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Jayanta Mahapatra needs no introduction. Any discussion on Indian English Poetry is incomplete without reference to his poetical works. Mahapatra holds the distinction of being the first Indian English poet to have received the Sahitya Akademi Award for the current book “Relationship”. “his international reputation has been compared to that of Wordsworth…”

The Hindu, Sunday, Jan 29, 2006


‘History’ in Criticism – the ‘Other’ Side of the Story (Part – 1)


[Fig: Michel Foucault]

Focault and his contemporary post structuralists might make it a part of his consciousness that ontological studies of literature leads towards a future of studies without a point of convergence, as knowledge necessarily entails power relationship – that the moment one attempts to define in strict tones some aspect of ‘text’, it becomes something else. Exploiting this power relationship of knowledge with the interpreter’s environment (which is essentially socio-political). Said in Orientalism, adopted a different methodological standpoint – the method of “historical generalization”. And after publication of Orientalism the subaltern poststructural critics like Spivak termed it as the “source book” for the related disciplines  to which she belongs. The reason to present this fact is that, I want to direct our attention to one distinguish point of today’s criticism – that the so called anti-historic criticism (like post-structuralism) lead the way to point a fault i.e. “ontological interpretation” is never free from bias and thus it gives way to ‘historical generalization’ or (more specifically) to ‘use of history in critical interpretation of texts’, to which it is totally against. That means, in plain words, through the structuralists and post structuralists, deconstructionist distorted history, by assigning it the title of a ‘system’ with changing ‘center’ (For instance, Derrida thought his articulation of his deconstructionist ideas as an event, and this he showed as a process of change of “center” – by replacing “metaphysics” with the “deconstruction”, at the center of our belief system), they later paved the way (through Focault’s theory) for a new mode of interpretation where history plays an important role – in post colonial, subaltern and Oriental studies (more specifically in the words of Said and Bhaba).

Thus the most interesting point that comes to our notice is the relationship between two modes of idealism – one that supports the use of history and the other that is totally against the use of history in the study of literature are infact are the two sides of the same coin. This point as we observed in case of modern critical theories, tempts us to examine its validity in every phase of critical history itself, and in the following I am attempting to give this temptation , a mode of reality.


[From my essay with the same title written in December 2003]


© Samir K. Dash, 2003

Two oldmen


Two oldmen

Two oldmen met each other
One entered from a door
The other leaving

Both smiled at each other
Talked insane to the other
One has learned this world
The other yet to
One thing common
Both innocent at the moment
Rest too complex to explain
Like life itself!


“Two oldmen” (c) Samir K. Dash: 2011,

All Rights Reserved. No part of the above poem(s) can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.


Formalism, Simplified


Filippo TommasoMarinetti

The Background:

19th century Russian criticism was largely didactic. It was , primarily a weapon of liberal and later revolutionary opposition to the tsarist regime.


Towards 1890 (i.e. the end of 19th century), there came the symbolism with Dimitri Merezhkovsky and Valerii Briusov. So, for the first time criticism became partly aesthetic , which took into its consideration the “suggestion” of words, the personal mood of poetic themes. Some , like Vladimir solovev saw in symbolism an opportunity for Russian religious thought, as symbolism provided the magic of revelation of higher values.

But then many saw symboliusm as a revival of Romanticism (as it opposed to Realism and Naturalism).


During such a period, there raised a group whose statements were based upon classicism under the name of “Clarism” and “Acmeism”. They were also more like Paranassians, who stress on clarity and emphasize upon objectivity and concreteness. In addition, during this period Marxism came to front, being formulated in the writings of Plekhanov and Lenin. And this Marxism was a kind of revival of didacticism and return to the taste of 19th century realism.


Thus, the battle lines were drawn in 1910, as aestheticism, symbolism, Marxism confronted one another sharply. By this period the whole Europe (non-British), had been undergoing drastic change in literary theories, with a blurring distinctions among them, under the name of “Futurism” (Italian evolution) and Modernism is somewhat old term dating back to the middle ages in England. But in about a 1887, the form Die Moderne became a slogan of writers, whom we would classify as naturalists. But then this term modernism used widely, for instance , in Richard Ellmann and Charles Feidelson’s The Modern Tradition (1965) and in Irving Howe’s Literary Modernism(1967).


