V.V.V College Function Speech

“Charles Spurgeon, preaching at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, made mention of the "many gordian knots which wicked men may cut, and which righteous men may try to unravel, but which God alone can untie.[24]
	Albert Camus, in his lecture at the University of Uppsala on December 14, 1957, used the Gordian knot as a metaphor for the civilization falling apart at the sword of rampant politics of power and nihilism of the 20th century. He called for the newborn artists, the "anti-Alexanders", to heal the wound and repair the knot: "Yes, the rebirth is in the hands of all of us. It is up to us if the West is to bring forth any anti-Alexander’s to tie together the Gordian Knot of civilization cut by the sword. For this purpose, we must assume all the risks and labors of freedom."[25] (Wikipedia)
	With these quotes, I begin my keynote address. I deem it my pleasure and privilege to participate and deliver the keynote address, in this One Day Workshop on Contemporary Literary Theories organized by the Research Centre in English, V.V.Vanniaperumal College for Women. I place on record my sincere thanks to the esteemed members of the Management Committee, Principal, Dean of Arts for having organized this one day workshop on this most vital, compelling theme – “Contemporary Literary Theories” which raises a very important question whether it still remains a ‘Gordian Knot’ to be untied by young, critical and research minds like you, my dear students. 
	Well the definition for Gordian Knot goes like this, “a knot that gave its name to a proverbial term for a problem solvable only by bold action. In 333 BC, Alexander the Great, on his march through Anatolia, reached Gordium, the capital of Phrygia. There he was shown the chariot of the ancient founder of the city, Gordius, with its yoke lashed to the pole by means of an intricate knot with its end hidden. According to tradition, this knot was to be untied only by the future conqueror of Asia. In the popular account, probably invented as appropriate to an impetuous warrior, Alexander sliced through the knot with his sword, but, in earlier versions, he found the ends either by cutting into the knot or by drawing out the pole. The phrase “cutting the Gordian knot” has thus come to denote a bold solution to a complicated problem”. (www.britannica.com)
	Our Wikipedia quotes Shakespeare thus; 	The Gordian Knot is a legend of Phrygian Gordian associated with Alexander the Great. It is often used as a metaphor for an intractable problem (disentangling an "impossible" knot) solved easily by cheating or "thinking outside the box" ("cutting the Gordian knot"):
	"Turn him to any cause of policy,
	The Gordian Knot of it he will unloose,
	Familiar as his garter" (Shakespeare, Henry V, Act 1 Scene 1. 45–47)
Cheating is not the apt word here but “Thinking out of the box” is the key here.  As students of Literature, you should pick up your inspiration from Shakespeare and there begins a new journey into an un trodden path.  
	Of all the theories in this Realm, as a post-colonial subject, the post-colonial theory has always been an engagement close to my heart.  I have my own reasons for that - I was born in an agrarian community, in a village from Southern Tamil Nadu, India. I had to relocate to Chennai, the metropolitan capital, for an academic career and prosperity. The relocation was of my choice. The sudden exposure to the metropolitan culture, with its hectic life-style rather baffled me. This often created a sense of yearning for my ‘good old days’, my ancestral home, the landscape, dry-hardened with its black soil, the vegetation, the chirping birds, the poultry, and the naive agrarian community in which I was rooted. It was/still is a nostalgic inner experience to revisit my place of birth in my memories.
The metropolitan city to which I was relocated, like any other city in the modern world with its busy buzzing fleet of beings never pierced beneath my skin. I often had the sense of ‘belonging nowhere’, to be more precise, ‘not belonging here’. This sense of ‘not belonging’, opened my inner eyes to the experiences of “others” who have been uprooted, in some way or other – social, political and economical.
	Reading Edward Said and Gayathiri Spivak was a turning point for my mind which had been tuned to the earlier English Critical Tradition of Mathew Arnold, F.R.Leavis, T.S. Eliot, I.A.Richards. I had the proud privilege of being trained and guided by my Prof. T.V.Subba Rao who was a student of F.R.Leavis in Cambridge.
	The post colonial discourse with its critique of the binaries (Colonizer / Colonized, White / Black, West / East) and its subjects marked by hybridity and heterogeneity – cultural, linguistic, ethnic, national – always interest me in a very personal perspective since as its subject, I experience double & hybrid forms of Identity. This has made me to empathize and feel close to heart with the Diasporic population dispersed throughout the world – thus travelling into another realm, the formation of different diasporic communities at different historical junctures. And the offspring is my doctoral thesis about the Diasporic Longing and the changing contours of Resistance in the works of Sri Lankan Tamil Migrants focusing on the plays of Ernest Thalayasingham Macintyre, a Sri-Lankan Tamil Playwright in English settled in Australia. 
