Extreme Poetry

Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration

Yigal Bronner
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 376
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/bron15160
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  • Book Info
    Extreme Poetry
    Book Description:

    Beginning in the sixth century C.E. and continuing for more than a thousand years, an extraordinary poetic practice was the trademark of a major literary movement in South Asia. Authors invented a special language to depict both the apparent and hidden sides of disguised or dual characters, and then used it to narrate India's major epics, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, simultaneously.

    Originally produced in Sanskrit, these dual narratives eventually worked their way into regional languages, especially Telugu and Tamil, and other artistic media, such as sculpture. Scholars have long dismissed simultaneous narration as a mere curiosity, if not a sign of cultural decline in medieval India. Yet Yigal Bronner's Extreme Poetry effectively negates this position, proving that, far from being a meaningless pastime, this intricate, "bitextual" technique both transcended and reinvented Sanskrit literary expression.

    The poems of simultaneous narration teased and estranged existing convention and showcased the interrelations between the tradition's foundational texts. By focusing on these achievements and their reverberations through time, Bronner rewrites the history of Sanskrit literature and its aesthetic goals. He also expands on contemporary theories of intertextuality, which have been largely confined to Western texts and practices.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52529-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
  3. FIGURES AND TABLES
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. A NOTE ON SANSKRIT TRANSLITERATION
    (pp. xvii-xix)
  6. The Svayamvara of Damayanti/Damayanti Carried to the marriage choice
    (pp. xx-xx)
  7. [1] INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-19)

    Imagine a poem of large or even epic proportions, say, the Iliad. Now try to imagine that the language of this poem is constructed in such a way that it simultaneously tells an entire additional story. Suppose, in other words, that each verse of the Iliad could simultaneously be read as narrating the Odyssey as well. It is hard to imagine that language could sustain such an effort and still be intelligible, let alone beautiful. We can conceive of punned words or even proverbial utterances that are doubly readable, such as “Gladly the cross-eyed bear” for “gladly the cross I’d...

  8. [2] EXPERIMENTING WITH ŚLEṢA IN SUBANDHU’S PROSE LAB
    (pp. 20-56)

    When and why did the fascination with śleṣa begin? Historians of Sanskrit literature argue that poetry written primarly in śleṣa began to appear only in the second millennium CE. At the same time, they maintain that before the late efflorescence of works that were mainly bitextual, śleṣa always enjoyed a prominent place in the poetic tool kit of kāvya.¹ Both views are erroneous. In this chapter I tackle the latter notion, namely, that, as an ever-popular device among Sanskrit poets, śleṣa has always existed. The bulk of this chapter with a brief discussion of the response to Subandhu’s experiment, particularly...

  9. [3] THE DISGUISE OF LANGUAGE ŚLEṢA ENTERS THE PLOT
    (pp. 57-90)

    After subandhu’s large-scale experimentation, śleṣa, became an extremely popular device in a variety of poems and plays. No doubt the most conspicuous śleṣatrend of the seventh century was its association with subjects whose true self was in some way hidden or dual. Śleṣa was now increasingly used to describe and give voice to specific kinds of characters, from those who act under an assumed identity to a cast of go-betweens and emissaries whose intentions are inherently ambiguous and whose speech is equivocal.

    The tendency to use śleṣa for specialized purposes affected its scope in two seemingly contradictory ways. On the...

  10. [4] AIMING AT TWO TARGETS THE EARLY ATTEMPTS
    (pp. 91-121)

    Śleṣa is most spectacular in a genre of long poems that simultaneously narrate the two great Indian epics, the Rāmāyaṇa and the Mahābhārata. These colossal bitextual works, almost unimaginable to Western readers, were quite popular in South Asia, first in Sanskrit and later in Telugu as well. How does one explain this incredible poetic genre? When did it originate, and why? The first task of this chapter is to establish the early history of epic conarration. No serious account of these texts exists, although complaints about their abundance go back as far as the late nineteenth century.¹ In fact, prominent...

  11. [5] BRINGING THE GANGES TO THE OCEAN KAVIRĀJA AND THE APEX OF BITEXTUALITY
    (pp. 122-154)

    The early poems of two targets discussed in chapter 4 were not by any means the only śleṣa experiments of their era. By the ninth century śleṣa was used widely in all genres of kāvya, including independent stanzas, collections of verses, major narrative poems, religious hymns, plays, and royal eulogies. In addition, poets were exploring the potential of śleṣa for a variety of specialized poetic forms. Consider, for instance, the work of Ratnākara, Dhanañjaya’s contemporary, who lived in Kashmir, far to the north. In addition to resorting to śleṣa frequently in his vast narrative poem the Haravijaya (Victory of Śiva)...

  12. [6] ŚLEṢA AS READING PRACTICE
    (pp. 155-194)

    How do we know a śleṣa when we see one? Who is responsible for the perception of a second register in a poem—the author or the reader? Are there instances in which some readers read a text doubly while others do not? In previous chapters I charted the deploy ment of śleṣa from the perspective of the poets; here I examine the readers’ role in this unusual literary venture. In particular, I discuss a group of late medieval commentators who, empowered by śleṣa, produced textual exegeses that seemed unforeseen or even unwelcome to some of their fellow readers. These...

  13. [7] THEORIES OF ŚLEṢA IN SANSKRIT POETICS
    (pp. 195-230)

    Theoretical treatises accompanied literature from a relatively early date in the Sanskrit world and figured prominently in the education of Sanskrit literati. Such discourses formed part of the cultural package that traveled to the farthest corners of the Sanskrit cosmopolis. Theorists were active and influential members of the literary community: they often trained aspiring poets, helped shape the poetic taste of patrons, and passed judgment on the literature of their predecessors and contemporaries. A few of them were even famous poets in their own right. In more than a millennium of unbroken succession, these thinkers sustained a profound and highly...

  14. [8] TOWARD A THEORY OF ŚLEṢA
    (pp. 231-266)

    Śleṣa was a latecomer to kāvya. The first five centuries of belletristic production in Sanskrit (from around the beginning of the Common Era to the end of the fifth century CE) yielded relatively few instances of simultaneous expression, despite the fact that poets were already experimenting with yamaka, a rhyming method exploiting the same linguistic ambiguities as śleṣa. While yamaka was initially associated with versified poetry, śleṣa. began to flourish in works that were primarily or entirely in prose, a later development in kāvya. It is, indeed, in Sanskrit’s earliest extant prose poem, Subandhu’s Vāsavadattā (dated to the sixth century),...

  15. APPENDIX 1: BITEXTUAL AND MULTITEXTUAL WORKS IN SANSKRIT
    (pp. 267-271)
  16. APPENDIX 2: BITEXTUAL AND MULTITEXTUAL WORKS IN TELUGU
    (pp. 272-276)
  17. NOTES
    (pp. 277-314)
  18. REFERENCES
    (pp. 315-330)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 331-356)