. For religions promise nothing short of the kingdom of God and that includes all the treasures that are there in all the worlds, the peace that passeth all understanding, the bliss unspeakable, the perfection that belongs to God. Life becomes a carnival of joy, a festival of lights and suffused with the music of the eternal that drowns all the cares of the world. One is lifted fat above the earth and time is transcended. One rejoices every moment. Compared to this Hardy attempts to make life endurable, to achieve certain poise and resignation so that man dies without bitterness. It is art which is the principle of beautification that Hardy advocates. Now this is quite a poor ideal compared to the heaven that religion promises here and now. Hardy says: “Art lies in making these defects (of Nature) the basis of hitherto unperceived beauty, by irradiating them ‘with the light that never was’ on their surface, but is seen to be latent in them by the spiritual eye.”  (Life,114) He also writes: “To find beauty in ugliness is the  province of a poet.” (Life,188) In “Why Do I” he says that he will continue to write  poetry, as long as he lives in a world of pain.  His belief in poetry’s saving power  is associated with  his understanding  of poetry as religion.  In his  preface to Late Lyrics and  Earlier he remarked, “in any event poetry,  pure literature in general, religion- I include religion in its essential and undogmatic sense, because poetry and religion touch each other ; are, indeed, often but different names for the same thing.” He also wrote “It may indeed be a forlorn hope, a mere dream, that of an alliance between religion which must be retained unless the world is to perish, and complete rationality, which  must come, unless also the world is to perish by means of interfusing effects of poetry.” (Ibid)  Das remarks about Hardy “His isn’t a poetry of revolt and irony, but a poetry of human dignity and tragic acquisition which transcends the pain of tragedy.”(Das, 1969)  Hardy has made poetry out of mutability as Buddha has made religion out of impermanence and mutability without need of permanent soul and personal God.  He refused, as a typical religious sensibility does, to be carried away and killed by fact of evil or pain as a thorough going pessimist would.  The religious person finds life worth living, despite the overriding and disturbing fact of pain and suffering.  He sees beneath the apparent tragedy something beautiful.  He does see good triumphant or believes it to be triumphant though these positive beliefs remain mere matters of faith rather than reasoned convictions that could go unchallenged on philosophical grounds.  The religion is ultimately a Yes saying attitude to life. The religion doesn’t only find this little life beautiful but suffuses it with the depths and heights of eternity.  Hardy makes life worth living through poetry.  He faces the task of making poetry out of what Hynes calls “experience which has no invested meaning”(Hynes, 1961) without investing it with a private mythological  or religious significance.  His own description of poet as ‘a great seer and feeler’ isn’t much unlike Buddha.  His is “a nature endowed for joy, but acquainted with tragic springs. The bitterness of the world didn’t force him to embrace it” as Doren notes (Doren, 1959:103)   He has religious faith in love.  He calls it a great thing in “Great Things.”   He never thought of or recommended suicide.  But he could hardly muster any reasons against suicide. He can look at the face of absurd with Camusian repose and serenity.  He isn’t Hemmingway who surrendered to the evil and committed suicide as he found NADA unchallengeable.  There are abundant lyric images that through their sensitive and loving observations celebrate joys of life.  He reads Darwinian theory in a way that transmutes much of its evil into good. This shows his attitude towards the problem of evil in sharp contrast to Darwin himself and those who defended social Darwinism.  He didn’t quote Darwin to validate the belief in the rule of devil or evil.   For Hardy “discovery of the law of evolution had shifted the centre of altruism from humanity to the whole conscious world collectively.” (Life :346).  This is not too far from the Boddhisativic ideal of universal compassion.

Religion too is a sort of change of attitude towards samsaric becoming so that man isn’t crushed by the burden of time and other spirit killing experiences. Mind, memory, desires, regrets and other problems of the life of ego are transcended. Hardy finds the ghost of painful memory hard to exorcize. In fact the consciousness of suffering remains as long as one remains at the plane of mind. Religion too involves certain aestheticization of life as A. K. Coomaraswamy has argued. Zen is aestheticization of life par excellence. However artistic experience is akin to mystical experience and is cognitive in a way. Art for Nietzsche and Hardy is a kind of lie that hides life’s miseries and ugliness rather than akin to cognitive experience, an opening to the transcendent world of meaning and values. In Hardy we find impoverished conception of everything that makes life grand, noble, meaningful and worth celebrating.

