Indian literature has been rich, traditionally as well as in any way you would like to scrutinise this. Like its culture and civilisation, great history and even the ruins of the golden years that we associate with the term mythology, the early advancements in science that we can witness in the form of carvings on the stones of temples and caves, Indian literature has had a great past, great recent past and a diverse present. We can associate the present literature with greatness or not is purely up to the judgement of individuals because there is too much to be called literature and there is too little that we can compile as literature. Yes, a dilemma on the run! You can read many things about literary practices on various platforms like Literature News or others. Decide for yourself. 🙂
Coming to the moot subject of this piece, how do we assess the quality of a piece of literature? How do we ensure that we are rightly ascribing quality to a body of literature? Has it remained the same all the while? Can we judge a work of literature on the same benchmarks that the ancient readers used to do, say 500 years ago? These are the questions that allow us to recuse ourselves from the ongoing qualitative by quantitative debate and one can guess that it is important at this point.
Judging the work by contemporary authors should never be based on the same benchmarks that we applied, those who lived then, to judge the works by likes of R K Narayan and Anand or even Hardy or Woolf. Modern authors demand modern judgement because modern authors cater to the demands of modern readers and modern readers have very different notions about the books they read and why do they read… so, the literary transactions that we witness in modern days are very-very different from what it used to be many years ago, many decades ago and a few centuries ago and a few ages ago. And we will need certain new ideas, styles and proper tools for criticism, appreciation and evaluation of the modern or contemporary works of literature. Once we get into such depths while analysing literature, a question normally, and more than often, rises – is the quality lowering in modern literature? Are we witnessing a fall in the ethics of contemporary literature? Are authors able to produce works of merit or permanent values as they used to be in the past?
This question is as problematic as the answers might be. Every age has its limitations when it comes to views, opinions, frontiers of thoughts and emotions, the prowess to perceive ideals and ideas and so on. And likewise is reflected in literature as well. Moreover, any author is conscious about his or her writing, and he or she writes for the audience that will read the book rather than the critics who will ‘judge’ the book. AT the end of the day, the critics’ judgement and the readers’ judgement are different and what an author cares about is the response by his or her readers rather than the response by critics. This might be one reason we see the lack of so-called quality in contemporary literature and we will continue seeing it in the coming years because authors simply do not need to do anything as long as they are being read and shared.
by Ashish for The Last Critic