	The point here is any theoretical frame work in a research needs to be triggered by a spark, on an inbuilt thirst towards our passionate theme of pursuit – particularly in the field of Research.  The word ‘theory’ may be a hot iron for a beginner, but if you learn how to strike it properly, you will soon realize that it is an interesting journey.  All that you need is the boldness of Alexander and the keen (perception) swiftness of his sword.  The two problems faced by my Colleagues here, the teaching fraternity, as well the learning students, is to design an all comprehensive syllabus – works of literature and theories oriented towards a better understanding of those texts.  Students the stress face to cope - learning both.  I would like to quote Peter Barry here – 
	“At the undergraduate level the main problem is to decide how much theory can reasonably be handled by beginners.  Time is not unlimited, and there is a need to think about a realistic syllabus rather than an ideal one. Theorists, like novelists, are dauntingly plentiful, and the subject of theory cannot succeed in lecture rooms and seminars unless we fashion it into a student-centered syllabus. We are rightly dismissive these days of the notion of teaching a 'Great Tradition' of key novelists, as advocated by the critic F.R.Leavis.  But Leavis's Great Tradition was essentially a syllabus,  manageable within a year-long undergraduate course on the novel. It is possible to read and adequately discuss a  novel or two by Austen, Eliot, James, Conrad, and Lawrence within that time. We need to make sure that what is presented as theory today likewise makes teaching sense.
	When we are about to move into something new it is sensible to first take stock of what we already have, if only so that the distance travelled can later be measured.
	But I want to stress at the outset that it is important, too, that you read some of the major theorists at first hand.  Yet as soon as you begin to turn the pages of Barthes, Lacan, Foucault, or Derrida you will encounter writing which looks dauntingly difficult and off – putting.  How, then, to cope?” (3, 4: Beginning Theory – Peter Barry)
	Having raised this question he further emphasizes that “it is much better to read intensely in theory than to read widely” (3: Beginning Theory - Peter Barry)
	Then he proceeds to suggest the most fruitful technique known as ‘SQ3R’, which would have been explained and taught in your class rooms. With due thanks to Peter Barry I expand, 
“a. Survey (the whole chapter) 
b. Questions (set yourself to ask some question)
c. Read (the whole piece).
d. Recall (What you have read)
e. Review. (the entire work)
	This way, the student would have surely obtained ‘something’ from the theoretical text, however much it may be a maze or puzzle in the beginning.
	The famous post-modern literary critic who advocated structuralism in France, Roland Barthes thought out of the box and made a storming entry into the literary arena by out smarting Jean-Paul Sartre. Roland Barthes who entered into the field by reading Sartre’s essay “what is literature” brought the death – knell for Sartre’s existential theory through his essay, “The pleasure of Text”. Barthes disliked poetry but to my surprise he was a great lover of Japan’s Haiku poems. His famous essay “The Empire of Signs” in its critical excellence is about the Japanese culture and their food habits which deconstructs the Euro – Centric Cultural & literary hegemony. Reading him opened up a totally new avenue for me.  When he declared “The author is dead, when the reader is born” that is the ultimate “Para Doxa”. 
	Well – as a student of literature my acquaintance with critical theories dates back to 1920’s as I stated earlier. F.R.Leavis, the most influential figure in the Twentieth Century British Criticism was canonical to me till Rene Wellek came into the scene and questioned his ‘close-reading’ theory.  
	“He famously refused the invitation offered by the critic Rene Wellek in the 1930s that he should 'spell out the principles on which he operated in a more explicit way than hitherto'”. (16: Beginning theory – Peter Barry)
	“Leavis and Wellek debated the relationship between literary criticism and philosophy in the pages of Leavis's journal Scrutiny. Wellek's point against Leavis was simply that practical criticism was not enough - he ought to spell out the theoretical assumptions on which his readings and his procedures generally, were based.  Though less politely than Wellek, theorists make the same demand as he did - spell out what you do, and why, when you read and criticize literature, so that your methods can be evaluated along with others”. (30:Beginning theory – Peter Barry)
	Thus at every juncture of Critical Theory, the Gordian Knot is either cut, or untied, as (re – defined here). 