Religions such as Buddhism have explicitly critiqued the traditional notion of personal God. In fact all religions conceive the Ultimate not as personal God but as Absolute, pure Being or Beyond-Being. This Beyond-Being  is “unconscious” unconcerned with the world or with the man.  It knows nothing of the agony of man.  It isn’t involved in revelation or salvation. Man is involved in a painful soul-making odyssey and none can help it.  The responsibility of evil can’t be on God.  It must be evil – replete with evil to show that only God is good. Buddha carries this position to the logical conclusion by denying any value in the notion of personal God as far as salvation is concerned.  Buddha  said that the existence of evil is  inconsistent with personal interested God. But all this doesn’t mean that  Buddha is an atheist  or even agnostic or that Grace has no value in his system.  Development of pure land Buddhism that emphasizes Grace as important for Nirvana. Buddha only emphasizes this point to put onus on man who must take initiative as it is his salvation that is the issue.  Religions don’t describe the First Principle as Blind but indifferent because it totally transcends all human conceptions though when we read Infinite and All-Possibility we don’t evaluate in anthropocentric terms the principles which transcend all individual variations. Hardy indulges in bad metaphysics as he wishes to uphold nonmetaphysical notions that individualism and anthropocentrism put forth. There is no room for sentimentalism and individual-centrism in the domain of pure metaphysics as such masters as Rene Guenon have pointed out in their megesterial exposituions of perennial philosophy and Vedanta.

Amor fati the way of life affirmation not only in traditional religions but also in important nonreligious and even antireligious philosophies. It is the common denominator of all traditional approaches to life’s tragic character. If fate is conceived as hostile to humans it can’t be accepted. Hardy’s rejection of higher fatalism of which only strong souls are capable according to Nietzsche gets him into conflict with different traditional philosophies is thus fraught with great problems as it opposes universally held position.

Hardy is interested in terrestrial happiness of man which involves gratification of desires and finding unfulfilled desires or impossibility of terrestrial happiness is led to assert certain metaphysical propositions which can’t but be incorrect given the very objective and transpersonal character of metaphysical enterprise.

Hardy fails to see any use for suffering and finds it gratuitous. In fact the whole existence is gratuitous for existentialists and Hardy. Nothing can be more despairing and more absurd antimetaphysical notion. It logically implies that everything is gratuitous. In a gratuitous universe nothing can be meaningful even the struggle against evil and absurdity that existentialists and Hardy engage in. There is no use of life. It is a futile passion. Suffering is useless. Man rolls no mass. Alienated from God, from nature and from fellow beings he is at root frustrated being. As David Perkins observes: “… the protagonist almost always appears as a solitary, an outsider, or an individual alienated from the life of his fellows.(Perkins:143) Nothing can be more pessimistic conclusion. So Hardy despite his plea for evolutionary meliorism is unable to escape starkly pessimistic premises.

We find nothing resembling transcendence in traditional sense in Hardy. Self realization remains an elusive ideal. Neither this worldly nor otherworldly heaven seems to be in the reach of his protagonists.

Hardy has no answer to basic metaphysical questions besides a vague sentimentalism and half baked metaphysical claims. He asks “Why should a man’s minded have been thrown into such close, sad, sensational, inexplicable relations with such a precarious object as his own body?”(Qt. by Zabel :33)

Instead of being able to find the cause of suffering in man as all Eastern traditions he blames Will and this solves no problem as it is fate which disrupts man’s dreams and frustrates him. This absolves man of introspecting to find within himself cause of his suffering. Hardy is not able to suggest any solution to the problem of evil beyond putting blame of blind nature though he does suggest that man’s self-treason is his undoing. But the rigour of clear thinking that metaphysical doctrines.

All human institutions are unable to give joy and bliss that man longs for. Filial, marital and other social relations fail and are inherently incapable of giving man rest. Love is not panacea for human exile. Love is not God. Religion cures alienation by love.

