Literary Criticism: Western Influence


The influence of Western literary model is most clearly seen in the field of criiticism. The attempt to relate old Indian values to new western values will account for most of the developments in literature in the first half of the 20th century. The rapid growth of prose through journals like Bhashaposhini (started 1896) inevitably led to the new trend in criticism, viz., the evaluation of literary works in Malayalam on the basis of Western critical standards.

This tendency which existed in its rudimentary form in Kerala Varma became more systematic in A.R. Rajaraja Varma. It found its full-throated spokesman in Sahitya Panchananan P.K. Narayana Pillai (1878-1937). His critical treatises on Cherusseri, Ezhuthachan, Kunchan Nambiar and Unnayi Warrier are the best monuments of this creative encounter between two traditions of criticism. Close interpretation of what is there in the text, attempts to investigate into problems of authorship and chronology and to relate what is in a work to socio-religious developments and historical setting at the time of composition, application of documentary evidence of textual problems and final judgment based on total evaluation rather than on alankara and diction: these were the general features of his best critical writings. One could say that he promoted judicial criticism. The use of quotations from Sanskrit alongside those from English is proof to show that his aim was a short of synthesis of the East and West. His third lecture on Thunchattu Ezhuthachan begins thus:
Since there could be difference of opinion about the vedantic passages in Adhyatma Ramayanam Kilippattu as shown before, I would not like to erect Ezhuthachan's pillar of fame on such a foundation. More secure bases other than that are not difficult to find. No one need hesitate to say that the Bhakti Rasa sparkling throughout that work and the skill in the use of language are unique to it. Although it is possible to see many other Rasas like Sringara (erotic) Vira (heroic) and Karuna (tragic) clearly demonstrated in it, there is something special about the Bhakti Rasa. No other Rasa seems to have bestirred him as deeply as Bhakti Rasa.
While this shows the application of the Indian aesthetic theory of Rasa, we have in the following passage, the application of western ideas:
It is the good fortune of the people of Kerala that in Ezhuthachan, who is to be regarded as the founding preceptor of Malayalam literature, there is a strong bias toward ethics. Rasas are born of emotions and emotions are the tools of the trade for the poets. I remember Benedito Croce, the Italian critic, as having said somewhere as follows: "The poets transform the subjects they deal with into ideal goals. It is done not through the silly tricks of tropes, but through a total involvement. And in this way we pass from a state of emotional excitement into one of quiet reflection". How well this remark suits Ezhuthachan's poetry!
P.K.Narayana Pillai's critical credo is clearly expressed in the preface he wrote to this monograph on Ezhuthachan.
"It is said that we are so much encumbered about with the ever growing pile of contemporary literature that we seldom find time to make or renew acquaintance with old masters of the pen. The reason of the likely neglect of old masters, according to one view, is that unless we are introduced to them by men of our own time, we may not recognize them. Every age requires the past to be interpreted to it in terms of its own ideas".
The classicist in P.K.Narayana Pillai seems to agree with the classicist in T.S. Eliot who came to hold an almost similar view about the need to interpret the past afresh to each age.
Swadeshabhimani K.Ramakrishna Pillai (1978-1916), the stormy petrel of Travancore politics, was also imbued with the western influence, but he did not care for a judicial approach. Instead he spoke out loud and clear and at times with virulence, giving no quarter to the author he criticized. His political radicalism and training as a journalist aided him in this. His short biography of Karl Marx is the first work of socialist thought in Malayalam. He also wrote books on Socrates, Columbus, Frankiln and Gandhi. His Vrithanta Patra Pravartanam (1912) is a pioneering work of journalism and consistent with lofty idealism even lays down a severe code of conduct for the aspiring journalist. He had become editor of Swadeshabhimani in 1906 and was exiled from Travancore in 1910. He held the view that style was born of the writer's character and could not be earned through imitation. The truth of this is a borne out by his own style, as for instance in his virulent attack on kingship:

The monarchs believe and force others to believe that they
are God's representatives or incarnations. This is absurd.
Did God create a special kind of dog to be the king of dogs,
or a special kind of elephant to rule over all elephants?

There were many other critics like C.Anthappayi who tried to assimilate the western critical modes.