As far as “Futurism” is concerned, it developed in italy towards the beginning of 20th century. In 1909 the major manifesto of futurism was published by Filippo Marinetti in Le Figaro (1909), which advocated the complete breakup with the tradition and aimed at new forms, new subjects and new styles in keeping with the advent of the machine age. They advocated the dynamism, the machine and speed, the patriotism and splendour of war. This towards 1920, became more aggressive and Fasistic as it created movements like Dadaism and expressionism.


In Russia this futurism along with “Cubism”, “Dadaism”, “Surrealism” and other Avant-Grade groups(Avant-Grade is a term coined BY Gabriel –Desire Laverdant in 1845 ) put their effect on the groups who were opposed to symbolism and aesthetic values in literature.


Following 1909’s manifesto of Italian futurism (by Fillippo Marrinetti), in 1912 the notorious manifesto ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste’ (signed by david Burlink, Alexei Kruchenykh and Velimir Khlebnikov) was published stating to “throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and all others overboard from the steamship of modernity”.


In 1926, roman Jackobson established the Prague school, which was influenced by this spirit (as well as by the Italian futurism). And this school believed in the rejection of organic, biological, “beautiful” form in favour of abstract, geometrical , stylized art and the machine. Other schools and linguistic groups like OPOIAZ (Scociety for the study of poetic language established in 1919) supported this, under the label of ‘Formalism.’.


The Russian formalists were primarily interested in the way that literary texts achieve their effects and in establishing scientific basis for the study of literature.








The formalist theory can be grouped under the following main categories:


  1. The evolution of form:

The formalists collapse the distinctions between the form and content. They consider ‘form’ to be the result of two operations: (i) Deformation (ii) Organization.


Deformation means the change achieved by poetic language in contrast to the language of prose, patterning by the sound repeatations  and figures. But all the ‘devices’, must be used (e.g. like ‘plot’ in a novel is a device) in a systematic manner, or in other words organized.


Thus Russian formalists first studied the sound patterns, meters and compositional forms.




  1. attack on poetry as “thinking images”:

visualization or the images in the context of poetry was according to the formalistic view useless. According to the formalists the visualization of any “metaphor” is not necessary. Rather the poem achieves its effects by the use of sound patterns, grammatical parallels and contrasts.



  1. theory parallel to New criticism of America:

Formalists redefined the social function of art: “the purpose of art is to make us see things, not to know them. Art is there to awaken us from our usual torpor” . this reminds us about the theory of John Crowe Ransom’s insistence on the contrast of science and art, art being assigned the function of returning’the world’s body’ to us.




  1. art is a puzzle:

formalists view art as a jigsaw puzzle. Frame stories such as The Arabian nights with their constant delays and disappointments adventures and mystery stories, detective novels with their riddles and surprises serve as example. This shows that formalists were more concerned with the form than the aesthetic human values.




  1. the process of “automization” :



Formalists rejected the usual literary history as a ragbag of uncoordinated facts. As Norman Jakobson says:



The old literary historians remind us of policemen who in order to arrest a certain individual , arrest everybody and carry off everything from his lodgings and arrest also anyone who passed by on the street. The historians of literature use everything – the social setting, psychology, politics, philosophy. Instead of literary scholarship, they give us a conglomeration of homogeneous disciplines.


(Reprinted in Selected Writings 1979)





and formalists solve this problem by the process of “automization” – focousing on poetic diction and its evolution by wearing of f the novelty. Thus formalists put the study of the actual work of literature into the centre of scholarship.




Present status:



Many believe that formalism is analogus to the NewCriticism movement of America. But this is not true. Though many points match or resemble in both movements, the essential difference lies in the differences in ethos and emphasis. While formalists were aiming in being revolutionary, the other one lays stress on the tradition. Formalists were associated with more on science than in the interpretation.


The movement of Formalism died in 1930’s just 10 years after its birth , but it influenced the coming movements like Structuralism of Ferdinand de Sassure.




The above post is taken from the book “A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Critical Theory ” by Samir K. Dash , First Ed (c) 2005.
All Rights Reserved. No part of the above poem(s) can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.


Small hole in my heart

Let’s all emotions loose

Now is hence but a dry pot

Where lonely wind screams

At its solitude.


“Solitude” (c) Samir K. Dash:  2011,

All Rights Reserved. No part of the above poem(s) can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.