Ageing, impotence, ill heath, disease, mistrust, and all kinds of poisons mar human happiness. Although there are optimistic elements here and there and suggestions for coexistence with nature and fellow humans and affirmation of human grandeur, dignity and nobility Hardy remains trapped in his finitistic immanentist personalist worldview. One can’t ground any optimistic or melioristic position on the metaphysical proposition of hostile fate or Crass Causality. If in Christian worldview God is merciful and infinitely good and wise and love capable of healing all wounds in Hardy the First Cause is blind and devil like. How can love triumph in Hardyan universe where no ontological or metaphysical foundation is provided for it. Hardy thinks that the world is dark so that his soul is “consigned to infelicity.” Nothing is well here for him. God is unanswerable to the question why he created man and left him in ‘tabernacle groan.”(in “New Year’s Eve.”)

According to Hardy it would have been better if we were not born at though he wouldn’t suggest suicide. Isn’t this longing for death or nonexistence a blasphemy against life? All human dreams and aspirations are consigned to flames. Having denied goodness of God Hardy is not able to ground goodness that men seek on firm foundations. In fact after denying God he is not able to ground values that are essential to life. Humanism’s myths of progress and enlightenment by science are not credible to Hardy.

What emerges from the foregoing discussion is that Hardy attempted a refutation of despairing pessimistic and nihilistic conclusions that follow from the premises of his godless age but he was not smart enough philosophically for the task. Temperamentally too he couldn’t escape the lure of pessimism. Responding to the modern predicament in which man is unable to create substitutes for the killed divinity he subscribed to a heterogeneous mass of ideas that have contradictory implications.


1.                                          Das, M.M., (1983) Thomas Hardy Poet of Tragic Vision MacMillan India Ltd.

2.                                          Doren, Von, (1959)  The Poems of Hardy in Four Poets on poetry, ed. Don Cameron Allen, John Hopkin’s Press, Baltilmore

3.                                          Hyenes Samuel, (1961) The Pattern of Hardy’s Poetry. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, N.C.

4.                                          Joad.,C E.M God and Evil, Faber and Faber Ltd London

5.                                          Perkins, David, “Hardy and the Poetry of Isolation,” ed. By A.J. Guerrrard, Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays

6.                                          Zabel, M.D. “Hardy in Defense of His Art,” ed. A.J.,Guerard, Hardy: A Collection of Critical Essays.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Why Read Nietzsche?

Nietzsche can’t be wished away and there is no escaping the task of engaging with him.