	If we opt-for a stock taking in critical theories the key figures and their works are Aristotle’s Poetics, Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, Johnson’s Lives of the Poets and Prefaces to Shakespeare, Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads, Coleridge’s’ Biographia Literaria, Shelly’s A Defense of Poetry, Keat’s Letters which reflected his critical thoughts about the poetic process. We do have the Victorians George Eliot, Mathew Arnold and Henry James. As pointed out by Peter Barry, there are two distinct ‘tracks’ in the development of English Criticism - “One track leads through Samuel  Johnson and Matthew Arnold to T. S. Eliot and F. R. Leavis. This might be called the 'practical criticism’ track. It tends to centre upon the close analysis of the work of particular writers, and gives us our familiar tradition of 'close reading'. The other track lies through Sidney, Wordsworth, Coleridge, George Eliot, and Henry James. This track is very much 'ideas-led' rather than 'text-led'” (24&25: Beginning theory – Peter Barry)
	There was our canonical T.S. Eliot with his major critical ideas (Touchstone Method). When I.A. Richards advocated ‘Practical Criticism’, United States was witnessing ‘New Criticism’. We have had Marxist Criticism, Psychoanalytic Criticism, Linguistic Criticism, Feminist Criticism, New historicism all of which have their own track – record.  Introduction of the earlier theories & theorists should be a part of the Curriculum as T.S.Eliot said,  “மரபின் அச்சிலே தான் புதுமையின் சக்கரம் சுழல்கிறது”.
	We live in a post – modern world of quest, thirst, doubt, disbelief.  An urging determination to question, re-evaluate and de-construct those traditional concepts and established myths in all fields is the need of the hour.  There was a paradigm shift in the arena of critical theories with Barthes “Death of the author” a “declaration of radical textual independence: the work is not determined by intention, or context.  Rather, the text is free by its very nature of all such restraints”. (63&64: Beginning theory – Peter Barry), which I would describe as the interruption of Alexander’s sword in the history of critical theories. Equally disturbing as well critically important is Jacques Derrida’s “Deconstruction” theory.
	Described as the “Infant Terrible” of the European Philosophy, when this tornado born in France, crossed America through Europe, all other celebrated icons from Socrates to Sartre, were washed ashore. He based his ideas on Nietzsche’s Scepticism, Sigmund Freud’s Analysis, Heidegger’s Destruction, Saussure’s Structuralism and labbled it as “De-Construction” theory.
	His theory goes thus - “This radical break concerns the 'decentring' of our intellectual universe. Prior to this event the existence of a norm or centre in all things was taken for granted: thus 'man', as the Renaissance slogan had it, was the measure of all other things in the universe: white Western norms of dress, behavior, architecture, intellectual outlook, and so on, provided a firm centre against which deviations,  aberrations, variations could be detected and identified as 'Other' and marginal. In the twentieth century, however, these centres were destroyed or eroded”. (64: Beginning theory – Peter Barry) Thus it is a path breaking milestone in the history of Critical Tradition.  
	“The book The Publication of Deconstruction and Criticism, 1979 – by five authors – was published by Yale University Press in 1979, the five being Harold Bloom, Paul de Man, Jacques Derrida, Geoffrey Hartman, and J.Hillis Miller, a group sometimes collectively referred to as the ‘Yale Mafia’ of theory.  The book exemplified deconstructive reading with reference to Shelley’s ‘The Triumph of Life’, presenting this approach to reading in its most uncompromising and even brutal form.“ (267: Beginning Theory – Peter Barry)
	“Deconstruction and Criticism caused such outrage because it wasn’t in fact a work of deconstructive theory, but (ostensibly) of deconstructive practice.  Had it been ‘mere’ theory, hostile academic readers (or dippers-in) of other persuasions could have dismissed it as not really being germane to their own core business of reading and interpreting literature.  It could then have been brushed aside as just one more of the increasing number of books which spoke only to other theorists and carried on a debate purely in the realm of philosophical ideas, with little evident relevance to the day-to-day business of reading and writing about literature.” (268: Beginning Theory – Peter Barry)
	I would like to give a practical example from Paul Demon’s deconstruction of W.B.Yeat’s poem.

“பள்ளிக் குழந்தைகளுக்கு நடுவே
	ஓ செஸ்ட்னட் மரமே
	ஓங்கி நின்று பூத்துக் குலுங்குபவள் அல்லவா நீ?
	நீ யார்? 
	இலையா, மலரா அல்லது
	ஓ! உன் உடல் இசைக்கேற்றபடி
	பார்வையைப் பிரகாசிக்க வைக்கிறது
	எப்படி நம்மால்
	நாட்டியத்திலிருந்து நாட்டியக்காரியைத்
	தனியே பிரித்துப் பார்க்க முடியும்?
என்கிற யீட்ஸின் கவிதை வரிகளை பால் டெ மான் இரண்டு விதமாக வாசித்தார்.