Distant Beach

In the bank of my memories

I used to gather my oysters

In the sands of time

There are still my mounts

But a feeling of lonliness

Absent with me ..the other one

Carrying the words

Walking ahead of me

— the world of wonders

To haunt me in the evening
While sitting at the side-window

Like a life in the sideways,

Feeling gush of the damp wind

Blowing blowing…

Reminding me of a girl

At the distant beach.



“Distant Beach” (c) Samir K. Dash:  2011,

All Rights Reserved. No part of the above poem(s) can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.




affair - samir k dash 2011



It is not thatI reach for your body

To touch your uncovered chest

To feel my hunger

With the twins

But something deep for I crave

That makes what you are

— an innocent face

with two suspecting eyes

trying to search for the feelings

lost in last pages of past.

Sensations are, but made in heaven

where you wish to wander

To gather the moments that I spent with you

To feel the lips that once searched for you

— you know it well

Tomorrow won’t be the same again

where you’ll long for my touch

And I’ll be in someone else’s embrace!




“Affair” (c) Samir K. Dash:  3rd March 2011,

All Rights Reserved. No part of the above poem(s) can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.



Thought Castle



Thought Castle


I don’t know

Why I long to own you

Miss you in the evening times

Sitting beside my books

With the neighbor of some blank pages

Waiting for some dark impressionsI would make on them

Sealing their fate, like you have made mine.

The dark impressions, on the sheetsLike ghosts of some unknown fear

— a fear I have reserved from you

The way I feel threatened

By the thought of losing you.

I know love is not my feeling

It is something deeper in me!


Feb 22, 2011

Structuralism, Post Structuralism, Deconstruction and Super Structuralism

The following post is taken from my book   A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Critical Theory



Structuralism has its origin in the science of linguistics. In 1915 ferdinand de Sassure of France published Cours de Lingustique Generale, from which the basis of linguistics was established. From this point of evolution, the movement under the label of Structuralism started in the field of language and literary theory, which is concerned with ‘language’ in a most general sense (not just the language of utterance in speech and writing).


Structuralism considers everything, from the point of view of codes of communication. Any way Sassure made a number of important original contributions:



  1. The concept of language as a sign system: According to Sassure, language is a ‘sign system’ or structure whose individual components can be understood only in relation to each other and to the system as a whole


Code: Though ‘code’ generally means a collection or digest of laws or a system of rules etc., in structuralism it is rather specific – it denotes a culture’s system of signification through which reality is mediated. The theory of structuralism is that all cultural phenomena are products of codes or code.


Everything in the theory of structuralism, is a product of a system of signification or code. The relationship between the elements of the code give it signification . codes are arbitary (as all signs are arbitary).


  1. Distinction between “langue”and “parole”: “Langue” and “parole” are the terms which Sassure introduced as fundamental to structuralism. Their English equivalents are “language” and “speech”. “Langue” denotes the system or totality of language shared by the ‘collective unconsciousness’ . Thus  ‘langue’ means the whole system of language with its elements like rules for combination (grammar, syntax etc.). ‘Parole’ is the use which individuals make of the resources of language, which the system produces or combines, in speech or writing or utterance.  ‘Langue’ is what people use in thinking and “parole” is what they use in speaking or writing. So the former is abstract where as the later is concrete. Sassure hence defined distinguistic study as the study of system which underlies any particular human signifying human practice, not the individual utterance.. thus “langue” represents the language as a whole (e.g. French, English etc.) and “parole” representing utterance, a particular use of individual units of language.


  1. Distinction between “Diachronic” and “Synchronic”: sassure coined these two terms in 1913. A diachronic approach to a study of language involves an examination of its origin, development, history and change. In contrast synchronic approach entails a study of the linguistic system in a particular state without reference to time. The importance of the Synchronic approach is that, Sassure theorized each sign as with out any properties other than the specific relational ones which defines it with in its own system.
  2. Distinction between “Signifier” and “Signified”: In Cours de Linguistique Generale (1915) sassure describes language system as a ‘series of differences of sound combined with a series of differences of ideas’. He coined two terms “Signifier” and “Signified”. According to him , each sign in language is an union of signifier (i.e. sound image or its graphic equivalent) and a signified (i.e. the concept referred to). The letter of h-o-u-s-e, form a signifierwhich evoke the signified ‘house’. The association of signifier and signified has no natural link. And each sign in a linguistic system possesses ‘meaning’ by virtue of the fact that it is different from any other sign rather than because of any linguistic reason why this should be so. ‘House’ is different from ‘louse’ or ‘mouse’. Thus a word can be identified because of how it is related to, and different from other words in that linguistic system. As Sassure puts it: “in language there are only differences without positive terms”. Sassure’s works have been fundamental to all developments in structuralism and post-structuralism and hence have also influenced psychoanalytical criticism as developed by for instance Jacques Lacan.