Would you believe that there are people who don’t know that there are social sciences,  computers, airplanes and countless technological gadgets around us? Those who believe we can have, or we can use modern technology without engaging with background science or secular reason that brings it are such people. Divided personalities, divided loyalties, clouded vision, cursing imagination and insensitivity to finer culture are what distinguishes them. They constitute the majority in the Third World. They have not heard of Nietzsch. They haven’t read any of his books and haven’t heard even his most (in)famous statement “God is dead.”
Yes, they haven’t heard of the bull in the China house of conventional religion. They still talk of God in terms of substance, in terms of force, in terms of cosmic being or policeman, in terms of ground of ordinary morality. They still talk as if the other world is in absolute terms separable from this world. They think God is vindictive. They haven’t heard of his madman who cried “God is dead and we have murdered him.” They don’t know that we are living in the post-Nietzschean, post modern world where such terms as truth, other world, morality can’t and aren’t understood in the sense previous dualistic mutakalimoon or exoteric theologians or ulama-i- zahir understood them. They don’t seem to notice that fear sermons that once drew large crowds now repel people away from faith. They don’t know that Nietzsche called himself Dajjal (Anti-Christ) though he was not one but was so much infuriated by those who trade religion. Iqbal, the greatest Muslim philosopher and poet in the twentieth century had great respect for him and though critical of some of his theses, read him in almost mystic terms. A. K. Coomaraswamy, one of the greatest art historians and scholars of comparative religion, also read him as a mystic  (“A Cosmopolitan View of Nietzsche”) and appropriated his ideas of superman living beyond good and evil in terms that don’t sound shocking to orthodox viewpoint. Nietzsche can’t be wished away and there is no escaping the task of engaging with him. Iqbal engaged with him and that is why we can’t accuse him – as we can most scholars and preachers – of living in the past. Paradoxically Nietzsche has been hailed as the greatest moral voice of the modern world. Without reading Nietzsche we can’t do dawah to modern educated audience. Without taking note of his critique of modern man’s hypocrisy we can’t criticize hypocrisy we see in the Muslims worshipping money and God and embracing technology and conventional dualistic theology simultaneously.  Without reading Nietzsche we can’t understand modern man’s  atheism or modern educated Muslim’s indifference to religion. Sermons can’t do the trick. It needs close engagement. It needs understanding philosophy of Enlightenment and its discontents to make a proper response to him.  Those who consider themselves God’s advocates have a mighty adversary to contend with. His one of the most deadly critiques of counterpart of Mullaism in the Christian world has to be understood by Muslims. So far we see mostly Ostrich acting on the part of those who consider their duty to call people to God or Islam.
We can’t say Nietzsche misread  modern man’s indifference or hostility to religion and consequent secularization: he simply diagnosed the crisis. He didn’t declare that God is dead but simply diagnosed the state of affairs in the modern secularized world where God has been kept at bay. Moderns are indifferent to God; God is not a question of life and death for them. Nietzsche raged wildly against this complacent view regarding what he described as “holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned” He lost his sanity seeking God he found modern world has no room for. We can’t advise young minds not to read him in an age of internet and books easily accessible. We can’t wish him away as he has impacted on our greatest writers and philosophers. You can’t ignore Nietzsche if you claim to be living in the postmodern world. He is a presence, a haunting presence. Nietzsche is in syllabus in universities in dozens of disciplines from sociology to anthropology to literary criticism to religious studies. You can’t ask your children not to read him. There are only two choices: to read him, engage with him, respond to him or choose to live in the medieval world, a world where secular reason, science and industrialization haven’t caused disenchantment and we are without cars and mobiles. We can’t do hijrat to the medieval world. Let us see how  religious thinkers of the twentieth century from Barth to Tillich to Bultman to Altizer to Corbin to Milbank to Caputo, and in the Islamic world from Iqbal to Shariati to Nasr Abu Zayd to Arkoun, responded to Nietzsche if we are to sound relevant and call our younger  generation to faith.  Our standard reference is of course the Tradition understood in its most comprehensive sense as  what binds earth to heaven or Revelation and Intellection but we can’t turn to our Classical age for interpretation of it as its idiom though not content has to be modern or postmodern. We can’t import from past thinkers, scholars and commentaries  to bulldoze the Nietzschean world. Willy nilly it is the world shaped by Nietzsche. From his perspectivism (there are infinite perspectives none of which can wholly access the Truth or truth is not given to us unmediated as far as it is transmitted in linguistic or conceptual frameworks) to higher fatalism to ideas regarding innocence of becoming, non-finality of any interpretation  and overcoming all narratives that fix meaning in certain absolutistic sense, Nietzsche we can boldly engage with and, with Iqbal’s Sirhindi, see him as co-traveler who is not to be despised. He too sought a Guide but couldn’t find one. (“I need  a Master. How sweet it is to obey.”) Are we capable of providing him with one? Where is the Pir, a modern Sirhindi, who could guide Nietzsche?
The question Muslim world especially faces is  a vast majority of  unwilling disbelievers (who want to believe but can’t and find no convincing answers around them and this group includes some highly educated people trained in traditional religious studies in the Arab world). Another  question is how to  dialogue with those  who are still caught in the medieval world and instead of believing or attempting at understanding those who have travelled to the 21st century, curse them and seek to impose their views on them? it is metaphyicians like Ibn Arabi and Mulla Sadra as against rationalist philosophers and theologians who help in overcoming nihilism – the crisis of values – that Nietzsche confronted but without being able to fully overcome. Modern Muslim youth is suffering from a kind of nihilism.
They desperately seek help. The ghost and shadow of Nietzsche haunts the world because science and technology are there to stay and ironically it is the Arab world that has been so enthusiastic in embracing new technology and keeping likes of Ibn Arabi out. Where is the vaccine against the deadly pestilence that exposure to Nietzsche constitutes for those who don’t know that there is a depth dimension of faith, a scripture written in the heart of being (anfus and aafaaq),a centre of meaning within disguised under the letter or external ritual of religion? The Quran heals all wounds and diseases if we open up to it. The opening up to the Quran requires what is called spiritual or metaphysical or symbolist approach. It is hearts and minds that are to be transformed and this calls for practice – spiritual ascesis through aamal-i-saliha– rather than linguistic or rhetorical skills.

Teray zameer pay jab tak na ho nazooli kitab
Girah kusha hai na Razi na sahib i Kashaaf