	ஒன்று: கவிதையின் கடைசி வரியில் சொல்லப்படும் 'எப்படி நம்மால் நாட்டியத்தில் இருந்து நாட்டியக்காரியைத் தனியே பிரித்துப் பார்க்க முடியும்? 'என்பது நாட்டியம் என்னும் வடிவத்தையும் நாட்டியக்காரி என்னும் கலைஞரையும் பிரிக்க முடியாது என்று பொருள் தருகிறது. இது கவிஞர் சொல்லவந்த கருத்து.
	அடுத்தது: நாட்டியத்தை நாட்டியக்காரிதான் ஆடுகிறாள் என்ற போதிலும் நாட்டியம் என்பது வேறு; நாட்டியக்காரி என்பவள் வேறு.
	இரண்டையும் கலக்க முடியாது. ஒரே நாட்டியத்தைப் பல பேர் ஆட முடியும். பல விதமான திறமைகளுடன் ஆட முடியும். அது வெறும் நாட்டியம் சம்பந்தப்பட்ட விஷயம் மட்டுமல்ல; தனிப்பட்ட திறமை சார்ந்த விஷயம்கூட. எனவே நாட்டியம் என்கிற வடிவத்தையும் நாட்டிக்காரி என்கிற கலைஞரையும் பிரித்துப் பார்க்க முடியும். அப்போதுதானே நாட்டியம் சிறப்பாக இருந்தது அல்லது மோசமாக இருந்தது என்று விமர்சிக்க முடியும்.
	மேற்சொன்ன கவிதையில் கவிஞர் எழுதிய ஒரே வரிக்கு இரண்டு விதமான அர்த்தங்களை பால் டெ மான் கண்டுபிடித்தார். ஒன்று கவிஞருக்கு ஆதரவானது. அடுத்தது அவருக்கு எதிரானது.
	மேற்கண்ட வரிகளில் உள்ள இந்த இரண்டு அர்த்தங்களுமே நிலையற்ற (அன் ஸ்டேபில்) தன்மை கொண்டவையாக இருக்கின்றன. இடைவிடாத கண்ணாமூச்சி ஆட்டத்தை நிகழ்த்துகின்றன. இந்த இரண்டில் ஏதாவது ஒன்றை மட்டும் நிச்சயப்படுத்திக்கொள்ளும் போதுதான் பிரச்சினை வருகிறது. அப்போது, அந்த நிச்சயப்படுத்தலைத் தகர்க்க கட்டவிழ்ப்பு தேவைப்படுகிறது.
அப்படி ஒரு பிரதியை கட்டவிழ்ப்பு செய்வது தேவைதானா?
	கண்டிப்பாகத் தேவை. தெரிதாவைப் பொறுத்தவரை அது ஒரு அரசியல் செயல்பாடு என்கிறார். அது ஒரு எதிரிடையாகப் பார்க்கும் கட்டம் (பேஸ் ஆஃப் ரிஎவர்ஸல்) என்று சொல்லலாம். இப்படிப் பார்ப்பது ஏற்கெனவே இருக்கும் ஒரு மையத்துக்குப் போட்டியாக இன்னொரு மையத்தைக் கட்டமைப்பது என்று அர்த்தம் இல்லை. எப்படி முதல் அர்த்தம் நிலையற்றதோ அதேபோல இரண்டாவதாகப் பெறப்படும் அர்த்தமும் நிலையற்றதே. மொழி முன்வைக்கும் அர்த்தங்களின் நிச்சயத்தன்மை என்பது பொய்யானது. நிச்சயமின்மைகளால் ஆன ஒரு உலகத்தில் நிச்சயத்தன்மையை வலியுறுத்துவது வன்முறையாகும். இந்த வன்முறைக்கு எதிரான அரசியலை கட்டவிழப்பு செய்கிறது”. (19-21: தெரிதா - எம்.ஜி.சுரேஷ்)
	And Derrida is firm that doing so is not merely & literary activity but a political one.  He named it as “Face of Reversal” in which he questioned all the “Central absolutes” and establishes a “new decentered universe” There are “no guaranteed facts, only interpretations” is his stand.
	“If we have the courage, the implication is, we will enter this new Nietzschean universe, where there are no guaranteed facts, only interpretations, none of which has the stamp of authority upon it, since there is no longer any authoritative centre to which to appeal for validation of our interpretations”. (65: Beginning Theory – Peter Barry)
	This era has seen much more diverse theories such as Culturalism, New Historicism, Narratology, Stylistics, Eco Criticism.  This workshop, am sure would not only discuss the current critical approaches but also address the problems faced by the students in understanding them. For example, the ‘Language’ in which they are expressed. The faculty should encourage a highly diverse approach to the understanding of the concepts and orient them properly to choose the most befitting frame work. The key word in Research is the ‘Quest’ thus the emphasis here should be on the “Questions & doubts” – raised & articulated here should be encouraged to hit new ideas and pave way to exciting innovations. 