Structuralism  during this period was being influenced by three movements (and which were also labeled under it):


  • C. S. Peirce’s  “Semiotics”
  • Geneva School of “Phenomenology”
  • Prague Linguistic Circle (Russian formalism)




Strauss’ Myth criticism and Narratology



Then structuralism was furthered by Claude Levi-Strauss, who developed a structural theory (later known as Narratology) in a consideration of myth, ritual and kinship, especially in his classic work Anthropologie Structurale (1958). He sees social structure as kind of model and shows that the behaviour patterns of kinship and the existence of institutions depend on methods of communication that are all characteristics of how the human mind works. Thus he analyses modes of thoughts as well as modes of action, looking for the system of differences which underline practice, rather than their origins and causes. This developed into “Narratology” – a further aspect of structuralism.]


Narratology or the “Structuralist Analysis of Narratives” was begun by Strauss in 1958. He believes that the totality (i.e. all myths that are available) have some constant, basic and universal structures, through which all myths can be explained.


He sees myth as language system, which can be broken into smaller individual units called ‘mythemes’ – by analogy with phonemes. Myths can be read in relation to each other rather than as reflecting a particular version. Hence the concept of a kind of ‘grammar’ or ‘set of relations’ under the surface of the narrative. Later this theory was developed into a major part of critical theory.





After 1966 onwards two new views in context with structuralism came to front:

I.      Deconstruction theory

II.      Post-structuralism

Both of these provided complement to structuralism.




Derrida’s Deconstruction



In 1966, Jaquous Derrida published an essay titled : Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of Human Sciences which was later followed by his book Of Grammatology (1967). In these two works Derrida argued the following:


  • A text can be read as something quite different from what it appears to be saying. In short a text may possess so many different meanings that it can not have a meaning (i.e. there is no guaranteed essential meaning to a text).
  • The priority since the time of Plato was given to speech over writing, as it was believed that there is a gap in writing, which speech does not possess. But Derrida’s theory argued that both speech and writing are lacking in ‘presence’. In short previously the meaning conveyed by (or signified by) speech was considered as instable and writing having a fix stable meaning. But Derrida’s theory that a text can’t have a meaning, stressed that writing is equally unstable.
  • Derrida’s theory suggested that there can’t be ‘binary opposition’ in a language system or any code. As Derrida believed that a text does not have a single meaning  of any kind and as there is only the text and no meaning, then it can not have a centre, to which there can exist a binary opposition. Hence, he discarded presence of any binary opposition in a text. Moreover, he has mentioned that in the place of binary opposition there exist ‘disseminations’ (i.e. diffusement of meaning) . the various meanings spread over one another and hence betray any center.
  • Derrida proposed the theory of “Differance”, which he used to oppose “logo centrism”. In French language “differer”  means to “postpone, to delay” and also it means “to differ  or be different from”. Derrida uses “differance” in pushing Sassure’s theory to its logical conclusion and argues that to differ or differentiate is also to defer, postpone or withheld. The word itself illustrates Derrida’s point that writing doesn’t copy speech; the distinction between the two different forms “differance” and “difference” doesn’t  correspond to any distinction in their spoken form. Thus meaning is continuously and endlessly postponed as each word leads us on to yet another word in the system of signification. So, Derrida sees a text as an endless sequence of signifiers, which has no ultimate signifier.



