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The Traditional Theory of Literature

The Traditional Theory of Literature

Copyright Date: 1962
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Traditional Theory of Literature
    Book Description:

    Through a study of works of the contemporary Indian scholar Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, as well as of other exponents of the ancient doctrine of the Perennial Philosophy, Professor Livingston develops and explicates a traditional theory of literature. Coomaraswamy, who died in 1947, published widely on a broad range of subjects in art, philosophy, literature, and other fields. Although he is relatively little known, those acquainted with is work acclaim him as one of the great thinkers of our time. His study and writing were devoted primarily to bridging the gap between Oriental and Western cultures. From the treasury of traditional learning which Coomaraswamy amassed in his profusion of books and articles, Professor Livingston has drawn those elements which contribute to an essential theory of literature. Although he quotes from some of Coomaraswamy’s Oriental sources, he delineates the theory in an idiom that is more familiar to the West, as stated or implied in the works of Dante, Milton, and Blake, among others.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6350-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-2)
  3. I Prologue
    (pp. 3-14)

    Crimcism in our day,” it has been said with some truth, “is a sort of tower of Babel.”¹ Even more truly one could state that not only literary criticism but also the whole “house of intellect” is a tower of Babel. Assuming this, one must ask the important question: How can we escape the confusion of voices? The answer is to be found in the very metaphor of Babel with its manifold implications. Clearly one should try to quit the tower and learn anew “the one language and one speech” that prevailed before the curse was laid upon men.² For...

  4. II Man, Society, and Art
    (pp. 15-32)

    Coomaraswamy’s writings on art and literature can best be understood in the light of the rest of his mature work, which belongs to a venerable tradition rooted in remote antiquity. This Tradition,¹ sometimes called that of Philosophia Perennis, is also labeled primordial, universal, unanimous; it is “always and everywhere fundamentally the same, whatever form it may take.”² The Tradition in all its aspects can be considered a clear expression of the “wisdom that was not made, the same now that it was and ever shall be,” as Saint Augustine has it.³ So far as anything created is intelligible, it is...

  5. III The Creative Process
    (pp. 33-54)

    As above, so below: this metaphysical principle is clearly exemplified in creative activity. Because of the correspondence of two orders—heavenly and earthly—all human life is said to patterned after the divine existence.¹ And since creation is one most godlike activities,² the human artist must be especially aware of modeling his art on that of the divine artificer. A Hindu has it, “We must do what the Gods did first.”³ Referring Meister Eckhart as one of the great proponents of the Tradition, Coomaraswamy observes that “it runs through all his thought that is an artist in the analogy of...

  6. IV The Work of Art
    (pp. 55-90)

    When the Traditional artist finishes the operative phase of the creative process, he will judge and correct his work before delivering it to the patron or otherwise releasing it for use. If he has acted as a responsible member of society, he will have executed the work for eventual good use. And if he has not fallen short of the proper operation of his art, this good use will be facilitated by his skill. Good use, Coomaraswamy repeatedly observes, is traditionally considered to be both intellectual and physical. Concerning use, Coomaraswamy, as we have seen, often refers to Plato, who...

  7. V The Function of Works of Art
    (pp. 91-105)

    The function of works of art,¹ it has been noted several times, is Traditionally “always and only to supply a real or imagined need or deficiency on the part of the human patron, for whom as collective ‘consumer’ the artist works. . . . The necessities to be served by art may appear to be materialorspiritual, but as Plato insists, it is one and the same art, or a combination of both arts, practical and philosophical, that must serve both body and soul if it is to be admitted in the ideal city.”² A man with the Traditional...

  8. VI Judgment and Criticism
    (pp. 106-129)

    In coomaraswamy’s many essays can be discovered an explicit theory of literary judgment and criticism that is strictly coherent with his doctrine of art which, in turn, is grounded upon the perennial metaphysics. Works of art, according to Coomaraswamy, admit legitimately and necessarily of two kinds of judgments: (1) technical—in terms of the ratio


    and (2) moral—in terms of the use to which they may be put by the consumer. Although the two judgments are often not separated in life, they are logically distinct; hence, they must be rigorously distinguished lest one become confused about the domains...

  9. VII Conclusion
    (pp. 130-146)

    In this study we have attempted to compose a primer of Traditional literary theory largely from the works of A. K. Coomaraswamy. The major aim of this undertaking has been to study what Coomaraswamy has said and to achieve some measure of understanding of the great Tradition he resumes with such exemplary rigor and learning in his works. That in itself is enough to tax the powers of some of us. In fact, if one recalls the dictum of St. Bonaventura, which applies perfectly to the efforts of the epigoni really to grasp the significance of what Commaraswamy has said—...

  10. APPENDIX: A Brief Life of Ananda Coomaraswamy
    (pp. 149-151)
  11. Abbreviations
    (pp. 152-152)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 155-177)
  13. Glossary
    (pp. 178-180)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 183-185)
  15. Index
    (pp. 186-188)