	Gender studies, Queer Theories, Interdisciplinary criticisms (Eco-Feminism, Diasporic Hybridities & Cultural Identies) should be brought upon for discussion as a wide variety of concepts intersecting the literary texts.  Be a novice or an advanced scholar – they are confronting a lot of linguistic challenges in translated texts and intellectual challenges in a vastly changing literary canvass. The linguistic rubric and the literary tomb are perennially influenced by historical, sociological, economical factors. Class, Race, gender and Sexuality play an important role in the analysis of a given text, be it in culture studies or literature.
	The Primary steps of student should be to grasp a principle or concept which a class-room lecture would certainly give. But to execute those bewildering aspects of the theories as an approach to understand and critically examine or appreciate the text can be obtained by specific workshops like this. 
	Let me quote from the key concepts in Literary theory by Julian Wolfreys, Ruth Robbins and Kenneth Womack here – 
	“How, for example, does one situate his or her own notions of contemporary literary theory within the textual practices of a widely dispersed and vastly changing discipline? How, moreover, do students troll the often complicated shoals of literary scholarship and decode what they perceive and often resist as its specialized jargon and web of competing terms? How do students intervene in increasingly hybrid discourses so as to gain critical purchase and agency?” (IX & X: Key Concepts in Literary Theory- Julian Wolfreys, Ruth Robbins and Kenneth Womack)
	They proposed to write this book which “seeks to open, and to provide the means for inquiry, exploration and engagement”. 
	Any theoretical or a research discourse should provide the means for ‘inquiry, exploration & engagement’ and am sure this workshop would emphasize on that. We have to compete with popular culture and a fast technology in this field also. The theoretical terminology should also be accomadative to these fast developing or chaotic changes.
	From Post Colonial to Diaspora, to Post-Modern theorists, Albert Memmi, Helen Gilbert, Bill Ashcroft, Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, Paul Gilroy – all have had their impacts on me and helped to hone my research skill.  I would say without the theoretical perceptions of the above said personalities, I would not have come this far as a research scholar.
	I wish this workshop should signal a distinct change or shift in the minds of the young students in their approach to critical theories, should orient them to formulate a mode of enquiry on their own, should open up new approaches to literary texts. My closing statement would be to emphasize the importance of ‘Linguistics’ in literary theories with the entry of the American linguist Noam Chomsky, there was another paradigm shift in this arena. 
	“The enormous success of Chomsky’s work in arguing that grammar and semantics (that is, meaning) cannot be separated and that ‘deep’ syntactical structure are the ultimate determinants of meaning.  To give a clichéd example, the following two sentences have the same ‘surface’ syntax but different ‘deep’ syntax, and that is where their true meaning lies: ‘The chicken was ready to eat’.  ‘The Chairman was ready to eat’.  I would emphasize my closing statement further by quoting excerpts from The Indiana University ‘Conference on style’, 1958.
	“The interdisciplinary ‘Conference on Style’ at Indiana in 1958 can be seen as an important marker of the growing importance of linguistics within the Humanities.  Thomas Sebeok (1920 – 2001), who convened the conference, was a Hungarian scholar in linguistics who had become an American citizen in 1944.  His doctoral studies at the outset of his career had been supervised by the linguist Roman Jakobson, whose ‘Closing Statement: (Linguistics and Poetics)’ became the most lastingly influential item of the conference.  But the most innovative feature of the conference itself was its interdisciplinarity: it debated the question of style (how to define it, how to describe it, how to investigate its effects) from the viewpoints of three relevant disciplines, these being linguistics, literary criticism, and psychology”. (263 & 264: Beginning Theory – Peter Barry) 
	I would like to end my address with a remarkable quote of Einstein.  “If my theory of relativity is proven successful, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare me a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German, and Germany will declare that I am a Jew”.  Jokes apart, either way the theorist should be successful and the theory should be alive & kicking.
	I wish the workshop all the success and Congratulate the efforts put up by the Faculty and the Team.
	Make the best out of this workshop is my earnest plea to you, my dear Students.  Wishing you the very best - thank you very much.

Works Cited:
•	Barry Peter : Beginning Theory 
•	Wolfreys Julian, Robbins Ruth & Womack Kenneth: Key concepts in Literary Theory
•	சுரேஷ் .எம்.ஜி: தெரிதா

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