Barthe’s Poststructuralism –The Death of Author



In 1967 Ronald Barthe published Elements of Semiology (1967), which stands as a temporal marker of post-structuralism. Hence he proposed that structuralism is capable of an explanation of any sign system of any culture (i.e. all system of signification). But he also perceives that such an explanation necessitates a theology of meaning or explanation. This gave rise to the idea of “Meta Language”, which in fact “beyond language” or “Second order language” which is used to describe, explain or interprete a “First order language”. Each order of language implicitly relies on a metalanguage by which it is explained.  Regarding metalanguage Barthes says that when one language is interpreted there comes the indefinite regression or “Aporia”. Thus the result will be that all metalanguages will be vanished in interpreting one another. This Barthes used to defend structuralism  , which stress on binary opposition and on its idea that text has a meaning (which is opposed by Deconstruction). He believed thus the signifying meanings of a text can be fixed and are need not to be diffuse or disseminated as proposed by Derrida.This theory even puts Deconstruction in a place (against its principles and design) where deconstruction acts like a meta language.




But as we see, discourse upon discourse in regression – which is one aspect of Barthe’s post structuralist thinking – is fundamentally, deconstructive. Barthe’s later theories includes his concepts of

  • Death of author (In his essay The Death of Author )
  • “Plaisir” and “Jouissance” are the experiences that a reader has while reading.
  • Text may be ‘readerly’ or ‘writerly’ or even both.


Readerly / writerly:

Barthes proposed this theory in his book S/Z (1970). A readerly text means a book to which  areader’s response is more or less passive (e.g. any realistic novel). Writerly text makes demands on the reader to work things out (e.g. Ulysses by James Joyce). Here reader is no longer a consumer but a producer of the text.


Death of Author concept of Barthes can be seen in reference to his concept of ‘writerly’ text. He believed that the reader must be free of the concept the author associated with the text. Because, the author if remains a suppressing force, then the reader sees what the author wants to project, thus he is unable to see the plurality of text. In a ‘writerly’ text the reader, is more independent to see the plurality of text.


Krestivan poststructuralism – foundation to Feminstic Criticism


Further important contributions to Post structural theory was made by Julia Krestiva of France. In 1974, she published Le Revolution du Language Poetique . in this she discusses the relationship  between “orderly/rational” and “hetrogenious/irrational” and also between the “conscious” and “unconscious” . she suggests that Semiotic material is irrational and illogical, the material of impulse and rhythm ; while reason creates logic, syntax and coherence and brings about the symbolic element. There are implied antimonies such as feelings/ thoughts ; heart/ brain and to reverse the sequence in the binary opposition.


She stresses that the “semiotic element” is linked with the concept of “infant” – a word which is “speechless” – and is opposed to “symbolic order”, hence sees it as a means of undermining the symbolic order. It is at its pre-oedipal (or infant) stage is opposed to strict meaning, a static condition. Rather it is at this time fluid and it is there fore opposed to any binary opposition, such as masculine/ feminine.


Though of course there is sometimes more than a hint of binary opposition. Hence semiotic writing is bi-sexual. For instance James Joyce and Virginia Woolf are semiotic writers, using a fluid disseminated ‘writerly’ mode and style. Such kind of structural thinkings of Julia Krestiva, raised the possibility of “Feminstic Criticism” – a theory of the idea of “é criture feminine”





In 1987, Richard Harland coined the term “Superstructuralism” in his treatise Superstructuralism: the Philosophy of structuralism and Post structuralism (1987)

He uses it to cover the whole field of structuralism, post structuralism, semiotics etc.

He also suggests that the term can be read as “Superstructure – alism”, and elaborates the idea that “superstructuralists” invert our ordinary base and superstructure models until what we used to think of as super structure takes precedence over what we used to think of as basic.




A Beginner’s Guide to Modern Critical Theory published by Prakash Book Depot, bareilly, UP (India), 2005, ISBN:81-7977-147-4: This is a book for Post Graduation level students (in English Literature)of Indian Universities.

(c) 2005, All Rights Reserved. No part of the above post can be published any where in any form (electronic or non-electronic ), with out the written permission of author. However you can direct yours links to this page in your websites.




Jayanta Mahapatra received SAARC literary Award for the year 2009

Just got the news from Rabi Bhai that Jayanta Mahapatra has bagged the prestigious SAARC literary Award for the year 2009.

SAARC Literary Awards Advisory Committee consists of  eminent writers from all the SAARC countries as its Members.

To know more about jayanta Mahapatra you can visit his homepage: http://www.jayantamahapatra.com/

or check his biography at Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jayanta_Mahapatra

https://i1.wp.com/www.hindu.com/lr/2005/10/02/images/2005100200220101.jpg(photo by : The Hindu)